Gina Gray enjoys the view during her trip over from Metlakatla

Gina Gray enjoys the view during her trip over from Metlakatla

Inside Passage makes one-time voyage

The Inside Passage catamaran made as special voyage to Metlakatla, AK for the All Native Basketball Tournament on Friday.

The Inside Passage, the big, yellow 72-foot catamaran, made as special voyage to Metlakatla, Alaska for the All Native Basketball Tournament on Friday.

It is the first time that West Coast Launch Ltd., chartered the vessel to Alaska and for people wanting to attend the tournament and it wasn’t an easy task. Debbie Davis co-ordinated the trip from Prince Rupert.

“There were lots of loop holes between the Coast Guard, customs, Transport Canada and paperwork but it looks like we have all our ducks in a row,” Davis said. The Inside Passage can carry up to 96 passengers and so far 55 have been confirmed. The catamaran usually stays tied to the dock from November until the spring but the company decided to give this one-off trip a try.

Davis didn’t travel on board with four of her employees, who had to stay the night in Ketchekan. They picked up the Taquan Chiefs basketball team, Vera James who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, as well as 30 dancers and some spectators at 8 a.m. and arrived at the NorthLand dock for customs at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

The Taquan Chiefs won the Intermediate championship last year and were invited to return to the tournament this year. They decided to charter the ferry, when they discovered it was a potential option, because it would be better for them.

The ferry that services Metlakatla, Alaska goes up for maintenance this time every year. People from the community would have the take the Alaskan ferry, but since the state has made cutbacks to the ferry schedules to deal with a budget deficit, the ferry only runs once a week.

“We thought it’d be interesting to go up to Alaska and see how we could do these voyages and help out the community,” Davis said. “We’re not competing by any ways with the Alaska Ferry. The timing didn’t quite work. Some people are coming on the ferry and coming back with us.” The Inside Passage is returning to Metlakatla on Feb. 14 after the tournament ends and will carry a few extra passengers.

Players and members of the community would have to stay an extra week in Prince Rupert in order to be at the tournament, which is an extra week of hotel fees and missing work or school. Gina Gray has been co-ordinating the people in the Metlakatla community from the U.S. side.

Gray is also one of the dancers that performed at the opening ceremony. “We are completely honoured to have been asked to participate in this amazing event. We have planned, fundraised and practised tirelessly the last 12 months,” she said. The community raised some of the money by doing dances and performances for tourists in the summer season.

Metlakatla, Alaska is a small community of about 1,500 residents that originated when a Tsimshian tribe settled in the area from B.C.

“It’s a unique history from here and bringing it back over is pretty exciting for everyone,” Gray said.

For West Coast Launch it was not a profitable venture, not that profit was the intention. Davis gave the community a charter rate for the trip but there were extra costs the company was unaware of, such as custom fees. They had to use an Alaskan shipping agent, North Pacific Maritimes, to deal with the U.S. Customs documents.

The catamaran was made for tours to Khutzeymateen, the grizzly bear sanctuary near the U.S. border, and has made trips as far as Haida Gwaii before but the extra effort of crossing over into international waters may not be something West Coast Launch participates in the future.

“It’s a one-time voyage for us,” Davis said.