Monday’s announcement by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell that Vigor Alaska was chosen to build two new ferries for the Alaska Marine Highway System was not a shocker. The Ketchikan shipyard has been in the driver’s seat from the beginning of this project as the state clearly wanted the boat(s) built in Alaska. When the state put out its official RFP earlier this year, Vigor Alaska, by agreement, was the only yard to receive it. If their price exceeded the state’s cost estimates, other, non-Alaska shipyards would have had a shot at the job.

 Vigor Alaska's Ketchikan shipyard 

That didn’t happen. Vigor came back with a cost of $101 million for the two 280-footers, which was about $13 million below the state’s most-recent estimate. So construction will finally begin this fall and get fully ramped up in the new year. According to a press release from Vigor, the work will take approximately four years to complete, putting delivery in 2018 or 2019.

While not a surprise, this news is a big deal for Ketchikan and Alaska because these will be the first Alaska ferries to be built in the state, and will even be built with state money. All the other AMHS boats have been built Outside, as they say, and were largely funded with federal dollars, like much of Alaska’s infrastructure.

The Ketchikan yard, a public-private partnership, has grown considerably over the years and is fully capable of building these vessels. The yard routinely does maintenance and repair work on the other AMHS vessels, and it also built the technically demanding Susitna a few years ago. The experimental boat still has no home and continues to molder at Ward’s Cove, just north of Ketchikan, but that’s another story.

Right now, the Alaska Class ferries are a much happier story and congratulations are in order all around, including Elliott Bay Design Group, the Seattle-based naval architects that designed the boats and who recently opened an office in Ketchikan.

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).