The ferry Columbia ties up in Ketchikan in 2012. It's running late this week after a mechanical problem. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The ferry Columbia ties up in Ketchikan in 2012. It’s running late this week after a mechanical problem. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaskaNews)

Rough weather and a mechanical breakdown are affecting Alaska Marine Highway service in Southeast Alaska.

The ferry Columbia is sailing a modified schedule through much of the week. That’s because the system’s largest vessel was sidelined for much of Jan. 7 due to a mechanical problem.

Alaska Marine Highway spokeswoman Aurah Landau said the ship won’t skip any port calls.

“It’s running about 12 hours late. It will be on a modified schedule through Thursday. It’ll resume its normal schedule with a northbound schedule leaving Bellingham on Friday,” she said.

The Columbia sails weekly roundtrips from Bellingham, Washington, to Skagway. It stops in Haines, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan along the way.

The problem occurred as the Columbia sailed from Bellingham to Ketchikan. Landau said what’s called a steering-indicator rod stopped working.

“That’s the piece that when the wheel gives the command to the rudders to move, through the electrical system, tells the steering mechanism that the rudder has moved,” Landau said.

She said a technician had to fly into Ketchikan to make the repairs.

This problem took less than a day to fix. That’s much faster than a previous breakdown.

The Columbia returned to service in late October after being sidelined for about a year. That came after a propeller struck a submerged object. Parts weren’t available and had to be built from scratch.

The Columbia carries around 500 passengers and more than 130 vehicles. It also has about 100 cabins. 

Weather is impacting another marine highway ship.

The small ferry LeConte will skip its Jan. 9 sailings between Juneau and Haines, due to 50-knot winds and high seas predicted for upper Lynn Canal, part of its route.

Officials say it will resume scheduled sailings with a trip to Kake that night.

The LeConte carries fewer than half as many passengers as the Columbia and about a quarter as many cars and trucks. It has no staterooms.