Nova Scotia

The Cat's coming back: Bay Ferries selling tickets for 2022 ferry crossings

Advance tickets are on sale for the high-speed ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine. The Cat ferry hasn't sailed since 2018.

Sailings between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine, scheduled to start May 19

The Cat ferry sits tied up on Yarmouth's waterfront. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

The high-speed passenger ferry between Nova Scotia and Maine is expected to set sail this spring for the first time since 2018.

Despite the Cat ferry remaining docked for the last three seasons, the Nova Scotia government has paid $1.17 million a year for Bay Ferries to operate the vessel, with no revenue to offset expenses.

Mark MacDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries, said rebuilding customer awareness will be among the challenges of restarting the service, which begins May 19 with four crossings a week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday.

The service will ramp up to seven days a week on June 23. From Sept. 11, the service will drop to six days a week until it ends just after Thanksgiving.

"Our philosophy in setting the schedule for this year has been to try to stretch it out as much as we could just to support our province's tourism operators," MacDonald said.

Advance tickets for the 2022 sailings are available on the Bay Ferries website.

The vessel last sailed between Yarmouth, N.S., and Portland, Maine. This year, however, it will be making the 3½-hour journey between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine.

Nova Scotia taxpayers paid $8.5 million to renovate Bar Harbor's ferry terminal and to move a loading ramp from the Portland terminal.

The Cat ferry will run between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, starting May 19. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

MacDonald said the work on the Bar Harbor terminal is complete, but the final commissioning of equipment can only be done once operations start. The Yarmouth ferry terminal, which has also undergone upgrades, is "in good shape," said MacDonald.

The salaries for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at the Bar Harbor facility will also be shouldered by Nova Scotia taxpayers.

During the last sailing season in 2018, the Cat carried 50,185 passengers. MacDonald wouldn't put a number on the expected passenger volume in 2022, but he said Bar Harbor is an "incredible destination" and the company is excited about the prospects.

Cost concerns

Since taking over the service in 2016, Bay Ferries has been plagued by challenges.

The ferry didn't run in the 2021 and 2020 seasons because of border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 season was cancelled when the port of call in Maine was switched from Portland to Bar Harbor and things were not ready on the U.S. side to receive the ferry.

Responding to concerns raised over the years about the costs associated with the service, MacDonald reiterated that the Cat "is the province's ferry service."

"The province has decided to have this ferry service and they have a contract with our company to operate," he said.

"The mechanism of that contract is very simple, which is that the province reimburses the cost and pays a management fee and now include it in some of the cost figures ... which the province has expended in Bar Harbor, for example."

He said had the company known the pandemic would drag on for as long as it has, it might have been able to mitigate some costs, but other fixed costs would have remained.

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With files from Jean Laroche

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