The M/V Columbia, recently re-powered, is not one of the three ships which could possibly be retired soon. (Flickr/Gillfoto)

The state ferry Columbia will soon sail south for repairs to a damaged propeller. That will  leave Sitka without marine highway service for two weeks. (Flickr/Gillfoto)

Sitka will have no Alaska Marine Highway service Sept. 26 to Oct. 9.

The two-week gap comes because the ferry Columbia will soon head to a drydock for repairs.

Marine highway spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the ship’s crew noticed a vibration last week when the ferry ran at full speed. Divers then inspected the ship’s two propellers during a stop in Wrangell.

“They noticed that one of the blades had a noticeable bend to it, where it looked like it had been hit by something. The assumption is maybe a submerged log or something along those lines that can do some damage to a large propeller like that,” he said.

The Columbia will make one Sitka stop before dry-docking at a Portland shipyard. That’s this Wednesday night, on its way to Petersburg.

Read the updated schedule.

“The soonest the Columbia is likely to come back into service is Friday, Oct. 7, if repairs go as planned in Portland,” Woodrow said.

The ship won’t get back to Sitka until Oct. 11.

The ferry Matanuska will dock here Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. But that still leaves a two-week gap.

CableHouseRainbow_NEWS_TAG3_smWoodrow said the Columbia continues using both its propellers. But the damage to one means its maximum speed is 13 knots, two slower than its regular rate of travel.

“If you’re running shorter distances, maybe Haines to Skagway and back every day, you wouldn’t really notice that difference,” he said. “But if you’re doing 18-hour, longer hauls, say Juneau to Ketchikan and Ketchikan to Bellingham, that two-knot difference really adds up.”

Other Southeast communities are also affected. Haines, Skagway, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Bellingham will lose one or two port calls each a week.

Woodrow said budget cuts mean no other ferries are available to fill in.