Fast ferry gets annual overhaul in Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s Fast Vehicle Ferry Fairweather this year was able to do its month-long annual overhaul in an unusual place — its homeport of Juneau.


“From the crews perspective, its always nice to be in your home port to do the maintenance you need to do,” said Capt. Mike Neussl, deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

This year, the 235-foot Fairweather’s crew got to spend the month at home instead of at the Ketchikan shipyard where state ferry overhauls are normally done, while technicians from the shipyard there came to Juneau to assist with the work.

Ironically, that welcome change came due a bit of bad luck the Fairweather had in August, when it developed an oil leak in a water jet and had to be taken out of the water for repairs.

“Had that emergency drydocking not happened, the ship would have gone to Ketchikan for a month like it was normally scheduled to do, and the work would have been done down there,” Neussl said.

Instead, while the oil leak was being repaired, the Alaska Marine Highway System staff and the drydock scrambled to get all the annual maintenance work in which the ship needs to be out of the water done at the same time.

“We did all the underwater things while it was in the drydock to take advantage of the time it was there,” Neussl said.

Among those actions were inspection of the bow thruster tunnel housings, and checking its zincs, the cathodic protection sacrificial anodes, to see if they need replacement.

One direct benefit was the $43,000 drydock lifting fee that was saved when a second lifting of the vessel was avoided, he said.

Then, the remainder of the work could be done while tied to the dock in Juneau.

All the ship’s lifesaving equipment is removed from the ship once a year, inspected, repacked, reinstalled and recertified, Neussl said.

It was during sea trials after that overhaul that the Fairweather rescued 20-year-old University of Alaska-Southeast student Dani Gifford, who had medical difficulty while stranded by bad weather on Admiralty Island.

The Fairweather is frequently laid-up during the winter, but is now in Prince William Sound. It is relieving its sister fast ferry, the Chenega, for a month while the Chenega undergoes its own annual overhaul.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or


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