JUNEAU - The Alaska Marine Highway System has opened for booking its summer sailings, later than usual and without changes sought by some port communities.
Most of the schedule, which includes 2004's May-September ferry runs, was made available for bookings Nov. 17. The full listing was posted on the marine highway Web site Thursday.
Capt. George Capacci, the system's general manager, said the summer schedule usually is posted and ready for bookings by early to mid-October.
"We have looked at our marketing and our customers, and we know that people are making summer plans in the fall in September and October," Capacci told CoastAlaska public radio. The summer season is the system's most lucrative, carrying almost two-thirds of its more than 250,000 yearly Southeast Alaska riders.
This year, the schedule remained unfinished while the Murkowski administration decided where to homeport the new fast ferry Fairweather, which will begin operations next year.
The Knowles administration had planned to base the ship in Sitka for sailings to Juneau and back. But Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton announced last month that the Fairweather would be based in Juneau, sailing twice a week to Sitka and the rest of the time to Haines and Skagway.
The schedule also was delayed as it underwent a new level of review from the Murkowski-appointed Marine Transportation Advisory Board. Port community advisory groups, ferry worker unions, tourism groups and shippers also reviewed the schedule.
Some of their suggestions were integrated into the schedule before its release last week. They include an additional June run to Pelican and an extra Petersburg stop every other week.
The revised schedule also adds one Lynn Canal sailing every other week, but doesn't resolve most complaints about the shortage of direct runs between Haines and Skagway.
Capacci said the fast ferry is designed for longer runs and is scheduled for direct Juneau-Haines and Juneau-Skagway runs. Stopping at a third port would be inefficient, he said.
As a result, riders will have to sail south to Juneau and back north again on the fast ferry to travel between the two towns on days when only fast ferries cover the route.
Haines and Skagway officials complained about the long trip, saying it would hurt business and create bottlenecks. In recent years, the marine highway schedule included a daily summer Lynn Canal run connecting Haines, Skagway and Juneau.
Capacci said the ferry system still is considering solutions to the Haines-Skagway connection problem.
Printed copies of the ferry schedule book are not expected to be out until January, although a limited number of photocopies will be made available at terminals.
For more on the Internet, check out www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/