Cat high-speed ferry service is coming back to Nova Scotia

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YARMOUTH – After eight years, The Cat is coming back. Not that Cat, but another one that is starting a new life sailing between Yarmouth and Portland. The agreement is long-term, with the government saying it is a 10-year arrangement.

The anticipated start time to the service is June 15 and it will run to Sept. 30.

After months of waiting, the provincial government and Bay Ferries announced on Thursday, March 24 that a vessel has been secured for ferry service that will operate between Nova Scotia and Maine.

It is the 2007-built high-speed Alakai, which has been under the ownership of the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Before that it used to service the Hawaiian Islands.

Mark MacDonald, president and CEO, of Bay Ferries, says they signed the contract for the ferry with the U.S. military Thursday morning. He says an extensive process was undertaken to find a ship. He noted there are size and speed requirements tied to this service, along with wanting it to be economically feasible, while providing a good service for passengers.

The ferry will leave Yarmouth in the morning, travel to Portland and return to Nova Scotia in the evening. It will overnight in Yarmouth. The estimated crossing time is 5.5 to 6 hours. That is about half the time that Nova Star took.

Bay Ferries expects to begin taking reservations around April 11.

“Our company achieved good success when we operated on this service in the past,” said MacDonald. The schedule should also place heavy business on the accommodations sector in southwestern Nova Scotia.”

Bay Ferries has opted to bring back The Cat name, because of it’s branding familiarity that already exists within the United States and other markets the service will target. MacDonald says in the years the two previous Cat ferries travelled this route, they carried 1.7 million people over 12 seasons.

FUNDING FOR THE SERVICE

The provincial government will provide an annual funding subsidy for the service, which also includes money for marketing. The first season the province has committed $10.2 million, with $9.4 million committed to Year 2. The government has not presented subsidy figures beyond year two. Those will become known during budgeting processes, which will include factors such as revenue and fuel prices.

In addition to this there will be $4.1 million for start-up costs, which will include terminal upgrades and $9 million will go towards the ferry’s retrofit, in lieu of the cost of two years of charter fees.

MacDonald says Bay Ferries had been following the Alakai for years. Another vessel being considered for this route was a conventional ship. If brokers brought forward other options, those were explored too. By December it became obvious that the conventional ferry they had looked at wasn’t going to be available, and so MacDonald said all attention focused on the Alakai.

The State of Maine, the City of Portland, US Senator Angus King, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling all played an agressive role in seeing this vessel secured for the route. There is, however, no financial dollars coming from state-side for the yearly operation of the ferry.

The Nova Scotia government has continued to maintain that it was committed to ferry service.

"This long-term support for a solid ferry operator provides stability and predictability for Nova Scotia businesses and tourism operators from all across the province," says Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff

MacLellan says this ferry link is vital to Nova Scotia's transportation system. “It is as essential as the TransCanada highway."

ABOUT THE FERRY

The ferry can accommodate 866 passengers, but MacDonald says the company is aiming for 700 to 750 passengers, to allow for more comfortable seating options.

The vehicle capacity is 200 regular passenger vehicles. It does have capacity for tour buses, but it won’t serve commercial truck traffic. The City of Portland which owns the ferry terminal is not prepared to permit commercial trucks on the ferry service.

“It didn’t surprise us in the sense that we knew the Ocean Gateway facility in Portland was one which, from the standpoint of border security apparatus and so on, was not built to handle trucks," MacDonald said. "Some accommodation was obviously made over the past couple of years, but the City of Portland who leases the ferry terminal to us made it clear in no uncertain terms that they are not permitting large truck traffic any longer."

The province's deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal told the media on March 24 that even if the Nova Star was still operating, trucks would not have been allowed this year.

"We had a meeting last summer during the operation of the Nova Star when the City of Portland officials came here and city officials advised us the Nova Star would not be able to carry trucks. So it predates the Bay Ferries file," said Paul LaFleche.

Bay Ferries is aiming for 60,000 passengers a year.

Bay Ferries says it would take 100,000 passengers for a break-even point where no subsidy would be required. However the province says it is not predicting or promising a break-even point. Rather, the target for the service is 60,000 passengers.

Asked why Bay Ferries decided to get back into this ferry route, Mark MacDonald said, "It's what we do...We've always taken the attitude that if there is business to be done in Yarmouth we would like to try and do it."

