Hundreds of Juneau residents flocked to the downtown waterfront Saturday to celebrate two major components of Southeast Alaska’s economy – the Alaska Marine Highway System and the fishing industry.
Alaska Marine Highway ferries haven’t been a regular sight in downtown Juneau for about 30 years. But early Saturday morning, the Malaspina quietly sailed into a rainy Gastineau Channel, and tied up at a downtown dock more likely these days to be hosting a cruise ship.
The unusual trip into the heart of the Capital City was part of the Malaspina’s 50th Anniversary Golden Voyage.
Former Mayor Bruce Botelho was the first passenger to disembark. He recalled being on one of the first Malaspina sailings out of downtown Juneau when he was just 15 years old.
“We got to do a special sailing to Auke Bay as part of an Explorer Scouts color guard,” Botelho said. “And of course, the Malaspina in the years since was the way we connected for sports events, it’s the way we did debate tournaments. It really proved itself to be the marine highway.”
Irene Cadiente was one of the few Juneau residents waiting to greet the Malaspina when it arrived at 6 a.m. Her late husband, Andres, was the vessel’s first cook.
“When the ship landed here, they hired him from the Baranof Hotel and he worked on there until he retired,” said Cadiente. “In fact, he wrote a cookbook and it has a picture of the Malaspina on there.”
Cadiente says she and their children would often join her husband on trips up and down the Inside Passage.
“At the time they had a dining room in there, and they had waiters, and my son – the oldest one – also worked on there, and he was a waiter,” she said. “So, it has a lot of memories for us and we’re happy to see it here.”
By 8 a.m. about 250 Juneau residents lined up to tour the Malaspina, including the bridge and other areas usually off limits to passengers. Another 400 people boarded by 10 a.m. for a special day cruise to Tracy Arm.
On her way to the popular wildlife viewing fjord, the ferry participated in Juneau’s annual Blessing of the Fleet, honoring the Capital City’s commercial fishing boats. Pastor Phil Campbell of Northern Light United Church did the blessing.
“Bless now the ferry Malaspina on this celebratory voyage,” Campbell said. “Bless the crew and passengers and bless our great state that has made the marine highway a reality.”
Seven names were added to the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial as part of this year’s ceremony: Charlie Clements, John Winther, Jr., Tom and Dorothy Osborne, brothers Casey and Kelly Newman, and Eric McDowell, who founded the research firm McDowell Group.
McDowell passed away last year at the age of 69 of complications from a staph infection. He joins his son Mark in being honored on the memorial. His other son Chris skippered his father’s boat, the Whisper, during the Blessing ceremony.
“It’s really a nice touch,” Chris McDowell said of having his father’s name added to the memorial. “He loved fishing and did it right up until the end of his life. So, got the boat blessed and got tied up and got up here in time for the reading of the names. So, it’s worked out pretty nicely.”
McDowell says it’s fitting that the Malaspina participated in this year’s Blessing. Over the years, the McDowell Group made a name for itself researching the economic impact of both the commercial fishing industry and the state ferry system.
“My dad was born in Southeast and spent his whole life here,” McDowell said. “It’s kind of part and parcel of being a Southeast resident. Half a century of ferry service and for my dad a little over half a century of fishing – there was kind of a nice parallel there.”
After its Tracy Arm cruise the Malaspina was scheduled to return to downtown Juneau to drop off passengers, then head to the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal. On Sunday she had events planned in Haines and Skagway.