May 9, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 18

Town hails 50 years of ferries

Passengers whose ferry stories spanned the 50-year history the Alaska Marine Highway System shared them at a celebration on the Port Chilkoot Dock Sunday, where the ferry Malaspina tied up during a special commemorative docking.

The ferry system and the Malaspina were only a few months old when Dr. Stan Jones boarded the ship in early 1963 and came to Haines to take over the town’s lone medical practice. Jones was 31. The clinic was located in the old Bureau of Indian Affairs school, which now houses the Chilkat Valley Preschool. “I was crazy,” Jones said, while waiting for a tour of the vessel’s bridge.

During three decades of doctoring here, Jones said he delivered at least one baby on a ferry and once inserted a chest tube into a patient with a collapsed lung. “Whenever I requested the ferry to wait or turn around (for a patient), the crews were always most cooperative,” Jones said.

When former Alaska Gov. Bill Egan was campaigning for office here in 1968, the ferry waited as Jones fixed the dislocated shoulder of one of Egan’s staffers. “They kept calling my office, asking, ‘How much longer? How much longer?’”

Hannah Reeves, 23, was one of the last children born at the clinic Dr. Jones built on First Avenue. She came aboard the Malaspina with her bike Sunday, heading for a summer job as an innkeeper in Skagway. Reeves, who has been holding down multiple jobs in Haines, said she’s looking forward to having only one.

“I’m looking forward to meeting people from all over the world. It will be an exciting time,” she said.

Reeves came aboard amid a ferry system birthday party that included speeches, Native dancing and a serenade by the Haines A Capella Women’s Chorus. She arrived in Skagway to another dockside ferry party that included dance hall girls and period outfits. “I figured this would be a good boat to go on. There’s a going-away party for me here and a welcome party there,” she said.

Carpenter Matt Whitman of Haines recounted an idyllic week he spent on the solarium of the ferry LeConte, after it broke down between Juneau and Tenakee in spring of 1989. Whitman and friends who’d been working in Tenakee were left with no place to stay while the ship was laid up in Juneau.

Ferry officials let them sleep at night on the solarium if they left during the day. After the fix, Whitman and friends got to stay on the boat for a free trip to Pelican before resuming the voyage to Tenakee. “There weren’t many people on board. It was like a private yacht tour. We saw humpacks bubble-net feeding. It was my first time in that part of Icy Strait. It was a vacation.”

Resident Dan Lundberg said in the early 1980s the ferries provided him a lifeline between a shipyard job he held in Bremerton, Wash. and family living here. From his home in Port Orchard, Wash., he could make the trip to Haines on foot, taking three different ferries and paying about $115 total in fares.

“The ferries really saved me. I remember one time I only had $5 to eat. They gave away water and crackers on board and I lived off those for a couple days. The ferries were my artery,” Lundberg said.

Residents who gave speeches dockside retold the story of Steve Homer, the Fort Seward resident whose landing-craft ferry between Haines, Skagway and Juneau in the late 1940s was adapted by state officials and transformed into the ferry system.

Ferry system general manager Capt. John Falvey accepted a carved, wooden canoe paddle from Native dancer Tim Ackerman to mark the anniversary.

Falvey said the Malaspina was looking good after $10 million in upgrades last year. “These ships are old but we keep them maintained. They’re still doing the job they were built for. There will always be a mix of mainliners and day vessels. They’re not going away, but we have to be as efficient as we can at the same time.”

Falvey said it was fitting for the golden anniversary cruise of the Malaspina to be ending in Lynn Canal where the system started. Malaspina officials said 276 residents came aboard during Sunday’s docking.