The Fairweather fast ferry leaving Haines in 2014. (Photo by Alaska Department of Transportation)

Reducing the size of the state’s ferry fleet was among the cost-saving recommendations from a work group looking to make the Alaska Marine Highway System more efficient. Now, the state is redoubing its efforts to sell its two fast ferries.  The sleek blue and gold catamarans were brought into service about 15 years ago with great fanfare but had a rocky start.

A defect with their innovative, lightweight engines caused them to crack, leading to headaches right out the gate. The state sued the manufacturer in 2010 and both ferries were eventually repowered with conventional engines.

And when they did work the ferries were popular with passengers. That’s because the 235-foot vessels could cover distances twice as fast as the rest of the fleet — Juneau to Sitka only took about four hours 

But the catamarans burned far more fuel than the conventional fleet and struggled in the notoriously rough wintertime conditions in Lynn Canal. So the Chenega was taken out of service in 2015.

The Fairweather went into lay up last year, says DOT’s regional spokesman Sam Dapcevich.

“We determined that they were too expensive to operate with the high fuel usage complicated machinery and, you know, associated high maintenance costs,” Dapcevich told CoastAlaska.

But that cost-cutting had a price. The agency told lawmakers earlier this year that it’s paying $566,016 a year to moor both fast ferries in Ketchikan’s private Ward Cove facility.

Each catamaran is powered by four MTU 20V 4000 M73 engines that were installed about five years ago. (Photo by Alaska Department of Transportation)

The state tried last year to hire a broker to find buyers. But that didn’t go anywhere. 

So DOT is trying something new. It’s accepting sealed bids for each ferry or both as a package deal. According to filings, the agency has set a minimum reserve price for each ship. But it’s not saying how much that is until the bids are unsealed — for obvious reasons. And prospective buyers are required to post a refundable $25,000 deposit with each bid.

The public notice went out on Thursday, October 15. And within 24 hours, Dapcevich says the phones started ringing.

“We’ve had some interest and we are pursuing those leads,” he said on Friday.

The bids will be unsealed on December 15 in a conference room at DOT’s Juneau headquarters. Until then, the agency is inviting prospective buyers to visit Ward Cove to inspect the two ferries. And it says even though Ketchikan’s borough doesn’t require it, it’s asking visitors to please wear a mask.