Water taxis continue to fill inter-island transportation needs

A few months ago, passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight trying to get to Wrangell were stranded in Petersburg due to a mechanical problem. Thanks to a local tour operator, the castaways were picked up and brought back to Wrangell in less than an hour.

For many years, Wrangell skippers have been offering shuttle services as a quick and affordable means of traveling between the two communities.

Last Saturday, Zach Taylor, owner of Muddy Water Adventures, teamed up with Summit Charters and took a Little League team to Banana Point for a game in Petersburg. During the school year, it's common for Taylor and other tour operators to transport kids between the towns for games and other events.

Although there isn't a set schedule, most operators will post on Facebook any trips with seats available in case anyone wants to catch a ride.

Spenser Stavee, owner of Breakaway Adventures, will post his taxi schedule on the Wrangell community page on Facebook to keep people abreast of trips for the half-hour run to the southern end of Mitkof Island, where people can get a ride for the 28 miles into Petersburg. It's a service he's continued after purchasing the company from Eric Yancey in 2021.

"I've got to give Eric a lot of credit for what he built over all those years and the kind of service he was giving people and keeping ... (the taxi service) affordable," Stavee said.

Though the price was $50 per person with a minimum of $100 per trip for several years, Breakaway had to increase the price to $60 per person, with a $120 minimum, due to inflation and the rising cost of fuel.

In comparison, a one-way Alaska Airlines flight to Petersburg averages around $129, and passengers are limited to the airline's one-flight-a-day schedule. The state ferry is only $45 for walk-on passengers, however it's three days until the ferry returns going the opposite direction. It also averages about three hours to get from Wrangell to Petersburg by ferry.

The affordable cost of a water taxi the 12 miles to Banana Point was a deciding factor for Wrangell resident Don Stevens last Wednesday, as he had gone over to Petersburg for medical treatment and was returning home using the taxi service both ways. He was also able to easily bring his dog Molly. For Stevens, the small-boat option makes sense.

"It's handy. It's a short trip," he said. It's also a convenient option. "If you take the ferry, it's in the middle of the night."

Yancey years ago started shuttling people between Wrangell and Banana Point when the summer tourism season ended. "I think a lot of this was born from the wintertime when there's not a lot going on. He started running back and forth, kind of the first guy to stay in the water year-round," Stavee said.

Though plenty of Wrangell people go to Petersburg, Stavee said more seem to come from Petersburg to Wrangell. Part of that is due to getting into town. If someone is boating to Banana Point, they need to arrange a ride into town, whereas for passengers coming to Wrangell, they get dropped off right in town.

A lot of Breakaway's passengers to Wrangell are workers coming on Fridays to get their federal TWIC card (transportation worker identification credential) and/or TSA PreCheck.

"They can come over here, get it done and go back a couple hours after it's done," Stavee said. "We try to be as flexible as we can. Sometimes we have tours and stuff like that, but we try to tailor it to everybody. Every once in a while, I'll do one in the morning, then one two hours later, then one in the afternoon because that's how people need to work it out."

He said it's not uncommon to shuttle people back and forth seven days a week.

Jennifer Ludwigsen, who has three children, has been using the water taxi service for around six years to get her three children, Trevyn, Aadyn and Maddilyn Gillen, over to Petersburg for weekends with their father.

"In the winter, they go every other weekend, weather depending," she said. "This winter, they didn't have to cancel at all. If the weather is bad, they'll turn around and they (the kids) don't go that weekend."

She said that Breakaway posts its schedule early enough that she's able to coordinate drop-off and pick-up times with the children's father. She has friends in a similar situation who benefit from the ease of getting back and forth between the islands.

The affordability and quick, easily scheduled times are typically deciding factors for patrons of the taxi services, Stavee said.

"For the most part, I think this works pretty well," he said. "I think what would happen if you tried to get too expensive with some of this stuff, it just wouldn't happen. ... Banana Point is close and it puts wear and tear on the engines, but if you can get four or five people and at least cover your expense, it makes it worth it."


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