'The Wizard' leaves the Fairweather

Senior engineer retires after 32 years

Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Richard Kinnear always gets excited when talking about ferries, no matter if it is repairing valve pressure systems or mopping the floors.

The chief engineer had several stories for a small crowd honoring him on his last day after 32 years of service with the Alaska Marine Highway System.

"They call him the Wizard because he's really good with electronics," said Capt. Wayne Carnes of the Fairweather high-speed craft.

Having spent shifts of one week in Juneau and a week at sea, Kinnear calls the ferries his second home. It was an easy career choice for a man whose father was a ship master and who learned he could get a college degree for studying his passion at the California Maritime Academy in Valeo.

After serving as a contractor with the Navy through the Vietnam War, Alaska's ferry Matanuska became his classroom for the next 20 years. He applied his theoretical engineering ideas to pipe designs, electrical systems and German engines that became the heart of the boats chugging through Southeast Alaska.

The Matanuska is also where he avoided several fires.

About 3 a.m. one morning, Kinnear crawled through a maintenance shaft for about an hour's work of repairs, but began smelling a hint of smoke while below. When he emerged to the deck, a crowd had gathered around him shouting "He's alive!" Yet Kinnear was in the most insulated corridor of the boat.

"It was started by a deep-fat fryer. That's the most dangerous piece of equipment on a ship," he said.

Since adjusting to the high-speed Fairweather, the crew says it's like living life in the fast lane. Traveling at higher speeds in uncertain weather conditions near rocks and sandbars can be stressful, especially on a vessel with passengers on board.

"No one cares if a ship is late when it's cargo is wheat. But when it's people, it's a lot different," Carnes said.

Kinnear said the biggest challenge is the schedule. Instead of having a few days to make repairs, the crew must finish before 6 a.m. It's a pace that wears on some of the younger staff members, but not this senior engineer.

"He's got more energy than a 21-year-old," said George Poor, daytime-shift Fairweather chief engineer.

Kinnear is a lifelong water skier who dreams of skiing behind a ferry someday, but dares not try it. Rather, he will spend his retirement flying an airplane or sailing.

Alaska Marine Highway System chief Robin Taylor attended a brief ceremony for Kinnear in which he was handed a letter from the Lt. Gov. Loren Leman thanking him for his service.



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