The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)

The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)

Stranded Beerfest travelers scramble to rebook after LeConte ferry breakdown

Loss of 225-passenger ferry leaves many Juneau-bound revelers looking for other ways home.

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. Sunday.

The ferry LeConte broke down over the weekend, leaving some of the thousands who came to Haines for Beerfest stranded.

People will have an easier time getting back to other Southeast Alaska communities if they’re not traveling with a vehicle.

The earliest booking available to get a car southbound on a state ferry is July 2, according to the Alaska Marine Highway System’s online booking platform.

That leaves people like Piper Haney, a social worker from Juneau who is moving back to the capital city from Anchorage, with few options.

Right now, her plan is to take a seaplane back to Juneau on Monday.

“I think tomorrow I will be in Juneau and all of my stuff will be in Haines,” she said.

Engine trouble

The LeConte will be out of commission until at least Wednesday due to a cooling system problem in its starboard main engine, according to Department of Transportation spokesperson Sam Dapcevich.

“The crew will be inspecting the system over the next few days to see if there’s a blockage,” he wrote in an email.

Dapcevich said the state tried reaching out to Allen Marine and Goldbelt — two other ferry operators that have service contracts and could take passengers southbound from Haines.

“They currently don’t have vessels or crew available to pick up passenger traffic,” he said.

In Haines, local travel operators have been working to accommodate the surge of passengers and bookings after the LeConte was canceled. The visitor center will be shuttling people to the ferry terminal, Tourism Director Rebecca Hylton said anyone who needs a ride there on Sunday should be at the visitor center by 5 p.m.

But they cannot help with cars.

“Most people, of course, are stuck here,” said Alaska Fjordlines owner Alison Jacobson.

Fjordlines operates a 65’ catamaran that travels between Skagway, Haines and Juneau. The company added a 2 p.m. sailing on Sunday when Jacobson learned of the canceled ferry.

“It was full by 8 or 9 o’clock [Saturday] night,” she said.

Jacobson said she cannot take everyone who may need to leave town. The LeConte is designed to carry 225 passengers.

“We can take 50,” Jacobson said. “That’s a lot of people who won’t be able to get out.”

Juneau resident Daniel Trenchard nabbed one of the seats on the Fjordlines sailing.

Word of the cancellation started to spread just as Beerfest was letting out at 5 p.m. – many revelers had been sampling beer and partying for hours at that point.

Trenchard was one of hundreds of people on the street. He was sitting in line at Peterson’s Pretzels waiting for food when he found out the ferry had been canceled.

Trenchard is working in Ketchikan this summer.

“So I have a flight on Monday at 2 p.m. to Ketchikan to get back to work. I had to get back to Juneau so I could get back,” he said.

He and his friends quickly conferred and then booked tickets back to Juneau on the Fjordlines sailing.

He said he hoped news spread to other revelers quickly, too, as there are so few seats available.

“I hope the people who need to know find out early enough,” he said. “Good luck to them.”

Chaotic attempts to rebook

Haines ferry terminal staff put up a sign on Saturday, May 25, 2024, announcing the cancellation of the only state ferry scheduled to leave town on Sunday after a busy Beerfest weekend in Haines, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)

Haines ferry terminal staff put up a sign on Saturday, May 25, 2024, announcing the cancellation of the only state ferry scheduled to leave town on Sunday after a busy Beerfest weekend in Haines, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)

Word of the cancellation spread just as Beerfest was letting out at 5 p.m. – many revelers had been sampling beer and partying for hours at that point.

Alaska Marine Highway System staff at the Haines terminal did not answer phone calls on Saturday but posted a sign on the terminal window saying the LeConte would be out of service from May 26-28.

Chaz Lakip said he’s already been rebooked by the state once – from a canceled Goldbelt ship to the LeConte, due to staffing issues. He didn’t hear until mid-morning Sunday that the LeConte, too, had been canceled.

“Seems like we have the technology to send a mass email to everyone on the manifest as soon as they knew instead of individually calling everyone?” he said.

Haney, the social worker on her way to Juneau, said she’d heard a rumor during the day’s festivities – but hoped the person was joking.

“It wasn’t even on my radar that it was an issue until 11 p.m. last night,” she said on Sunday morning.

Attempts to book a state ferry out of town online automatically route users to a July 2 sailing of the Hubbard. But by phone, staff at the ferry terminal said they still have walk-on spots available for earlier sailings.

Those spots must be booked by calling the terminal at 907-766-2111 directly, they said.

But while Haines ferry terminal staff are calling and emailing people, Haney said she has not heard from anyone as of Sunday afternoon.

She drove out to the ferry terminal, but she wasn’t able to rebook there, either. She said staff told her they would call her.

“They said they had a big list in front of them, and they were just calling people in the order they booked to tell them it was canceled and reschedule them,” Haney said.

Haney, whose car is packed with all of her belongings, said she hopes she can get it on a ferry earlier than July. For now, she is trying to sort out where to leave it.

“I don’t know anyone super well here where I could call and say ‘hey, could I park my car here for two months?’” she said. “I’m hoping the ferry system is going to call me eventually.”

She is also considering leaving it at the ferry terminal.

“I don’t know where else I would leave it,” she said. “But that seems kind of heinous.”

Haney said she’ll spend Sunday evening picking through her car to figure out what to bring to Juneau on the plane and what to leave behind.

DOT spokesperson Sam Dapcevich floated the idea of the LeConte doing an added run just to pick up stranded vehicles when it comes back online.

And several people, including Haney said they hope that actually happens.

“It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, but within a week would be good for me,” she said.

Original story

The Sunday sailing of the ferry LeConte has been canceled due to a mechanical problem. That leaves some Juneau-bound Beerfest revelers scrambling to find a way out of town.

No one at the Alaska Marine Highway System answered phone calls or an email on Saturday seeking confirmation of the cancellation, but a service notice was sent in the evening saying the boat has had engine complications. On Saturday afternoon, Haines terminal staff posted a sign saying the LeConte would be out of service from May 26-28.

Alison Jacobson, owner of Alaska Fjordlines, added a Sunday afternoon sailing to Juneau after she heard about the cancellation. But the LeConte is designed to carry 225 passengers.

“We can take 50,” Jacobson said. “So that’s a lot of people who won’t be able to get out.”

She said she’d be willing to add a second run on Sunday, but it would need to be early in the morning around 8 a.m. and it’s not clear that beerfest revelers will be inclined to leave that early.

Jacobson said she called the ferry terminal and staff told her they had been calling passengers to let them know about the cancellation, but have not reached everyone.

That includes Daniel Trenchard who was sitting in line at Peterson’s Pretzels waiting for food after brewfest when he found out the ferry had been canceled.

Trenchard, who lives in Juneau, is working in Ketchikan this summer.

“So I have a flight on Monday at 2 p.m. to Ketchikan to get back to work. I had to get back to Juneau so I could get back,” he said.

Trenchard said this is the first time he’s had to deal with a ferry cancellation.

“It’s a little alarming. It’s such a big one too,” he said. “So many people take that ferry.”

He and his friends quickly conferred and then booked tickets back to Juneau on the new Fjordlines sailing. They also called another friend rebook their seat.

Trenchard said he hopes other revelers find out quickly too as there are so few seats available.

“I hope the people who need to know find out early enough,” he said. “Good luck to them.”

• This story was originally published by the Chilkat Valley News.

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