Bent Columbia propeller shrinks Southeast ferry service

The state ferry Columbia will soon sail south for repairs to a damaged propeller. That will leave Southeast with fewer port calls. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
The state ferry Columbia will soon sail south for repairs to a damaged propeller. That will leave Southeast with fewer port calls. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s largest ferry needs work on one of its propellers.

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The 500-passenger Columbia will soon head to a Portland, Ore., shipyard for repairs.

As a result, most of Southeast Alaska’s larger cities will lose one or two port calls a week.

Sitka will go two full weeks without ferry service.

Crews noticed a vibration last week when the ferry ran at full speed, Marine highway spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said. Divers then inspected the ship’s two propellers during a stop in Wrangell and discovered why the ship shook.

“They noticed that one of the blades had a noticeable bend to it, where it looked like it had been hit by something,” he said. “The assumption is maybe a submerged log or something along those lines that can do some damage to a large propeller like that.”

The Columbia is sailing a delayed schedule through Sept. 25, before heading to Portland for repairs.

Woodrow said the Columbia continues using both its propellers, but the damage to one means its maximum speed is 13 knots, two slower than its regular rate of travel.

“If you’re running shorter distances, maybe Haines to Skagway and back every day, you wouldn’t really notice that difference. But if you’re doing 18-hour, longer hauls, say Juneau to Ketchikan and Ketchikan to Bellingham, that two-knot difference really adds up,” Woodrow said.

Communities affected are Haines, Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Bellingham, Washington.

Woodrow said budget cuts mean no other ferries are available to fill in during the reduced schedule.

“The soonest the Columbia is likely to come back into service is Friday, Oct. 7, if repairs go as planned in Portland,” he said.

The Columbia is more than 40 years old.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.