Aboard an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Aboard an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Planet Alaska: I believe in ferries

Ferries are a part of Alaska’s culture.

I believe in ferries. I believe in the wonder of stepping onto a ferry, turning off my cellphone, stuffing it in my backpack and taking out dice, a deck of cards or the book I’ve never had time for. In my short story collection “The Dead Go to Seattle,” the ferry has a pivotal role as a time travel device.

It’s sort of true. Time does wonderful things on the ferry while we travel at 16 knots, weaving to and from islands, passing breaching whales and fishing boats. I’ve written a lot of poems and read a zillion books on the ferry. I’ve played card games with strangers and talked story with pursers, cooks, stewards, visitors and neighbors. My husband and I even saved a man’s life on the ferry once.

[Planet Alaska: Winter stories]

We Wrangellites depend on our ferries. Wrangellite Loretta Ewing Rice said: “We were on the ferry en route to Juneau for my son’s wedding in May 2007. There was a paddle wheeler full of tourists that ran aground west of Juneau. The ferry stopped to offer aid. They transferred passengers, most of whom were elders, from the U.S. Coast Guard boat to the ferry. The crew was amazing with all of us. Free meals were provided and the rescued passengers were well taken care of. I was proud to be an Alaskan.”

An Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

An Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Southeast Alaskans are practical people used to making do and using our imaginations. But ferries are too expensive. You don’t need ferries. Take a plane. We’ll build a road, a bridge, dig a tunnel, add more airplanes. We’ll privatize. Yes, Southeast Alaskans have heard it all. It’s obvious the naysayers don’t live in Southeast and lack common sense. We have ferries because of common sense and community.

[Director talks about bringing first feature-length Haida-language film to screen]

Here’s Wrangellite Jillian Privett: “We brought my niece home from the hospital on the Alaska Marine Highway System 13 years ago. Living in a small rural town we have to rely on outside resources. Fortunately, families can load up their vehicles and take AMHS to a bigger city, Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau, carrying our most precious cargo at all stages of life — Alaska’s future. We depend on AMHS so we can reach proper medical care, work, sports, education, food, fun and more.”

An Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

An Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

I imagine a highway shared with friends, one where you eat a good meal, leave your car and your worries and let someone else drive for you. Not like a bus, but more like a train. Naysayers see money, money, money, and don’t live on islands, obviously. I am old enough to recall my elders talk of Southeast seceding from the rest of Alaska to become its own state; some said, “our own country.” Mainly, the issue is politicians who don’t live in the archipelago making decisions that affect our well-being. Southeast Alaskans depend on ferries for our well-being. Ferry travel is freedom, education, health, business, food, family — all part of living a good life. Ferries are a part of Alaska’s culture.

[‘We’re not giving up our ferries’: Hundreds rally at the Capitol]

Here’s a bit from another Wrangellite, Deidre Christianson Jensen: “This is a small perspective, but an important one for our family. As everyone who has moved to Alaska and away from their family, staying connected is hard. With a family of five, it would have been impossible to see our families in Canada and the Lower 48 without the ferry system when our kids were younger and money was tight. I could not have afforded to fly every Christmas and every summer, but the ferry system made it possible.”

Aboard the ferry Columbia. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Aboard the ferry Columbia. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

We thrive among the islands and the connections we make between communities. We wouldn’t be able to afford a private ferry company’s prices and air travel is out of the question. Our businesses successes depend on ferries. Small communities like Petersburg and Wrangell don’t get many big cruise ships. We depend on the independent visitors. Our schools depend on ferries for traveling to our kids’ sporting events like volleyball and basketball. Our ferry travel is not a luxury.

My father reminds me that our ferries were never designed to make money. They were designed to serve a need, just like a paved road. Ferries are not a money-making venture. He was alive when ferries were nonexistent, when they were an idea, when the first ferry sailed the sea. Most everyone, except those who don’t actually depend on ferries, will say the ferry system is a success. A recent study even concluded that ferries are a success. We don’t need another study. Ferries are a vital part of Alaska’s road system.