At a more emotional level, MacDonald said that when they got out of the business in 2009, he felt like a part of their company was missing.

Because the ship will be flagged in the United States – since it is still owned by the U.S. navy but being chartered to Bay Ferries - MacDonald says the requirement according to US law is that the crew be American. He says, however, that because the ship will overnight in Yarmouth, there is a maintenance program that will take place and that work will be done by Nova Scotians and people in Yarmouth.

MacDonald also said the ferry will be predominately supplied from Nova Scotia businesses.

As well, unlike Nova Star which had an American management structure, this one will be Canadian since Bay Ferries is a Canadian company.

Asked if the ride will be a rough one – many people used to complain the previous Cat made them sick – MacDonald said this catamaran has a different hull form that its architects have said will allow it to move differently and more smoothly in the water that the previous Cats did.

 

ABOUT THE SHIP

Onboard amenities: Gift shop, food service, movie lounges, kids' play area, and Visitor Services Area.

Passenger and vehicle capacity: Seating configurations will be finalized during the vessel’s upcoming work program, but passenger capacity will be at least 700 (approved capacity was 866 during her previous service). Vehicle capacity will be in excess of 200 regular passenger vehicles.

Fares: Detailed rates are being finalized and will be published when we go live for sales which we expect to be approximately April 11. Rates will be similar to those charged when The CAT last served this market in 2009. Discounted rates will apply in certain circumstances, e.g. round-trip travel, advance booking, combined travel with the Saint John/Digby service. We have had discussions with a large number of package partners throughout Nova Scotia and will offer package sales relatively shortly after we go live. We also anticipate offering a number of short notice/short term packages and specials over the operating season.

Reservations: We expect to begin taking reservations online and through our contact centre on or around April 11, 2016.

Crossing time and distance: The distance between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is 185 nautical miles, which is equal to 212 statute miles or 341 kilometers. Estimated crossing time is 5.5 to 6 hours.

Commercial truck traffic: The service will not serve commercial truck traffic. The City of Portland, which owns the ferry terminal, was not prepared to permit commercial trucks to travel on the ferry service.

Accessibility: All public areas on the ship are wheelchair accessible.

Organizations: Bay Ferries, US Navy, TransCanada

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Yarmouth, Portland Maine United States

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Recent comments

  • louie
    April 02, 2016 - 11:22

    Is the revamp of the ferry terminal work being done by the Yanks too? I say as a person of interest as far as the Portland not wanting trucks, "SCREW THEM". I am sure Bar Harbour would gladly take the trucks as they have always done. If the Yanks want to come here for the cheap interest on their dollar, they will drive the extra distance which is what they have always done.

  • LJWD
    March 31, 2016 - 14:42

    Is no one ever happy?!! Get the ferry going again for now. After it is able to be a success, then look into a ship with freight capabilities. This is going to make the connect now, while giving more time for them to find a more appropriate ship. I applaud the fact that at least they are doing something, now. Ships don't just grow on trees, nor can one be whipped up with the snap of ones fingers. Be happy with what you have, while they look for something better. . .

  • Jeff Barnes
    March 28, 2016 - 08:42

    Well that’s disappointing. Was hoping for a more conventional type of vessel. Just wondering what makes them think this will be successful where the original cat failed. It’s not the type of experience as a tourist that I would enjoy. It was nice to have a little deck time which seems nonexistent with this choice. You've already lost me. Tourists like to be able to enjoy the ride and go on deck and enjoy the sea air. Don't see why you can't use the Acadia for one season. If Portland doesn’t want or can’t handle commercial truck traffic why is not another port States side being considered that is beneficial for the economy of the south shore commercial truckers? Say Bar Harbor again or Boston? Could it be that Bay Ferries doesn’t want to drain and split revenue from the Digby line for commercial trucks? And they have basically given Bay Ferries a monopoly over all ferry service to the province. Very disappointed. You have done a disservice to the tourism of the South Shore business of Nova Scotia and it’s commercial trucking/fishing industry.

