Alaska Ferries New and Old

By , April 30, 2019

Yesterday, we saw the brand new Alaska Marine Highway ferry, Taslina, come up Lynn Canal.

The Taslina is a new, “Alaska Class” ferry, which will apparently join the ferry schedule on May 1st. Apparently, they took it on a preschedule shakedown cruise to the upper Lynn Canal.

MV Taslina

The Taslina, on its inaugural(?) run up Lynn Canal (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

There’s a lot that could, and perhaps should be said about this ferry, and the current state of the entire ferry system. In brief, the Alaska Marine Highway is well named—it is literally the marine highway that connects the isolated communities of Southeast Alaska, many of which are island based. Convincing our state’s population, mostly centered in Southcentral Alaska, of its importance has been a struggle for decades.

Now, our current governor wants to de-fund it. Somehow, at the same time, the state plans to build a new ferry terminal in Juneau to serve the upper Lynn Canal, that lies 30 miles north of Juneau, which means that the popular “walk on” passenger will virtually disappear. If they do this, it’ll drastically change how our family travels around our region.

All of that aside, we had a novel experience yesterday, seeing that brand new ferry pass the homestead.

A few minutes later, we thought it might be coming back. We felt a vibration in the air, but also in our chests. We began to feel tense, stressed. A moment later, Columbia hove into view, also headed north. We should have known! The Columbia was that day’s scheduled ferry, making its regular run right behind the Taslina.

MV Columbia

The Columbia comes (loudly) north in front of LC Mountain (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The Columbia, which I remember as “the new” ferry from my childhood, is now one of the older ferries in the system.  We always know when it’s coming, because it raises our stress levels just by its vibrations.

When we first came to the homestead, the cabin had no front windows. Instead, the window holes were covered by two sheets of clear plastic, what we in the northwest call visqueen. These double sheets created giant eardrums in the spaces. Any noise on the water out front, magnified by those sheets of plastic, would sound as if it came from inside the cabin. We would hear the underwater whine of a ferry’s propellers long before we’d hear its engine. Now, the only ferry that we hear like that is the Columbia. Somehow, its massive old engines vibrate the air around us, setting our teeth on edge, ramping up tension until it passes by.

I hear that the Taslina will all but replace the other ferries in the system on the Haines and Skagway runs. We’ll see what happens. Yesterday, at any rate, we saw the past and future of the system pass by within the same few moments.


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