Glen Jacobson maneuvered the Fjordland into the Auke Bay harbor last week, dropping off Haines High School students, teachers and chaperones for the Southeast Alaska Music Festival.
It was the first commercial voyage for the 65-foot catamaran, which Alaska Fjordlines will use to provide six-day-a-week service between Juneau, Skagway and Haines this summer.
Parent Kathy Eggen of Haines was waiting for the ship to arrive.
"It's nice to have it available. You can come down here, do some shopping and sleep in your own bed that night," she said.
Two Haines-based companies - Alaska Fjordlines and Chilkat Cruises & Tours - will provide high-speed ferry service between Juneau and Lynn Canal communities this summer, targeting visitors and residents.
Alaska Fjordlines - formerly Haines-Skagway Water Taxi - also runs the Sea Venture II between Haines and Skagway twice daily during the summer, said Jacobson, who owns and operates the business with his wife Alison. The Fjordland seats 48 while the Sea Venture II seats 80 people, he said.
The Fjordland, which run at 28 knots, was built at the Knight & Carver yard in San Diego especially for Lynn Canal waters.
"Lynn Canal has a lot of fresh water and an extraordinarily deep chop. We commonly get chop to 5 feet. The hulls are very narrow to slice through and there's a wide enough leg to bridge the peaks," Jacobson said.
Alaska Fjordlines will begin running daily trips between Skagway, Haines and Juneau, with the exception of Wednesdays, starting June 1. The ship will depart Skagway at 8 a.m., Haines at 9 a.m. to arrive in Juneau at 10 or 10:30 a.m., departing at 5 p.m.
"The market we see for this boat will be to highway traffic that finds its way down to Haines and Skagway. Most of our clients find their way here in an RV. What we're offering them is a day trip to Juneau," he said.
Jacobson said local residents might use the service in combination with the state ferry or a plane flight, or on a weekend visit. He said the company builds a half-hour of wildlife sightseeing into the voyage. The company also offers Juneau tour packages.
The boat will be in the water year-round and the company has put together charters aimed at school groups, Jacobson said.
For Haines music teacher Bob Krebs, last week's trip allowed the school's band and choir students to spend more time in class and less time in transit.
"It worked out perfectly with our schedule," he said.
Chilkat Cruises & Tours - a subsidiary of Klukwan Inc., a village Native corporation - will also provide ferry service between Haines and Juneau on weekends this summer. Service starts June 2, Director of Operations Eddie Herzinger said. Two new ships will allow the company to double its capacity between Haines and Skagway and add weekend service between Haines and Juneau, he said.
The company plans to launch the new 60-passenger Chilkat Express soon. The vessel is expected to cruise at 42 to 45 knots and was built in Bellingham, Wash., by All American Marine. The "foil assisted" jet catamaran was designed for an excursion to Glacier Point, 10 miles south of Haines. A second new vessel - the 150-passenger
Fairweather Express II - is under construction at Allen Marine in Sitka.
In addition, Chilkat Cruises & Tours will continue to operate the Fairweather Express between Haines and Skagway. Which ship makes the run to Juneau will depend on weather and vessel availability, Herzinger said. The company's market includes visitors and local residents, he said.
"We hope it will open the lines between the communities and increase commerce and tourism in general," he said. Herzinger said the company is working on hotel packages in Haines and Juneau and accepts charters.
Both Herzinger and Jacobson said it's hard to compete with the Alaska Marine Highway System on price, but the advantage of the high-speed service is scheduling. On average, the shuttle trips will cut a four-and-a-half-hour state ferry trip from Haines to Juneau in half.
"We're finding a niche between flying and the (state) ferry," Alison Jacobson said.
Alaska Fjordlines is charging $89 round-trip per adult between Haines and Juneau and $99 round-trip between Skagway and Juneau. The trip includes a light dinner. Chilkat Cruises & Tours is charging $99 round-trip between Haines and Juneau. A round-trip adult ticket on the state ferry from Juneau to Haines is $52.
The two companies aren't the first to offer transportation alternatives in the region. Haines resident Bruce Gilbert provided regular service on the Silver Eagle between Haines and Echo Cove a few years ago, but wasn't able to make money on the venture, he said. He still accepts charters on the 65-foot raised-cabin catamaran landing craft and provided service when the state ferry Columbia went out of service last year.
"The advantage is that I can carry cars," he said.
In the past, Allen Marine and Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation, have provided ferry service from Juneau to Lynn Canal communities but aren't now, company representatives said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.