Belated christening for state ferry Hubbard, five years after launch

Nearly a decade after construction started and a month after it was put into service, the 280-foot-long Hubbard was officially christened as the newest ferry in the Alaska Marine Highway System’s fleet on June 26 in Juneau.

The Hubbard — first envisioned in 2006 as part of a project to shuttle passengers between Juneau, Haines and Skagway — has experienced plenty of rough waters before a couple dozen attendees boarded it for its christening during a stormy day at Juneau’s Auke Bay ferry terminal.

Initial construction was completed in 2018, but it remained out of service for more than four years until crew quarters were added to meet rest- and work-hour requirements.

“OK, she’s been through a couple of modifications since she came off the line,” said Juneau Sen. Jesse Kiehl at the christening. “But that’s what we do in Alaska, we adapt. Sometimes we reinvent, we always look for a better way to do it, or a more effective or efficient way to do it. And I think that’s something that Hubbard represents.”

The state paid about $60 million for construction of the Hubbard at the Vigor shipyard in Ketchikan. It later spent more than $2 million to add a side door so that the ferry could call on ports unable to accommodate its stern-loading door.

The latest modification cost $15 million to add crew quarters to the ship, so that it could carry a second crew and meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements for voyages longer than 12 hours.

The Alaska Marine Highway System also spent about $2 million to add a side door to the Hubbard’s $60 million sister ship, the Tazlina, which is scheduled for installation of crew quarters this year. Unlike the Hubbard, which never saw service until this summer, the Tazlina has been used a few times since its launch more than four years ago.

The state’s ferry system has gone through a series of struggles in recent years due to budget cuts, vessel availability and workforce shortages. Kiehl said the Hubbard, which is providing service between the three northern panhandle communities six times a week this summer, is a key step toward reviving the ferry’s role as “an absolutely essential piece of our infrastructure.”

The ceremonial breaking of champagne across the bow of the Hubbard was performed by First Lady Rose Dunleavy, whose husband, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, has been subject to considerable criticism for his deep cuts to the ferry system budget and service during his first year in office in 2019.

The ferry system remained among the lowest-scoring functions in the state’s infrastructure report card last year.

Rose Dunleavy said her experience growing up in the remote village Noorvik in Northwest Alaska allows her to understand the need residents in coastal communities have for the ferry system.

“I was raised in a small town that relied heavily on our airport, and our primary connection of goods and services and outside medical care,” she said. “The marine highway serves small rural communities in much the same way. It connects them to the economy, connects Alaskans to their neighbors and allows access to the rest of the state via roads or planes.”

The Hubbard is named after the Hubbard Glacier, located about 35 miles north of Yakutat, with Taylor Thompson, a high school student, suggesting the name as the winner of a statewide essay contest in 2016. The vessel has features found on other ships in the fleet such as a heated solarium and cafeteria-style dining area, includes some modern-era additions.

“When you look at the sheet on the ship’s status it talks about things like having ample power outlets and workspaces,” Transportation Department Commissioner Ryan Anderson said at the christening. “We actually have a new thing on this vessel called Starlink, or the internet system, that we’re testing out. There’s only a few vessels and we’re still testing it out, but that’s a huge game changer for AMHS being able to communicate.”

The Wrangell Sentinel added reporting to this story.


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