[Frank Murkowski: Here’s how to fix the Alaska Marine Highway System]

Taking the ferries away is like removing the road to and from the hospital. We, and others who can’t fly, take the ferry to bigger hospitals for medical reasons. Elders in our nearby villages travel by ferries. Ferries are a medical lifeline for Metlakatla, Prince of Wales, Kake, Angoon, Hoonah and Gustavus.

The ferry Malaspina arrives at port in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

The ferry Malaspina arrives at port in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Wrangellite Janell Privett believes in ferries: “My daughter traveled by ferry to Ketchikan to have her baby. She also traveled for major nose and sinus surgery and couldn’t fly home, so we ferried. No other choices. My son had tonsil and adenoid surgery and his ears had to be operated on at the same time. The doctor would only release him if he traveled by ferry. It was the same with me, no flying due to blood clots. So the ferries are our health link.”

The ferry crews and passengers are our neighbors and friends. The ferry boats — our “blue canoes” — are family. Are we just sentimental Southeast Alaskans? No, it’s practicality. And we are practical people. If you read the history of the AMHS section on the state of Alaska’s website, you can’t help but be proud to be Alaskan, to be from Southeast and to be a ferry rider.

Back on Dec. 31, 1999, there were rumors of Armageddon, natural disasters and worldwide computer malfunctions. Most of it, I ignored. In reality, on Jan. 1, 2000, slot machines in Delaware stopped working and the U.S.’s official time clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory provided an odd date of Jan. 1, 19100.

Aboard an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Aboard an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Faith Prescott)

Alaska’s ferries kept on running and I got married. As I stood on the back deck of the ferry in a blizzard, in my wedding dress, sailing past Salisbury Sound, I held a wish rock. A wish rock is a typical Alaska rock with a white unbroken ring around it. My new husband and I each held our rock, and in ceremony, we tossed the wish rocks off the ferry into the sea. Make a wish and don’t tell anyone is the rule. Can wishes change over the years? Maybe so. I’m going to cash mine in, make a new one. Here goes: I wish …


• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Vivian Mork Yéilk’.


More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Juneau School District administrators and board members review the updated budget for the current fiscal year during a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The Juneau School District had a $9.5M projected deficit this year. It’s now a $633,185 surplus. How is that possible?

Resignation of 34 employees since January, health insurance savings among reasons, officials say.

Rep. Sara Hannan (right) offers an overview of this year’s legislative session to date as Rep. Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl listen during a town hall by Juneau’s delegation on Thursday evening at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Multitude of education issues, budget, PFD among top areas of focus at legislative town hall

Juneau’s three Democratic lawmakers reassert support of more school funding, ensuring LGBTQ+ rights.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the Inupiaq village of Nuiqsut, at the area where a road to the Willow project will be built in the North Slope of Alaska, March 23, 2023. The Interior Department said it will not permit construction of a 211-mile road through the park, which a mining company wanted for access to copper deposits. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Biden shields millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling and mining

The Biden administration expanded federal protections across millions of acres of Alaskan… Continue reading

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

Caribou cross through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in their 2012 spring migration. A 211-mile industrial road that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority wants to build would pass through Gates of the Arctic and other areas used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest in North America. Supporters, including many Alaska political leaders, say the road would provide important economic benefits. Opponents say it would have unacceptable effects on the caribou. (Photo by Zak Richter/National Park Service)
Alaska’s U.S. senators say pending decisions on Ambler road and NPR-A are illegal

Expected decisions by Biden administration oppose mining road, support more North Slope protections.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education… Continue reading

Danielle Brubaker shops for homeschool materials at the IDEA Homeschool Curriculum Fair in Anchorage on Thursday. A court ruling struck down the part of Alaska law that allows correspondence school families to receive money for such purchases. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers to wait on Alaska Supreme Court as families reel in wake of correspondence ruling

Cash allotments are ‘make or break’ for some families, others plan to limit spending.

Most Read