TOTE Maritime Alaska News & Media

September 2020

20TMAK060 Orca Report- Email Sept HEADER v2


When the S.S. Great Land left Pier 37 on its maiden voyage to Alaska, no one thought TOTE would make it. They saw a rogue group of owners and operators, with a giant ship, using a roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) system no one had ever seen before and wrote them off. The year was 1975 and Alaska was home to thousands of new families that needed goods safely and reliably delivered. TOTE delivered then and 45 years later, TOTE continues our commitment to the communities we serve.

Providing regular service across the state of Alaska comes with many challenges. It takes vision, investment and dedication. The past 45 years would not have been possible without the extraordinary work of the team members, customers, and partners who share these qualities. Whether at the terminal, on the roads, or keeping the Alaskan shelves stocked, there is a steadfast commitment to Alaska that I see everyday with our network and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of it.

This year brought unprecedented challenges that we’ve all had to find new ways to navigate. As we look back at the past 45 years serving Alaska, I know this time will be another one for the history books. The great thing about history, however, is that it gives us a better perspective of our place in this world. It helps us remember we are a part of something bigger. For me, our mission is simple, to safely deliver the best customer experience possible. That is what TOTE stood for in 1975 and it’s what continues to set us apart today.

I look forward to TOTE continuing to make history and lead the industry with the LNG conversion, our continued investments in our equipment and operations in the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Alaska, and our commitment to training and empowering our leaders of tomorrow. TOTE has seen many calm seas and rough waters these past 45 years, but as long as we invest in the people, relationships and assets that we owe our success, TOTE will continue to be Alaska’s shipping company for the next 45 years. Thank you for sharing this voyage with us.

Since the inception of its freight service to Alaska in 1975, TOTE has utilized a variety of vessels. It all started with S.S. Great Land which was built with specific features for the Alaska trade including ice-strengthened hulls and heat condenser intakes. S.S. Great Land’s initial sailing from Pier 37 in Seattle kicked off TOTE’s history as a company. She was piloted by Captain Michael Benett as she traveled up to Anchorage on September 10, 1975. She remained in near continuous service for TOTE for 28 years in the Alaska trade.

With the desire to provide a twice weekly service to Alaska, TOTE launched S.S. Westward Venture on May 25, 1977 to complement the journeys of S.S. Great Land. Early Thursday and Saturday morning departures from Tacoma with Sunday and Tuesday arrivals in Anchorage became the established service and remains the same today. S.S. Great Land and S.S. Westward Venture were the steel backbone of the TOTE service for the first half of the company’s existence.

After a particularly costly accident occurred in 1990 which caused S.S. Great Land to be out of service for several weeks, TOTE leadership decided to pursue the acquisition of a third ship as a backup for unexpected vessel outages as well as additional capacity for anticipated growth. After several extended months of negotiation and conversion work, S.S. Northern Lights was purchased and certified to provide service in the Alaska trade. She was brought up to Tacoma from the Mobile shipyard via the Panama Canal and celebrated her maiden voyage to Anchorage on June 8, 1993. After a relatively short stint as part of the TOTE fleet, S.S. Northern Lights was transferred to Sea Star Lines in May 2006 as the El Faro.

During the mid-1990’s, TOTE leadership began planning for the next generation of TOTE vessels to support the business for many years to come. In late 1999, TOTE signed a contract with NASSCO for two Roll-On/Roll-Off vessels. The design of the new Orca Class vessels included 4 main engines, 2 auxiliary engines, a double hull fuel oil tank system, a contained fresh-water ballast system, and navigation and propulsion redundancy. M.V. Midnight Sun was the first of the Orca Class vessels to be delivered out of the NASSCO shipyard in San Diego and her first sailing to Anchorage from Tacoma began on April 26, 2003. M.V. North Star was then christened on June 14, 2003 and her first voyage to Alaska was on August 30, 2003. Both M.V. Midnight Sun and M.V. North Star are still in service today and less than halfway through their expected lifespans. Both are currently undergoing engine conversions to become dual fuel so that they can start using LNG as a fuel source.


TOTE's success in Alaska would not have been possible without the continued support from our customers, partners, vendors and of course the communities we serve. From our earliest customers to the Ports of Tacoma and Alaska and the longshore partners that load and unload the TOTE vessels twice a week, the TOTE operation is one that depends on strong partnerships and an unwavering commitment to the Last Frontier.