After a long wait, the Hubbard State Ferry begins service in Southeast Alaska

the hubbard state shuttle
The 280-foot Hubbard moored in Ketchikan on Jan. 29, 2021. (Photo by Eric Stone/KRBD)

Bringing the M/V Hubbard state ferry online has matched the slow pace of its namesake Glacier. Construction of the Alaska-class ferry, originally designed for day trips, began in 2014 and took four years to complete. The Alaska Marine Highway System then changed course and upgraded the ship with crew accommodations, to allow for continuous operation.

On Tuesday morning, the Hubbard sailed through the Lynn Canal with about 70 passengers on board. She now connects to Juneau, Haines and Skagway every day of the week except Monday.

But her long-awaited berth in Haines was further delayed. The shuttle Columbia, carrying an unusual load of heavy equipment, left the terminal late. So the Hubbard crew circled Lutak Inlet for an hour and a half.

Finally, some nine years and 90 minutes after construction began, the M/V Hubbard let off its first cargo of passengers. Haines resident Tom Faverty was one of them.

“Except for the delay at the end, it was a beautiful trip,” he said. “The boat was very clean and very well organized and it’s nice to have another boat on top of the Lynn Canal. We need it.”

The Hubbard, which is 50 feet longer than the LeConte, can accommodate more than 50 cars. Its maximum speed is almost the same as that of an electric scooter. Captain Gabe Baylous pointed out the 40 feet of accommodation added to the upper deck. A crew mess has been converted to sleeping quarters.

“This is all steel deck here,” he said. “All unlicensed crew live on this deck”

Adding crew accommodations cost $15 million and delayed the ship’s maiden voyage until this week. The ship’s passenger capacity hasn’t changed: she was built to hold 300. The galley is cramped, but the new stainless steel shines.

Baylous is confident that once a permanent cook is assigned to the ship, some hot meals can be provided for passengers.

“I don’t anticipate this ship being able to serve hot meals to 300 people. Perhaps in the lighter loads, we can serve hot meals,” she said.

Baylous says that with a full passenger load, the new kitchen will produce soups, salads and sandwiches that will be sold in the cafeteria.

Marine Highway System officials have said that bringing the Hubbard online in the Lynn Canal will free up the LeConte to increase ferry service in other southeastern communities.

The ferry system has recently had a difficult time recruiting and retaining staff. Baylous says that a ship like the Hubbard is well positioned to tackle the problem.

“We are going to have a smaller crew, which I personally like,” he said. “It makes it feel (like a) more efficient operation and also a more united team.”

Baylous says that having a new ship will improve morale. He says that although he loves the 60-year-old Malaspina, a ship recently retired from the fleet, he could see that working on a slowly decomposing ship had an impact on the crew’s energy. He points to an area on the Hubbard’s deck where the crew will be able to barbecue when they’re in the shipyard.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “If you focus on the good things about these ships, they are great ships. And the things that are wrong, or a little off, I know they’re going to get better with time. So it’s more of a living thing and a growing thing.”

Hubbard’s car deck is spacious and wide open. Response time in Haines was only 20 minutes. Baylous said he hoped to make up for much of the time lost overnight.