Independent ferry tied up for repairs in Wrangell

The Rainforest Islands Ferry loading vehicles at Heritage Harbor in Wrangell. (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)
The Rainforest Islands Ferry loading vehicles at Heritage Harbor in Wrangell. (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

An independent ferry in Southeast Alaska is tied up with mechanical problems in Wrangell, the latest in series of delays and difficulties for the new service.

The Rainforest Islander is based in Coffman Cove on eastern Prince of Wales Island. The ship makes four trips a week to Wrangell and southern Mitkof Island near Petersburg.

“We have to replace the port side transmission and do some work on the starboard main engine,” said the ferry’s general manager Kent Miller. “The port side transmission developed a fault that we identified here in Wrangell last week and it’s quite a serious issue that requires replacing that piece of equipment. We’ve cancelled service through October as a result.”

The 65-foot landing craft was built in 1991 and has two engines. The starboard engine is having compression problems and needs some repair. Miller said that’s not as serious as the transmission issue on the port side. He said that problem became apparent last week.

“We did check it out however when the boat got to Wrangell and found out that there was indeed a problem that oil pressure really was not holding where it should be on the port side,” Miller said. “And so, further inspection showed that it was likely the port side transmission had to be replaced and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Miller apologized to customers for the interruption to service and says the North End Ferry Authority will be in touch with passengers once the ferry resumes round trips. The ferry started up service in late August after months of delays.

“We hoped it would be operating very reliably and well by this time but just haven’t managed to do that,” he said.

Miller said ridership has been increasing in recent weeks but has not yet developed like the authority had hoped. The date for resuming service is still up in the air but Miller said the North End Ferry Authority board will make a decision on that in early November.