The Nova Star. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
What Mark Amundsen remembers most about the moment people in Yarmouth first saw the Nova Star sailing into the harbour he describes as a mixture of anticipation and hope.
“It was the anticipation of the kids. When you looked at the kids they were jumping up and down and when I looked at the adults, I saw a lot of hope back on the faces of people, hopeful that this is going to be something positive for the municipalities of southwest Nova Scotia,” says the CEO of Nova Star Cruises.
That was April 15, when the ferry made Yarmouth its first North American stop.
Now the Nova Star is now preparing for its inaugural sailing season, with the vessel departing Portland on its maiden season voyage Thursday evening and scheduled to arrive in Yarmouth at 8 a.m. Friday, May 16.
It’s a pretty sure bet the start of the season will continue to be accompanied by feelings of anticipation and hope that Amundsen talked about, as ferry service is resuming following a lengthy absence. The last ferry connecting Yarmouth with the United States was in the summer of 2009.
“I always felt very strongly, as many people did in Yarmouth, that the ferry should never have stopped,” says Amundsen, who has had a connection to Nova Scotia through the years he worked as a director of the Irving Shipyard in Halifax and also with Shelburne Ship Repair. He knew how much people relied on having a ferry service. He was one of them.
“I took the Cat about 20 times. It was going to Bar Harbor in that time period,” he says.
And so, says Amundsen, he and his partners – Lisa Arnold, Steve Durrell and Owen John – decided to come up with a proposal to submit to the Nova Scotia government for the possible resumption of ferry service. Their first proposal was not accepted– it was one of two submitted, both were rejected – but they came back with a second version and that one was accepted.
Part of the process, of course, was to identify a ferry for a Yarmouth-to-Portland run. Amundsen says finding a ferry suitable for the run didn’t leave room for a lot of options.
In March 2012 they started a worldwide search for vessels that could sail into Yarmouth harbour. Keeping in mind the size of a vessel, coupled with the amenities that were outlined in a panel report that pointed to a cruise-type ferry experience as the best option for the service, Amundsen said this limited what was available on the market.
“I went out with my broker and did a worldwide search and he came back with only six names,” he says. “And of those six names that fit, only one of them was available.”
That vessel was the Norman Leader built in Singapore. It’s now the Nova Star.
The vessel was officially christened in Boston on Monday, May 12. Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood broke a bottle on champagne on the ship's bow. There was also a ribbon cutting in Portland on May 14, which the mayor also participated in.
During visits to Boston on May 12 and Portsmouth on May 13 tours were being offered to local dignitaries, tourism officials and the media. The ship’s schedule and security considerations were not allowing for public tours at those ports.
There were public tours of the vessel in Portland on Saturday, May 10. Nova Star Cruises says more than 1,400 people turned out.
In the days leading up to the maiden voyage, Nova Star Cruises announced some fare reductions and discounts. Children under the age of 18 now travel for free on the ferry. (See the Nova Star's website for more details). And people who book, by June 15, a crossing on the ferry for the season receive a 20 per cent discount.
Meanwhile, Amundsen says the company is exploring route possibilities for the Nova Star during the off season.
“We are speaking with a couple of Caribbean runs in the winter,” he says, adding having year-round opportunities for the Nova Star is important. “We have a lease of this vessel for seven years and lease payments for 365 days a year.”