    • TRGO
      March 28, 2016 - 16:18

      Jeff: "the original Cat failed"?? well not quite! The NDP FAILED to subsidize the original Cat, for the 6M requested by Bay Ferries. Why is a subsidy needed? Because ferries worldwide generally cannot operate without a subsidy. Take a look at the Newfoundland, or Vancouver ferry subsidies. Ferries are an infrastructure/economic benefit, and are very rarely profitable. Is the Nova Scotia highway system profitable? Of course not! The costs of building, and maintaining roadways is a HUGE expense! In fact, the Nova Scotia highway system is 100% subsidized! The benefit of a fast ferry is huge for a family traveling from the USA to Nova Scotia. Let's take as an example, a family from the Baltimore area. The ferry will leave Portland at 2:30PM. That is enough time to start the day in Baltimore, and sleep that night in the Yarmouth Rodd Grand/Comfort etc.. On the return: Sleep again at the Rodd Grand/Comfort etc. and depart Yarmouth at 8:00 AM, with arrival in Portland at 1:00 PM (EDT) leaves enough time to drive back home to the Baltimore area. That is very efficient use of travel time. You are short on a lot of facts Jeff. The Bar Harbor ferry terminal is no longer available for use! The Portland pier, while quite nice, is in a very congested downtown location, and there is not adequate space to park trucks awaiting a ferry departure. Boston is too distant for a conventional vessel (speed) to make consecutive overnight trips to/from Nova Scotia. Trips would need to be every other day, which is not realistic. The really stupid part of this whole scenario, is that the NDP kicked the Cat to the curb in the first place. Then they picked a ferry company (Nova Star) that had NEVER run a ferry before, and allowed that company to use a vessel that was huge. and ridiculously expensive to operate. Another important point to remember here is that the target use of this ferry is not for the 900,000 population of Nova Scotia. The intent of this ferry is to incentify some of the 70 million population, within one day driving distance of Portland, to visit Nova Scotia ... AND SPEND MONEY!! Lobster, does NOT NEED to remain the ONLY thing that Nova Scotia is known for! Having traveled aboard Bay Ferries vessels more that a few times, I am delighted to learn that THEY have received the contract. You too should be very pleased with Bay Ferries, they are a FIRST CLASS operator! I have no affiliation with Bay Ferries, or anyone employed by Bay Ferries. I am a US citizen. P.S. I note that some have complained about the Cat being crewed only by US citizens. The vessel is owned by the US NAVY Sealift Command. Certainly, any rational person should be able to understand that the lessor has the right to specify crew requirements.

  • Taxpayer
    March 27, 2016 - 21:10

    Well folks they are advertising for jobs on top jobs on the NEW CAT on Indeed but you have to be an American Citizen and carry a U.S. passport. Does that mean they can not find anyone in the US to fill the jobs. That's Ok the people in Yarmouth will benefit from the minimum wage jobs from the spin off from the ferry. Here we go the rich get richer and the poor stay the same great for the economy after the the ferry stops in September. Higher unemployment rates until the next summer. welcome to Yarmouth, things will never change.

  • DBP
    March 27, 2016 - 15:37

    Bay Ferries is owned by the Irving Corp. The whole deal is insane, but look who got the Military contract then turned around and asked the NS gov't for $300M to upgrade the shipyard, the whole thing is absurd.

    • A New Brunswick Son
      March 28, 2016 - 10:26

      I am not sure who ever told you BFL was owned by the Irvings, but as a person who knows the personal holdings of the Irvings and their various conglomerates, I can assure you, in no way, in no part of writs, contract or codicils, is there any involvement, on any level, of the Irvings, any branch or division of the family holdings or trusts, with this company. Think about it. And if BFL was owned by the Irvings, wouldn't you think their own shipyards and drydocks over in Saint John or in Halifax or Shelburne would have actually been doing the work? Sorry but you can't blame the Irvings family for this one. You have two different issues, and there is no link in any capacity between your summations of the ferry service and the shipyards contract.

  • Kathy
    March 26, 2016 - 14:21

    I certainly HOPE it is indeed smoother than the old CAT. In my experiences that was occasionally tolerable but never pleasant. Whereas the Nova Star was enjoyable.

  • Dolly Doucette
    March 25, 2016 - 17:35

    What is the cost for one van and 2 passengers return?

