The Alaska Marine Highway System’s newest ferry carried its first passengers from Juneau to Haines and Skagway Tuesday. Despite uncertainty over the future of the state’s ferry system, the M/V Tazlina received a warm welcome from residents in Haines.
Half a dozen women in sailor hats wait eagerly for the first passengers to exit the Tazlina as it ties up at the Haines ferry terminal for the first time.
They are members of the Haines Women’s A Cappella Chorus. Director Nancy Nash says they are here to show support for the ferry system.
“With our ferry boat serenade. A song from 1940. We’ve customized it for the ferry Tazlina.”
Haines has a special relationship with ferries. It is the birthplace of Chilkoot Motorship Lines, a Southeast Alaska ferry service that would later become the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Haines mayor Jan Hill remembers the rollout of the M/V Malaspina, one of three ships in the marine highway’s original fleet.
“When the Malaspina made its maiden voyage here I was in junior high,” Hill says. “I was in the pep band on the dock playing for the boat then and my mom and her dad were on the ferry.”
The newest ferry, Tazlina, is the first Alaska Marine Highway ferry built in Alaska. The 280-foot ship can hold up to 300 passengers and 53 vehicles. It will provide service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway from May to September.
Candice Haagensen, a Haines ferry terminal operator with AMHS, says things are going well so far.
“Smooth sailing. Pulled straight in. We got her tied up and lined up with the door there, lowered the ramp and everything’s a go. I couldn’t be happier to see her here. She’s beautiful,” Haagensen said.
The debut of the Tazlina comes at a difficult time for the ferry system.
The Alaska Marine Highway System’s Executive Director lost her job last week.
In addition, the marine highway faces deep cuts as the House and Senate work towards an operating budget. The Dunleavy administration has proposed ending ferry service altogether by October.
Things may look bleak for Alaska’s ferries, but that cannot stop these women from singing a love song for Tazlina.