A converted landing craft based in Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island will be offering ferry service to Wrangell and the southern end of Mitkof Island near Petersburg again starting this spring. The ferry began that route last year but had multiple delays and mechanical problems. The boat has been tied up this winter because of low traffic.
The Rainforest Islander, a 65-foot landing craft, has been tied up in Coffman Cove since December 1st.

“We just didn’t have enough traffic to avoid losses that couldn’t be sustained through the winter,” said Kent Miller, general manager for the Coffman Cove-based North End Ferry Authority. The authority had hoped to offer year-round service between Prince of Wales, Wrangell and Mitkof islands and began making those trips late last summer after months of delays. Then after just over a month of operating, it was forced to tie up again for repairs.

Photo courtesy of KSTK-FM

Photo courtesy of KSTK-FM

Miller thinks the problems with the new ferry are behind them. “The problems that we had getting going last year began with serious delays in the overhaul and refit and then problems that stemmed from the overhaul and refit,” said Miller. “We had a series of mechanical glitches that caused shutdowns that were attributable to work that had not been done or had not been done properly. We’ve worked through that series of problems now and don’t anticipate recurrence of that.”

Miller said the authority also had to find the right people to crew the ferry. He thinks they now have and he is optimistic that the boat will have a good start this year and continue through the spring summer and fall. The service is scheduled to resume April 15th and run through October 14th, with four day a week round trip runs from Coffman Cove to downtown Wrangell and Banana Point south of Petersburg.

Low traffic was the reason the Inter-Island Ferry Authority ended service on that same route in 2009 with a larger ferry. Miller said historically more passengers and vehicles have ridden IFA and Marine Highway ferries in the summertime and he expects good numbers for the Rainforest Islander this year.

“So we do anticipate that beginning April 15th there will be substantially more traffic then there was when we started the service,” Miller said.

While the schedule remains the same in the second year for the new ferry, fares will be going up this year. A one way trip for adult passengers from Coffman Cove to Banana Point will be 55 dollars. It’s 50 dollars between Coffman and Wrangell, and 30 dollars between Wrangell and Banana Point. The authority’s marketing director Heather Hedges explains.

“We went ahead and increased our fares due to the fact we actually had asked some of the passengers if we did increase the fares what did they think?” Hedges said. “And they thought it was perfectly fine because we were so low. So we did go ahead and increase it on average about 20 percent.”

Hedges said the ferry will offer specials around Petersburg’s Little Norway festival in May, Wrangell’s Bear Fest in July and the Arts and Seafood Festival in August in Coffman Cove.

Miller said the authority plans to offer shuttle bus connection between Petersburg and Banana Point with the start up of service in April. The ferry authority’s board plans to decide by July 1st whether to continue ferry runs past mid-October.