  • Joseph Blanchard
    March 25, 2016 - 15:04

    Well, the United States got a ferry and made Canada pay for it. I guess Donald Trump was right, just wrong border. It might be worth going back and re-reading the 2012 Report on Ferry Options. http://novascotia.ca/tran/yarmouthferry/Yarmouth-US%20Ferry_Panel_Report-FINAL.pdf

    • trgo
      March 26, 2016 - 22:11

      "The United States got a ferry and made Canada pay for it"? REALLY? And .... just why would the United States NEED a ferry to Canada? I

  • Michael Handley
    March 25, 2016 - 14:31

    Notwithstanding the 4.1 M start-up cost and 9 M for jetty retrofit ( in lieu of fees), the first year will cost $ 10.2 M or $121,400 per day based on an 84 day first season season. The second year slightly less based on the projection of $9.4M. This will be the burden of the Nova Scotia tax payers. Portland doesnt truckers congestion , and is why no trucks on this workhorse. If it is as vital as the TransCanada Hwy, then there should be Commercial Transport so Nova Scotia can recoup the running costs. USA does not pay a dime...Let them truckers roll 10:04

  • Mark in Maine
    March 25, 2016 - 09:34

    As a Portlander, I regret the refusal of commercial truck service. The Ocean Gateway facility, which took an interminably long time to build due to city politics, was designed during the run of the original Cat, and those ships couldn't handle commercial trucks at all. Since then, US Govt. regulations have changed, and the city is telling us that it would cost millions to build what Customs would now require for a permanent commercial traffic port of entry. Plus, the Ocean Gateway site is comparatively cramped as it is. Good luck to your new service and I hope you and your guests enjoy whatever time you and they spend in Portland!

  • Henry the Navigator
    March 25, 2016 - 07:59

    How is it possible that Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill and Minister Jeff MacLellan and others did not hear one whisper that the city of Portland would not be accepting any more commercial trucks by ferry in 2016? Zach and Jeff and others were travelling to and from Portland enough over the past two years, how could they not have known that Truck traffic was going to be turned away by the city of Portland? Bay Ferries CEO and co. must be happy, they get to reap all the benefits of being on a long term government charter without having to crew the vessel! The CAT ferries have proved to be dangerous, generate a huge wake and reports from crew over the years confirms they are too fast for whales, dolphins etc. to avoid. Let's hope the American Captain and crew can navigate safer than the 1998 CAT version which took the life of one of Yarmouth's fishing sons.

  • Philippe Frigault
    March 25, 2016 - 05:09

    this saga has gone from bad to worst, and now "" NO TRUCKERS"" like the mayor said "" its good for economy""

  • James
    March 24, 2016 - 21:09

    Well we ot what we asked for...a boat. Minimal employment for the cost. No commercial traffic , and that little secret was withheld until the govt. signed the deal . And seriously. ..the Cat?! Shall we guarantee the failure of the service? Oh, and timing? An agreement that has no guarantees beyond two years? That will likely be after the next election so lots of bargaining chips for votes or a sacrificial lamb to show they can find ways to save money. Unless this version is more consumer friendly and actually affordable for the average person to use I'm afraid this will just be another expensive political public relations failure.

  • James
    March 24, 2016 - 21:05

    Well we got what we asked for...a boat. Minimal employment for the cost. No commercial traffic , and that little secret was withheld until the govt. signed the deal . And seriously. ..the Cat?! Shall we guarantee the failure of the service? Oh, and timing? An agreement that has no guaratees beyond two years? That will likely be after the next election so lots of bargaining chips for votes or a sacrificial lamb to show they can find ways to save money. Unless this version is more consumer friendly and actually affordable for the average person to use I'm afraid this will just be another expensive political public relations failure.

  • Faye Langley
    March 24, 2016 - 20:54

    I would like to know the reason why Nova Scotia is doing all the paying and Americans staffing the ship. Half Canadians would be nice. Travelled on the crossing last year, to and back and could easily see why it lost money.Most of the foreign staff could not speak our language and paying for a seat, hilarious, where would one stand? I realize Yarmouth needs the ferry but should we be held hostage by the Americans. Go back to the table.

