Ferry opens with smooth sailing

Posted: Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Perhaps the only negative aspect of Monday's first service run of the fast ferry Fairweather was that it ended too soon.

But that was the whole point.

Under sunny skies and with quiet seas, Alaska's first fast ferry catamaran carried politicians, officials involved in the boat's construction and, for the first time, "regular" passengers on a trip from Juneau to Haines and back.

The Fairweather covered the one-way distance between the two cities in just over two hours - half the time of the Alaska Marine Highway System's older vessels.

The new ferry, based in Juneau, will sail to Haines five times a week, to Skagway four times a week and to Sitka twice a week.

Once in Haines on Monday, the boat hosted a two-hour open house for local residents.

"I'm looking forward to getting to Juneau in two hours versus four or five," said Barbara Miramontes of Haines, visiting the ship with her husband, Victor, their 19-month-old daughter, Yzella, and Victor's sister, Maily Miramontes.

"It looks really clean, the people are really nice and they take care of everything."

Jono Green of Haines marveled at the sophisticated equipment in the ship's operating compartment.

"This is as current as anything I could ever imagine," he said. "It's almost out of time. It's impressive, and a joy to fathom what the reality of this means to Southeast Alaska."

The Fairweather, built by Derecktor Shipyards in Bridgeport, Conn., is 235 feet long, can hold 250 passengers and carries a crew of 10.

The car deck has room for 35 large cars, with 700 feet of 10-foot-wide lanes. There is a snack bar, several work stations with electrical outlets, a variety of seating configurations, a small solarium and 19 pieces of original artwork funded by the state's 1 Percent for Arts program.

The vessel is powered by four diesel engines with nearly 20,000 horsepower, which force water through four jets to propel the ship. On Monday's voyage, with a relatively light load, the cruising speed was 38 knots - just under 44 miles per hour.

About 150 passengers traveled the Juneau-to-Haines route Monday; about 100 were on the Haines-to-Juneau run.

A second catamaran ferry - the Chenega - is due to begin service next year around Prince William Sound.



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