Ferry listing scares passengers and raises concerns

By Melinda Munson

A crowded ferry bound for Skagway turned around on November 19. The LeConte returned to Juneau with its 190 passengers, unloaded several pieces of heavy machinery and a few cars, then headed north. The reason given for the delay was “freezing spray conditions,” according to a press release from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT).

Not everyone who was part of the first leg of the journey was present for the redesign.

Passengers Karla and Duff Ray chose to disembark in Juneau and return home to Skagway. Karla said that from the moment the ferry left the Juneau wharf, they noticed that “this thing is loaded heavily on the left.”

When the crew announced the ferry was overloaded and had to return to port, the Rays felt unsafe to continue on the Alaska Sea Route ship.

The DOT posted a press release on its Facebook page explaining why the LeConte did an about-face.

“The Lynn Canal experienced high winds and low temperatures today, perfect conditions for a ship to icing up. We are particularly cautious of weight gain from freezing spray, especially higher up on the ship and on the hull. As ice accumulates on the surfaces, the vessel becomes slow to respond and the master notices changes in her conduct. The weight of the ice raises the center of gravity and at this point the vessel can tend to roll over very easily. The state of the sea has very little to do with the overturning of a vessel in this type of situation.

The untitled photo that accompanied the press release showed the LeConte with thick ice covering its bow. DOT spokesperson Sam Dapcevich confirmed that the image shown was not taken on November 19.

According to the National Weather Service, the high temperature that day was 31 degrees with a low of 20. The ferry left the Juneau wharf for the first time at 7 a.m. Passengers who spoke to The Skagway News reported seeing little to no ice throughout the trip. , although they saw small amounts of snow.

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata was traveling on the ferry with his wife, Brittney. They were making their fourth attempt to return home, the first three on unsuccessful flights due to bad weather.

Cremata noted that the ferry was “difficult to port” upon departure.

Cremata did not feel that the weather on November 19 was particularly difficult.

“The weather was not that bad. It wasn’t that hard, it wasn’t that cold, ”he said.

Skagway resident Juliene Price was on the LeConte with her baby girl. She was surprised during the loading process.

“As the car deck was loading at Auke Bay, I saw a few big machines loaded on… As they were loaded, the whole boat filed to starboard, then to port, and stayed that way. I was sitting in the middle of the room at the front, and when you looked out the window, the horizon on the left had a lot more water below than the horizon on the right. The boat was very unbalanced. I found myself leaning to the right in my chair, as if it helped counterbalance the balance, ”she said.

Price then described what happened when LeConte “… The moment these machines were unloaded, the boat came out of the water and stabilized. The horizon in front of the boat was a nice, even line, and we headed north again.

The ship departed Juneau again at 1:30 p.m. after “LeConte’s stability figures were recalculated,” the statement said.

Price and her baby stayed on the ferry for what would become a 14 hour trip.

When asked to explain why passengers saw the ferry leaning towards the port prior to the initial departure, Dapcevich responded as follows.

“It might have been rating when he left, but it was within the limits of the proper load calculation,” he said.

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