  • Mark G
    March 24, 2016 - 18:28

    Disappointed in so many ways: * Suspect Hull Design. * Unappealing, looks like a floating bus * Next to Zero open deck space. * Dangerous to sea life indigenous to the Bay of Fundy. * Unimaginative path of least resistance decision designed to meet a deadline. * "The Cat"...Really? Most of all, the exclusion of commercial trucking in total. This makes 2 major ocean routes serviced by undersized ferry's...Oh wait, make that 1 undersized ferry. I think this quote is a slap in the face of the entire Southeast Nova Scotia trucking & fishery industry. "The vehicle capacity is 200 regular passenger vehicles. It does have capacity for tour buses, but it won’t serve commercial truck traffic. The City of Portland which owns the ferry terminal is not prepared to permit commercial trucks on the ferry service." There's no doubt, that Tourism trumps all in this decision,

  • Truck driver
    March 24, 2016 - 18:28

    It's pretty bad when Portland doesn't want commercial trucks, but all the seafood dealers sure like it when we bring there freight to them, not that it matters cause I'm only one driver but all I can say is the next time any freight is on my truck for Portland they'll pick it up in Boston!!

    • randy
      March 25, 2016 - 19:02

      too bad about Portland like the said I am doing the same thing you want your seafood they well be going to Boston to get there seafood,funny no problem befor

    • randy
      March 25, 2016 - 19:03

      too bad about Portland like the said I am doing the same thing you want your seafood they well be going to Boston to get there seafood,funny no problem befor

    • louie
      April 02, 2016 - 11:34

      To truck driver; Have you thought of running in the next election. You as much a blow hard as they are. In my years of driving you are like the ones who was going to do so much with the strikes and blockades, and like it has always been, you won't get two to do anything about anything unless they benefit from it themselves.

  • Judith Burch
    March 24, 2016 - 15:45

    Fantastic...so important for tourism!

  • Taxpayer
    March 24, 2016 - 15:12

    I think it is great to have the ferry back,why should our tax dollars paying Americans to work with our money. Especially when they don't want the trucks. Yes we may have overnight in Yarmouth but the staff should be from here as well. Oh well we are used being second and the U.S. is always first.

  • jmitchj
    March 24, 2016 - 14:50

    So, I'm stunned! We get a ferry that is totally subsidized by the province and that has to employ all Americans for its crew. A ferry that will take no commercial traffic because the Portland terminal won't accept commercial traffic. Isn't this the same terminal the Nova Star docked last year?? And all this is supposed to be great news???

    • Stephen
      March 24, 2016 - 19:41

      The ferry has to be American crewed because it is being leased from the US Military and owned by the US Government.

    • Stephen
      March 24, 2016 - 19:44

      The ferry has to be American crewed because it is being leased from the US Military and owned by the US Government. Taxpayer did you read this part of the article. Because the ship will be flagged in the United States, MacDonald says the requirement is that the crew be American. He says, however, that because the ship will overnight in Yarmouth, there is a maintenance program that will take place and that work will be done by Nova Scotians and people in Yarmouth.

  • Brian Sears
    March 24, 2016 - 14:48

    This is insane!!! The subsidy for this money pit is way past absurd! Do the math! The NS tax payer cannot afford this! How did bay Ferries get this deal!

  • James Marshall
    March 24, 2016 - 14:44

    As usual, the government of Maine will take your money but offer no assistance in promoting a good service for both countries.

  • James Marshall
    March 24, 2016 - 14:43

    As usual, the government of Maine will take your money but offer no assistance in promoting a good service for both countries.

  • Christian Thibaudeau
    March 24, 2016 - 14:40

    23.3 Millions on Year one ($14.3M for the boat and $9M for the terminals) and 9+millions on Year two, for 3.5 months of service using a business platform we already know is aiming at 40,000 passenger short of the break even mark. With Mine not contributing a cent and more financial unknown to come as this is a ten year agreement! That is a contribution of $223,436.90 of tax payer's money per day for the first season and $86,306.10 per day on season two. Are you guys (politicians) insane? Sorry, I meant totally off the wall insane?

  • TRGO
    March 24, 2016 - 14:22

    FANTASTIC NEWS for the ENTIRE province of Nova Scotia !!!

    • Rick Dexter
      March 24, 2016 - 15:04

      With out the ability to also carry freight this has been proven to once again be a sap on the tax payers of Nova Scotia. The massive subsidy will never be recouped from the visitors. If your concern was the welfare of Yarmouth you could do more by giving out the same amount of money on the downtown Yarmouth street corners.

  • ferrymann
    March 24, 2016 - 13:38

    Anybody remember what the 2009 Cat fares were?

  • Nancy Policastro
    March 24, 2016 - 12:56

    Hooray! The Fast Ferry is the best. I can't wait to take the Cat to Nova Scotia!

  • cindy
    March 24, 2016 - 12:56

    here it is