First Alaska ferry built here christened: Locals, visitors celebrate Tazlina

Billy Singleton, Ketchikan Daily News Staff Writer

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Tazlina was christened on Saturday afternoon at the Ketchikan Shipyard. It is the first state ferry ever constructed in Alaska.

The ceremony took place aboard the Tazlina’s cavernous car deck, while the 280-foot ferry was docked in the Tongass Narrows beside the shipyard.

First lady Donna Walker broke a champagne bottle across a beam in the ship’s stern, to the applause of several hundred audience members.

“Today, we come to name this lady ‘Tazlina,’” Walker said during her remarks.

“We ask the sailors of old and the mood of God that is the sea to accept her name, to help her through her passages and allow her to always, always return safely home.”

With Vigor Alaska’s work on the ferry nearly complete, the Tazlina has been undertaking sea trials in preparation for its upcoming transfer to the AMHS.

The day ferry, along with its sister ship the Hubbard, is scheduled to go into service in the Lynn Canal on May 1, 2019.

Several Alaska politicians delivered speeches, noting the moment’s historical significance.

“Once again we’re able to demonstrate, through exceptional engineering and craftsmanship, that Alaskans can do just about anything that anybody else can,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said. “And, thank you very much, we can even do it better.”

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, recounted the process of securing funding for the two ferries, crediting Gov. Bill Walker in particular for supporting the roughly $100 million project in spite of the state’s financial difficulties.

“I’d just like to thank the governor in particular for sticking with it, letting the people of Ketchikan, and areas around the state that came here to work, show that we can build ships,” Stedman said.

Walker remarked on the highway system’s benefit to the state.

“This is a historic day for Alaska,” he said. “Not just Ketchikan. Alaska.”

“The entire state benefits from this Alaska Marine Highway System,” Walker added.

“And the operative word in that is ‘highway.’ And so it is the highway of Southeast. It’s absolutely critical, and that won’t change.”

Former Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Joe Williams, Vigor Executive Vice President Adam Beck, and Alaska Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken also spoke during the ceremony.

Father Patrick Travers of the Holy Name Catholic Church delivered a convocation, and Vigor Alaska Development Director Doug Ward presided over the event.

A self-guided tour of the ferry followed Saturday’s christening.

At 280-feet, the ship is significantly larger than other day boats like the Aurora and the LeConte. Its size allows it a high carrying capacity (300 passengers and 53 standard vehicles) and the ability to operate in rougher waters.

The ferry was designed with fuel efficiency in mind, according to John Waterhouse, chief concept engineer for Elliot Bay Design Group, which served as the marine architect and engineer for the state on the project.

“One of the largest costs of running a ferry system is the cost of fuel,” Waterhouse said.

“So anything you can do to make it more fuel efficient will pay back over the lifetime of the vessel.

AMHS General Manager John Falvey said that, based on its sea-trials, the ferry seems to be exceeding the AMHS’ fuel-efficiency goals.

He cited new engines and a special hull, bow, rudders, and propellers for the ferry’s strong fuel efficiency.

Waterhouse added that the state invested in more expensive, durable building materials in order to cut long-term maintenance costs.

“The marine highway system typically owns a boat for about 60 years,” he said.

“So, let’s spend a little bit more today in order to get that benefit over a 60-year life.”

Finally, the car deck is designed with doors in both the bow and the stern, to ease the on- and off-loading process for cars.

Construction on the Tazlina began in late 2014.

The process reached a major milestone in May, when the Tazlina was first lowered into the water.

Today, only minor construction remains.

According to Waterhouse, these items include final painting, putting up signage, and tuning navigational systems.

Sea trials are currently underway, and, following an AMHS inspection, the AMHS will take possession of the ship and begin training the crew.

The ferry and the crew will then have to pass a Coast Guard safety inspection.

Vigor does not anticipate meeting its scheduled October 2018 delivery date for the Hubbard. However, according to Ward, the Hubbard’s construction is progressing quickly.

Falvey was optimistic on Saturday about getting both ferries in service on schedule.

He said that the Tazlina will operate four days a week in the Lynn Canal.

Following the christening, Vigor electrician Reese Anderson said that he felt a definite sense of accomplishment.

“It’s fun to just be a big part of something and see it all start to come together,” he said.

“There were challenges trying to figure it out, but in the end it’s all worth it.”