Alaska Ferries – A Lifeline for Coastal Alaskans

Malaspina in Prince Rupert, British ColumbiaMalaspina in Prince Rupert, British Columbia

My family and I embarked on numerous journeys aboard the Alaska Marine Highway ferries from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to Prince of Wales Island for two decades. Initially, we traveled on the Aurora, which had direct sailings to Prince Rupert from Hollis in the 1990s. However, in the 2000s, our route was diverted through Ketchikan.

We arrived at the ferry terminal and drove onto the ferry’s lower deck. For longer rides, we checked into a two-berth cabin and squeezed our family of five into two beds. On shorter trips, we settled into our favorite spot at the back of the vessel. Unfortunately, our dogs were not ferry fans. Their barks often echoed through the stairwell as we climbed to the upper deck.

Cook Boys on the Malaspina sailing into Ketchikan, Alaska
Cook Boys on the Malaspina

During the school year, sports teams traveled between towns by ferry. Teenagers spread their things out from one end of the boat to the other, slept in lounge chairs, and sometimes pitched tents on the solarium floor. Although we enjoyed the company of our local teams, we preferred quieter trips with fewer passengers.

Becoming seasick on the ferry was so common I carried Dramamine in my purse. I was generous with my stash of pills when we knew rough water lay ahead. Beware. The medication only works if you take them before you enter rough water. My husband looked forward to the ferry rides despite the possibility of seasickness.

Now for the rest of the Alaskan story.

Chapter 51 “Loonies and Toonies” from my memoir The Call of the Last Frontier, described our typical ferry experience when traveling to and from the lower forty-eight. “Arriving in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, three hours early for the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Ketchikan meant sitting in a crowded car while going nowhere at the end of a lengthy drive. Mostly, we slept, read books, and watched people walk their dogs while struggling to find a comfortable position in the car seat.

Many teachers returned home during the summers and arrived at the same time to catch the last available ferry before teacher in-service in August. To kill time, the Prince of Wales Island teachers stood outside chatting beside our vehicles filled with supplies. In August, discussed the new school year and inevitable changes in staff or policies while waiting in line at the ferry. In June, we often found ourselves saying goodbye to those moving on, listening to their stories of adventure and, at times, defeat.”

Everett & Ethan Cook play on Malaspina deck in 1997 near Ketchikan, Alaska
Everett & Ethan Cook play on Malaspina deck in 1997
Elgin & Ethan Cook on the Malaspina near Ketchikan, Alaska
Elgin & Ethan Cook on Ferry
Melissa Cook riding the Malaspina in 1997 near Ketchikan, Alaska
Melissa Cook on the Deck of the Malaspina in August 1997

Other Alaska Marine Highway Posts

Alaska Marine Highway – An Unusual Roadway of the North – Learn more about the Alaska Marine Highway system in this post about traveling on these ferries.

Alaska Marine Highway – Caught in the Salmon War – On July 23, 1997, Canadian fishermen blocked the Malaspina in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to protest overfishing by Americans resulting in disrupted services for the remainder of the year.