Faces of the ferry in Prince William Sound

Yvette Galbraith laughs after winning the second game of Rummy against Emily Mortensen during their ferry ride to Whittier, AK on the M/V Aurora on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Rain drizzled onto the ferry terminal in Cordova as clouds covered the socked-in mountains lining Orca Inlet. Cars, trailers and boats precariously lined the carport just inside the ferry, while people with backpacks, pillows and sleeping children scattered into lounges and dining hall. Some set up cots, while others rolled out sleeping bags on the floor. By 5:30 a.m., the M/V Aurora set sail for Whittier. Some were riding the ferry for the first time; others seemed to be seasoned pros, the ferry a part of their routine.

Here are some of the faces of the ferry during the June 22 sailing.


“I think always the element of the ride is … peace.” – Brian Hathaway

Brian Hathaway looks out the window of the M/V Aurora shortly after it left Cordova in the early hours on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

“I got too much stuff,” Brian Hathaway said as he sat in the dining area of the M/V Aurora, explaining his decision to opt for the ferry instead of an airplane. Hathaway is a seasoned ferry traveler, having recently made the five-day trip from Bellingham, WA to Whittier on the M/V Kennicott.

“You gotta know how to live a portion of your day on the boat,” he said, recalling the wall of fleece blankets he created around his makeshift bed during that trip. “You gotta just know how to be dependent on peace. Once you’re on the boat, everything’s good.”

Hathaway also travels by ferry because he is afraid of flying.

“I don’t like being trapped,” he said.

Riding the ferry allows him to get cozy and bear down for long ride.

“I think the coolest thing … is being able to see the way the weather changed the sea,” Hathaway added.


“This is how Cordovans get to and from the mainland.” – Micah Hahn

(from left) Dustin Olsen, Avi Hahn, Heather OÕBrien, Micah Hahn, and Mara Hahn stand at the stern of the M/V Aurora as the ferry makes its way through Prince William Sound from Cordova to Whittier, AK on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Anchorage resident Micah Hahn travels to Cordova via the ferry about twice per year. On this trip her family was visiting.

“Even if we hadn’t been taking a car, I think I would have wanted to take the ferry,” said her mother, Heather O’Brien.

Her family spent most of the ride in the dining area of the M/V Aurora working, snacking and hanging out. Hahn opted for the ferry since it is the only way to easily transport a car in and out of Cordova with what she occasionally hauls, including pets, subsistence fish and a trailer. Hahn and her family enjoy the local art found on the ferry walls.

“The art that’s done by Cordovans is really cool,” Hahn said.

When asked how life in Cordova would be different if a ferry didn’t exist Hahn said, “I can’t imagine living in Cordova without having (a ferry) … it’s just kind of a way of life for them. It just wouldn’t be feasible. I think you wouldn’t be able to live in Cordova reasonably.”


“It’s very helpful.” – Thelma Vlasoff

Tatitlek resident Thelma Vlasoff with her grandson, Kevin, 4, on the M/V Aurora, headed to Whittier, AK on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

For Tatitlek residents Thelma and Rose Vlasoff taking the ferry is an economical way to travel to Cordova for appointments and to see family. Still, the ferry only serves that small village every other week.

On their June 22 ferry ride, they began in Cordova at 5:30 a.m. and traveled 97 nautical miles southeast, arriving in Whittier seven hours later. From Whittier, the ferry traveled back across the Sound, arriving in Tatitlek, 50 nautical miles northwest of Cordova, five hours later. This is Rose Vlasoff’s sixth time using the ferry service since April. Flying one-way from Tatitlek to Cordova would cost $360, compared to her $60 round trip ferry ticket explained Rose.

On top of flight prices, Rose also says that air freight rates are too costly to use frequently, another reason why she chooses the ferry. Still, Rose feels the Alaska Marine Highway System tends to accommodate tourists instead of locals due to the difficult scheduling, especially when it comes to the limited service to Tatitlek.

Rose and her daughter, Thelma, agree though that the ferry is needed and provides another option for those needing to bring goods to and from the village, especially those with children.

“Given the cost of going on the ferry … that’s a plus,” Thelma said.


“Part of the trip is taking the ferry.” – Emily Mortensen

High school friends Yvette Galbraith, left, and Emily Mortensen sit in front of their card game as they take the M/V Aurora from Cordova to Whittier, AK on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

If we’re going to a community and we have the option to take a ferry, we’d much rather than flying,” Yvette Galbraith said as she sat with high school friend Emily Mortensen.

Galbraith and Mortensen decided to take a vacation to Cordova using the ferry instead of flying, because it is more cost effective and offered the ability to see Prince William Sound at a more leisurely pace.

“It’s such a pleasant way to travel, to see the state,” Galbraith said. “The ferry is very well maintained. The times kinds suck (but it’s) part of the experience.”

Mortensen remembers taking the ferry from Juneau to Skagway as a kid.

“It’s a really fun way to spend half the day,” she said.

Mortensen’s daughter wanted to come but could not because of the ferry schedule.

“I hope the state commits to maintaining it,” Galbraith said.

The need for continued service includes carting goods, bringing services to remote cities and providing a vital mode of transportation, she said. Both women said they enjoyed meeting and talking to others using the ferry. They also admired local art found throughout the ferry, as well as the digital maps and food, and noted the financial benefits the ferry brings to remote communities.

“We just dumped a lot of money in Cordova that we wouldn’t have done without a ferry,” Mortensen said.

Yvette Galbraith laughs after winning the second game of Rummy against Emily Mortensen during their ferry ride to Whittier, AK on the M/V Aurora on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)
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Emily Mesner is a staff reporter and photographer for The Cordova Times. Reach her at emesner@thecordovatimes.com. Emily graduated from Central Michigan University, earning a degree in photojournalism with a cultural competency certificate. She first visited Alaska in 2016, working as a media intern for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and Denali National Park and Preserve, and has been coming back ever since. To see more photos, follow @thecordovatimes and @emilymesnerphoto on Instagram.