Getting the state ferry M/V Hubbard online has matched the slow pace of its namesake glacier. Construction on the Alaska-class ferry, originally designed to run day trips, started in 2014 and took four years to complete. Then the Alaska Marine Highway System changed course and upgraded the boat with crew quarters, to allow it to run continuously.
On Tuesday morning, the Hubbard sailed up the Lynn Canal with about 70 passengers on board. It now links Juneau, Haines and Skagway every day of the week but Mondays.
But its long-awaited docking in Haines was even further delayed. The ferry Columbia, carrying an unusual load of heavy equipment, was late leaving the terminal. So the Hubbard‘s crew circled around Lutak Inlet for an hour and a half.
Finally, about nine years and 90 minutes after construction began, the M/V Hubbard let out its first load of passengers. Haines resident Tom Faverty was one of them.
“Except for the delay at the end, it was a beautiful voyage,” he said. “The boat was very clean,and very well organized, and it’s nice to have another ship in the upper Lynn Canal. We need it.”
The Hubbard, which is 50 feet longer than the LeConte, can hold more than 50 cars. Its top speed is about the same as an electric scooter’s. Captain Gabe Baylous pointed to 40 feet of living quarters added to the upper deck. A crew lunch room has been converted to sleeping quarters.
“This is all steel deck here,” he said. “All the unlicensed crew lives on this deck”
Adding crew quarters cost $15 million and delayed the boat’s maiden voyage until this week. The ship’s passenger capacity didn’t change – it was built to hold 300. The galley is tight, but the new stainless steel shines.
Baylous is confident that once a permanent cook gets assigned to the boat, some warm meals can be provided to passengers.
“I don’t anticipate this vessel ever being able to serve hot meals to 300 people. Perhaps on the lighter loads, we will be able to serve hot meals,” he said.
Baylous says with a full load of passengers, the new galley will turn out soups, salads and sandwiches that will be sold at the cafeteria.
Marine Highway System officials have said that bringing the Hubbard online in the Lynn Canal will free the LeConte to increase ferry service in other Southeast communities.
The ferry system has had difficulties recently hiring and retaining staff. Baylous says a ship like the Hubbard is well positioned to address the problem.
“We are going to have a smaller crew size, which I personally like,” he said. “It makes it feel (like a) more efficient operation and also a closer knit crew.”
Baylous says having a new ship will improve morale. He says although he loves the 60 year-old Malaspina, a recently retired ship in the fleet, he could see that working on a slowly decaying vessel had an impact on the crew’s energy. He points to an area on the Hubbard’s deck where crew will be able to have barbecues when in the shipyard.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “If you focus on the good of these ships, they are great ships. And the things that are bad, or a little off, I know are going to improve in time. So it’s more of a living thing and a growing thing.”
The car deck of the Hubbard is spacious and wide open. The turnaround time in Haines was only 20 minutes. Baylous said he expected to make up much of the lost time by night.