Some stranded ferry travelers begin heading north today

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Several Juneau residents were among the 330 travelers stuck in Bellingham, Wash., after a generator fire sidetracked the state ferry Columbia.

Chuck Meacham, headed north with his wife Charli, said they planned to find a hotel room and enjoy the community that's home to the Alaska Marine Highway's southernmost terminal.

"I've been in Alaska since 1956, so you kind of learn to roll with the punches," he told The Bellingham Herald.

Stan Schaefer, returning from medical treatment, found the wait less easy to take.

"Delays mean more expenses," he said. "That's a problem for people traveling on a shoestring and depending on friends."

The Juneau residents and others found no ship to take them north when they arrived in Bellingham for a 6 p.m. Friday sailing.

The 418-foot Columbia was stuck about 600 miles away in Ketchikan awaiting repairs after a generator caught fire Wednesday while the ship sailed from Petersburg to Wrangell. About 170 passengers were on board at the time, but no one was injured.

A replacement generator was flown into Ketchikan on Friday by Lynden Transport at the request of Gov. Frank Murkowski. It was expected to be installed quickly, said Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the Marine Highway System.

"We're cleaning the one that was flown in and we'll put that one in shortly," Capacci said Saturday. "I'm optimistic we'll get it installed and have the ferry resume its printed schedule Wednesday from Ketchikan."

In the meantime, the marine highway system sent the 408-foot ferry Matanuska south to bring passengers and vehicles north from Bellingham today. Travelers willing to make the two-day drive to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, were to be picked up there by three extra runs of the 235-foot ferry Aurora.

Capacci said the Matanuska had space for all passengers booked on the Columbia's canceled run. And he said enough people drove to Prince Rupert to make space on the Matanuska's smaller car deck for the remaining vehicles. The ferry system's traffic manager was sent to Bellingham to help travelers find solutions to their problems.

"It looks like most everybody will be able to get into the state," he said.

Meanwhile, about 225 Columbia passengers stuck in Ketchikan were shuttled to Prince Rupert for the drive south or put on the southbound Matanuska.

Schedule changes also are impacting daily northern Lynn Canal service, scheduled to begin on Monday. Capacci said the daily round-trip service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway will start Tuesday.

For the ferry system's updated schedule, go to its Web site, www.ferryalaska.com.

Empire editor Ed Schoenfeld contributed to this article.



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