Prince of Wales community celebrates the return of ferry service

The Rainforest Islander is scheduled to link South Mitkof Island, Wrangell and Pettersburg starting in mid-July (Photo courtesy of Rainforest islands Ferry)
The Rainforest Islander is scheduled to link South Mitkof Island, Wrangell and Pettersburg starting in mid-July (Photo courtesy of Rainforest islands Ferry)

After months of delays, a new ferry in Southeast Alaska is planning to start up service this Friday, Aug. 28. The Rainforest Islands Ferry will offer four-day a week service connecting Petersburg, Wrangell and Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island.

The small community of Coffman Cove has been planning for the restart of ferry service to northeast Prince of Wales Island for years. One resident, Heather Hedges works in marketing for the new ferry and said the boat arrived in that town Friday.

“I think we all had tears in our eyes,” Hedges said. “We were all very excited to see it. They came in Friday night and of course we all hung out and waited for them to come in with anticipation. It was just really nice to see it come in.”

The community of 174 people lost ferry service in 2009 when another independent ferry authority ended service between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and the southern end of Mitkof Island near Petersburg. This new converted landing craft will be restarting a four-day a week connection on that route.

Hedges said the ferry is better than she expected. “The seats are comfortable. It’s got a very small galley. However we’re going to have some good food on there. So we’re pretty excited about that. So yes it’s a very nice boat.”

The Rainforest Islands Ferry has capacity for up to 28 passengers and six vehicles. It had been scheduled to start up service in mid-June but was delayed multiple times, waiting for certification from the Coast Guard and overcoming a mechanical problem.

The ferry’s general manager Kent Miller said he hopes all the delays are behind them. “We’ve gotten the certificate of inspection for the vessel so we’re able now to start carrying passengers and that certainly is a milestone the overhaul and refit of the boat has been invested in. So we’re glad to get to that point. Now all we have to do is show everyone that we can operate reliably and make money in winter. So obviously there are challenges ahead but that’s the next step.”

Miller said the 65-foot ferry was scheduled to do a dry run on the route Tuesday. The launch of passenger service is planned for Friday, Aug. 28. The organization is calling to schedule passage with people who have expressed interest.

While, the ferry is scheduled to run this Friday, the planned mini-coach service from the three docking sites is not expected to be ready until later next month. That service will help get people from the remote boat ramps at Shoemaker Bay south of Wrangell and Banana Point south of Petersburg to those communities. That van service is also planned between Coffman Cove and Craig on Prince of Wales Island. Miller said the authority has ordered the three passengers vans and hopes to have it in place Sept. 20.

In addition, he said the ferry authority is looking into adding a fourth stop on its route, at Roosevelt Harbor on Zarembo Island. “We haven’t been in there obviously but the dry run will take a look at Roosevelt harbor as well for a service that can provide hunters and off-road vehicles recreational opportunity.”

Once it gets going the ferry will be running Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. A grand opening for the new service is also expected in the next few weeks.

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