Tustumena Cancellations Vex Residents and Visitors Alike

Friday, July 12 2013

M/V Tustumena (Nancy Heise)

On Wednesday, the state canceled the Tustumena’s next two sailings to Southwest Alaska. Six hundred passengers were scheduled to ride the ferry on those trips, and as KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports, some of them are struggling to make alternate arrangements on short notice.

Ryan Henderson is Unalaska City School’s new alternative education teacher. He’s currently in Seattle, and was planning to leave on Saturday.

“We were going to drive up and catch the ferry on the 23rd in Homer, and then take the ferry out and have a couple weeks to get settled before school starts. And then we get an email [Tuesday] night saying that the ferry was canceled, and here’s a phone number we can call if we want to make arrangements.”

The only arrangement the state could offer Henderson was a ferry ride on September 17 -- a full month after the start of the school year. He declined.

Now, he’s scrambling to make other plans to get himself, his girlfriend, their car, belongings, cat and dog out to Unalaska. He says it will probably involve some combination of planes, cargo ships, and U.S. mail -- none of which will come cheaply. But Henderson has lived in Alaska before, and says he figures this is just how it is.

“I kind of know that you just have to be flexible, and roll with the punches, but it did make things a little more complicated, that’s for sure.”

Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Cathy Jordan says Henderson isn’t the first person to find himself stranded. She’s been fielding calls all summer from visitors who were planning to ride the ferry out to the Aleutians, but instead found their trips truncated in Homer, or Kodiak. She says she tells them they could fly instead:

“When they look at incurring the cost of a flight, then that usually changes their mind, and they end up staying on the mainland.”

Jordan says that mean a lot of lost revenue for local businesses.

“Scheduled tours, gift shop sales, restaurant sales, vehicle rentals, hotel stays. I think people don’t always realize how much impact it has.”

Even though the financial losses are still growing, Jordan says she’s happy the ferry is getting the repairs it needs. And with some time, she thinks that canceled passengers might see it the same way.

“I think they call it the Trusty Tusty over the years because it has always been reliable, and hopefully it will get its good name back.”

The Tustumena is scheduled to return to service on August 20.

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