Sitka, Alaska new dock no ships

Sitka, Alaska has built a new dock to encourage the big cruise ships to visit their small port town. So far they have a dock and no big cruise ships.

This is the time to take your SMALL ship cruise that visits Sitka. Once the big ships show up the town will be overrun. At this point I do not think there is a single Carribbean gold store in Sitka, as in all the other big ship ports. Sitka is on the verge of change, and not for the better in my opinion. I believe 2013 will see the transition of a native port to a tourist port.

New Sitka cruise dock awaiting first call
Robert Woolsey, KCAW

SITKA, ALASKA (2011-07-13) If you build it, they will come… maybe. A Sitka business has invested millions in building a new deepwater dock on the community’s road system over the past year. But so far, no cruise ships have chosen to moor there. Halibut Point Marine owner Chris McGraw told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce today (Wed Jul 13) that an affordable shuttle system is likely the remaining barrier to bringing the dock into service.

The McGraw family bought the Halibut Point boatyard six years ago, and rapidly expanded the business to include marine fuel, residential heating fuel, an expanded haul out and pressure washing pads, and a self-service gas station close to town.

But those ventures are small compared to the McGraw’s latest investment: a one-thousand foot deepwater dock. The floating part of the facility is a former section of the Hood Canal Bridge, built originally in 1946. McGraw said the old highway bridge was purchased in British Columbia and towed to Sitka in 2009.

He told the chamber audience that his decision to move ahead on building the new dock was based on frustration with Sitka’s declining cruise passenger numbers. McGraw read from a letter-to-the editor in 1998 by then-chamber director Steve Dalquist.

“Ships are getting bigger, and the new 1,000-footers will soon dominate Southeastern waters. Because of their size, these ships will limit their ports of call to communities with docks. It will be a decision based on passenger comfort and safety. We are currently the only destination in this region without one. The projection is that we will lose a significant number of visits. To dock or not to dock is not about increasing the number of ships as it is about ensuring that they keep coming.”

Virtually everything Dalquist predicted in his 1998 letter, McGraw observed, has come to pass. Fifteen of the eighteen ships cruising in Alaska which were built since the letter was written do not call in Sitka. Additionally, Sitka’s share of the cruise market has steadily shrunk over the period.

Ketchikan and Juneau, meanwhile, have each built two new docks.

So now, Sitka also has a dock. McGraw says they’re calling the “Old Sitka Dock” because of the nearby state historical park. It’s got a traffic plan, a new road entrance, and new restrooms. Only one thing is missing.

“Many of you are probably wondering, When are the ships showing up? We have met with Holland America and some of the other ships that come into Sitka. We don’t have any commitments. One issue that they did bring up was the affordability of a shuttle bus service.”

The McGraw’s dock is about 5 miles outside of downtown Sitka. McGraw estimated that it would take 8 to 10 buses running every 10 minutes while a ship was tied up to shuttle all the passengers into town. He thought the city’s existing lightering facilities at the O’Connell Bridge and Crescent Harbor were the logical choices to drop-off passengers. Currently, the cruise lines pay $600 a day to use the lighter docks. A continuous shuttle service would create significant additional expense for passengers.

Still, McGraw thought it was worth it. He pointed to statistics showing that only 65-percent of passengers chose to disembark aboard tenders, while 90 percent leave the ship when it’s tied up at a dock. Just this difference, McGraw said, could add up to significant revenue for the community.

“This year, if we had gotten a ship every day there was a ship in, we could have had 110,000 potential passengers at the dock. This same number of ships – using the 65 percent – while anchored, 71,500 would get off. At a dock, you would up that to 99,000. So, an additional 27,500 passengers would have gotten off if they were docked.”

According to Alaska visitor industry statistics, each of those 27,500 extra passengers would have dutifully spent their $107, for a total of $2.9 million in additional sales in Sitka.

McGraw said bringing even one new ship to Sitka would add 48,000 passengers into the mix, and over $4-million in sales.

The chamber audience applauded McGraw’s gamble, even though it has yet to pay off. The company has never been short on initiative. During Q & A, a chamber member pointed out the obvious solution to the empty dock.

“Any plans for a McGraw cruise ship?”

McGraw said that the cruise lines seemed to be waiting to follow Holland America’s lead. Until a big ship takes the plunge, he said the dock will be used by seafood processors to load freight, and by the concrete companies to load aggregate.
© Copyright 2011, Raven Radio Foundation Inc.

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3 thoughts on “Sitka, Alaska new dock no ships

  1. I have lived in Sitka, Alaska for 36 years and seen a lot of changes in the cruise industry. Fortunately for Sitka, the community is NOT located on the Inside Passage. Due to the additional costs to the cruise lines to come here, it is unlikely that Sitka will be “overrun” with large cruise ships anytime in the near future. One docking space is not going to increase the number of ships coming here. We already have some ships coming here with over 2,000 passengers. Whether that ship docks or anchors may influence how many people get off or how much time they have to spend in town. But the fact that the dock is located over five miles out of town makes it quite different from the docks in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway where people just walk off the ship and into one of dozens of non-locally owned shops and chain stores like Diamonds International. Most of those chain stores that you see in the Caribbean are not interested of locating in a community that does not receive at least 400,000 cruise passengers per year. Sitka is likely to be able to keep its passenger volume well below that. Stabilizing a passenger volume between the 200,000 to 275,000 range would help local businesses by establishing a consistent market. Extreme, fluctuations in passenger volume are not good for business or local government. Long range planning is hard enough without a dramatic loss of over 50% in cruise volume over a two year period. Whether the new Old Sitka Dock can attract a cruise line has yet to be determined. But in any case, it is unlikely to make a dramatic difference in the total volume of cruise passengers that come to Sitka. More influential is the cost of fuel, which does not appear to be going down any time soon.

    1. Bruce and Rhonda, thank you for visiting our BLOG Site. Your tours in Sitka are wonderful for the big ship passengers as you mention Holland America etc. . Our small ships passengers expeience what you offer right from their ship without any addition cost in paying for a “shore excursion”. In fact one of our small ship partners you I am sure know, Alaskan Dream Cruises are also based in Sitka. It is a lovely town and you are lucky to live and work there. Linda @ Sunstone Tours

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