Winter weather, safety concerns force ferry to U-turn and head back to Juneau

Icy conditions aboard the LeConte. (Photo by Nicole Kovacs)

A fully loaded state ferry bringing travelers to the upper Lynn Canal was forced to turn around on Friday. Heavy freight combined with turbulent seas and freezing spray to make conditions unsafe for the LeConte to continue north to Haines and Skagway. It’s another wintertime hiccup in travel plans for upper Lynn Canal residents.

Passengers aboard the LeConte reported the marine highway vessel was tilting to the port side during an aborted Friday morning trip from Juneau to Haines. The ship made an abrupt U-turn near Sentinel Island Lighthouse and headed back to Juneau at around 10 a.m.

DOT spokesperson Sam Dapcevich says it was a combination of factors including a full freight deck, heavy seas and freezing spray that forced the ship to turn around.

“They’ve got a full load on board. And the buildup of ice on the hull can cause stability issues. So the captain made the call to bring the ship back to port,” Dapcevich said.

Dapcevich said Friday afternoon the ship would offload some freight in Juneau and attempt another trip north later in the day.

Skagway resident Andrea Payne was on the ferry on Friday morning. She says it was anything but smooth sailing.

“The waves are something. I’ve never been on such a rocky ferry ride. You can’t walk. It’s like you’re drunk. You go to the bathroom, you’re falling over,” Payne said.

Another Skagway passenger, Sierra O’Daniel was heading home from Juneau after seeing her doctor. She’s pregnant with twins. She says as soon as the announcement was made that they were turning around, her husband Jason booked a hotel room in Juneau and tickets on Sunday’s ferry to Skagway. An hour and a half later, she says she heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that there would be another sailing that same day. But she’s staying in Juneau.

“If I wasn’t so pregnant and uncomfortable, we’d probably just try to stay. But it’s really hard for me to, like, sit down for an extended period of time without being able to like recline or lay down. And so, Jason and I just decided, well, we’ll just stay [in Juneau] for the couple of nights and come back on Sunday,” O’Daniel said.

Other Skagway residents have already been stuck in the capital city for multiple days, including Danielle Arnold. She had surgery in Juneau earlier in the week and tried to fly home to Skagway on Wednesday, only to be turned around.

“Our flight was leaving late because of weather. And he went ahead and tried and we got like right outside of Skagway. If there was no fog we could have seen Skagway. And he told us that if it got too bad, he was gonna turn around,” Arnold said.

When the pilot did make the call to turn back to Juneau, things got dicey.

“When he turned sideways, the plane hit a bunch of air and started shaking really hard. And then it hit a pothole and dropped while we’re still sideways in the air. It was scary,” Arnold said.

So she booked a safe bet on the LeConte, only to get turned around once again. With a volleyball tournament in Haines this weekend, seats on the boat were full, with some passengers sitting on the floor.

“It’s one of the more crowded ferries I think I’ve ever been on and there’s not enough seating for everybody. So you really do have bodies everywhere,” said Skagway Assembly person Deb Potter who’s been traveling for several days, trying to get home from a series of conferences in Anchorage.

“There are people sitting in stairwells and laying on the floors, not just in the lounges, but on the floors everywhere,” Potter said.

As of  Friday afternoon, the LeConte was once again headed northbound and expected to call in both Skagway and Haines.

KHNS - Haines

KHNS is our partner station in Haines. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications