Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Marine Highway Service considers retiring Fairweather


September 20, 2018 | View PDF

Photo courtesy of Lynnette Campbell.

The FVF Fairweather made its final run for the winter and possibly indefinitely on Sep. 9, according to Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) spokeswoman, Aurah Landau. The ferry is tied up every winter for cost savings. However, "because of the cost of the vessel, it might be retired," Landau said. "But, if the system needs a change, it could be put back in service."

Due to the 32 knot cruising speed of the Fairweather, which is about double that of a normal ferry, field and crew costs have been exceptionally high. Not only does it burn more fuel, but the vessel requires its crew to have special certifications and training because of the faster speed, Landau said.

"If you were to look at running the same exact route head to head, it's about a 1.3 million savings," said Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) General Manager, Captain John Falvey, comparing the Fairweather to other ships in the AMHS fleet.

Whether or not the Fairweather is retired, two new Alaska-class ships, M/V Tazlina and M/V Hubbard, will serve the Lynn Canal starting in May 2019. There will be no reduction of service, as the Tazlina will be taking over the runs that the Fairweather would ordinarily do, Landau said.

According to Captain Falvey, there will "actually be a slight increase [in service], because the Alaska-class ferries can carry more individuals and vehicles." The new vessels have a greater carrying capacity of an additional 50 people and 18 vehicles.

Other benefits of the Alaska-class ships are fuel efficiency, and the possibility of adding crew quarters for increased flexibility in the future.

"They'll just be going a little bit slower," Captain Falvey said, "I don't necessarily see a negative to that." The Tazlina and the Hubbard will run at a 16 knot cruising speed, which takes nearly double the travel time of the Fairweather.

Lynette Campbell, who notarized the bill of sale for the transfer of the Fairweather from the shipyard to the State of Alaska in 2004, said the Fairweather is her favorite boat.

"It's a fan favorite, people love that boat," she said. "But from the strict dollar sides of things, it was very expensive to run." Campbell, who works for DOT, said that one of the most significant challenges the AMHS faces is the change of administration every four years. "You end up with a system that isn't consistent, and doesn't get consistently funded," she said.

The Fairweather's sister ship, the M/V Chenega, has been retired since 2015 when the Legislature cut funding to accommodate decreasing oil prices. The Taku was retired in 2017.

"We've had about $29 to $30 million in budget reductions since 2014, and we've had to make many adjustments to accommodate those reductions," Captain Falvey said. "We're down to a nine ship fleet instead of an 11 ship fleet."

For the winter months, Southeast will be serviced by four state-owned vessels: The M/V Columbia, M/V Malaspina, and M/V Kennicott, and a rotation between the M/V LeConte and the M/V Aurora.

Haines Sheldon Museum director, Helen Alten, asked about the fate of the artwork aboard the Fairweather. She said there were a number of masks made by Alaska Indian Arts in Haines sold to AMHS years ago. According to Captain Falvey, the art from the previously retired Chenega and Taku is in AMHS possession. "We've got it very well stored and protected at our warehouse in Ketchikan, and our plan is to use that art on our new ferries."

As for the Fairweather's art, it will stay on the ship until it is officially declared retired. Captain Falvey said that the fate of the vessel will be determined soon. Retirement, he said, "is possible, but we're not sure yet, and that's something we really want to stress."


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