Old Alaska ferries begin their journey to Spain

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Two tugs position the Chenega as the former state ferry is loaded onto the Red Zed 1, bound for Spain. (Photo by Eric Stone / KRBD)

Two old Alaska Marine Highway ferries began their journey to Spain on Friday morning.

A crowd gathered as tugs pulled the Fairweather and Chenega fast ferries from Ketchikan’s Ward Cove to a waiting transport vessel.

“Big things are happening. Who doesn’t want to see this? remarked Kalijah Lecornu, standing at Murphy’s Landing, a few miles north of downtown Ketchikan. He saw two Amak Towing tugs pulling the 235-foot Chenega State Ferry onto a waiting heavy transport vessel.

The 711-foot Red Zed 1 arrived in Ketchikan in April in preparation for this time. As Lecornu and a crowd of a few dozen watch, the ship is partially submerged – it is taken out on the water to allow ferries to be pulled aboard and secured by divers. Later, the ship will pump water from its ballast tanks, bringing its deck – and the Chenega and the Fairweather – back above the surface.

But from shore, progress seems rather slow.

“Yes, a big boat that takes a long time. I think it’s backwards for now. But really, [it’s] always so exciting. The thumbs are moving [are] breathtaking, ”Lecornu said.

Two Amak Towing tugs pull the former Chenega State Ferry – adorned with a banner with the name of its new Spanish owner, Trasmapi – out of Ward Cove. (Photo by Eric Stone / KRBD)

The Red Zed has become a familiar sight in recent months in Ketchikan’s Tongass Narrows. Angie Taggart said she looks at the huge U-shaped ship almost every day as she drives past to walk her dogs at Ward Lake.

“We’re all waiting – I think the whole city has been waiting to see this process for a few months. But it’s sad to see the ferries leaving, ”she said.

Onlookers, including retired ferry captain Bill Hopkins (left), watch the tugs pull the Chenega towards the Red Zed 1 on Friday morning. (Photo by Eric Stone / KRBD)

Several people said it was a bittersweet occasion.

“For me, it’s sad to see him disappear,” said retired Alaska Sea Route captain Bill Hopkins, watching from the shore.

He said he viewed the ships as a symbol of mismanagement of the ferry system. He says things started to change once aluminum hull catamarans entered service in the mid-2000s.

“From my perspective, as soon as these ships entered the fleet, so much money was diverted to their direction. [that] the rest of the fleet suffered somewhat as the rest of the fleet got older and maintenance became critical, ”he said. “The money has dispersed too much. “

The construction of the two fast ferries cost the state $ 68 million. Although their speed made them popular, they took more fuel and maintenance to operate and struggled in rough seas. Cost-cutting decisions took them out of service after about a decade of serving communities in Alaska. The state of Alaska negotiated $ 5.1 million for the couple in a sealed auction to a Spanish ferry company.

Hopkins has said he would like to see the state make smarter investments in the future.

“They have done everything they can, except replace the old ships that need to be replaced. They tried the high speed ferries. They tried the Alaska class ferries. They do anything and everything except what they should be doing, ”he said.

He says the next ship purchased by the state ferry system is expected to replace the Malaspina. This 450-passenger ship has broken down and is unlikely to sail on a state ferry route again. Governor Mike Dunleavy recently offered the 58-year-old ferry to the Philippines for free.

The Fairweather and Chenega are sitting on the partially submerged deck of Red Zed 1 Friday afternoon. (Photo by Eric Stone / KRBD)

Several people shared fond memories of driving the Blue and Gold Alaska ferries. Kathy Gibb Banie said she was on the Malaspina’s maiden voyage when she was a baby. But she said she was dismayed by budget cuts in recent years that have resulted in fewer services.

“The ferry system is the lifeline here. Sadly, it’s almost a lost lifeline, and we’ve had enough, ”she said.

The Spanish ferry operator Trasmapi manages catamarans to and from the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea. To get there, the Red Zed will take them to the Atlantic via the Panama Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar.


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