After a six-year hiatus, the company whose high-speed ferry service carried New Englanders from Maine to Nova Scotia is making a comeback.
Canada-based Bay Ferries, which operated a ferry along the route from 2006 to 2009, has leased a vessel formerly known as the USNS Puerto Rico from the U.S. Navy. The company is calling it the CAT for short, a name passengers who traveled the route between 2006 and 2009 are likely to recall. It replaces the Nova Star, a larger and heavier ship operated by a different company that made the journey for just two seasons before shutting down service last October.
“We’re excited about it because we ran a schedule for a brief period when our company was previously in the business,” Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald told Boston.com. “The speed of the ferry gives people great convenience. We found it was a very popular schedule and hope people are equally excited this time around.”
The new service is slated to hit the seas in just a few months. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning on heading up to Nova Scotia this summer.
1. The vessel
The CAT is a spearhead-class joint high speed vessel nearly 350 feet long — significantly smaller than the 528-foot-long Nova Star and less expensive to operate. The type of ship is know for its speed, and is similar to those used by the Navy.
2. The CAT’s past
Prior to securing the Maine to Nova Scotia gig, the USNS Puerto Rico went by the name the Alakai. One of two sister ships operated by Hawaii Superferry, the vessel spent about a year and a half sailing between Hawaiian islands before the company went bankrupt and the U.S. government acquired the vessels. Both were later sold to the Navy, which still owns the vessel and has agreed to lease it to Bay Ferries. Meanwhile, the second ship is preparing for military service.
“The Alakai had not been assigned to any specific use as yet, we were able to advance a proposal to the Navy which we felt was mutually beneficial,” MacDonald said.
Now, Bay Ferries has taken over responsibilities of caring for the vessel, and has proposed renovations that actually coincide with what’s necessary to ready the ship for service.
The CAT will have the capacity to carry at least 700 passengers and more than 200 vehicles, according to the company. Dogs and cats are also welcome on board in a specified kennel area with advance notice.
The new vessel will be smaller and faster than its financially disastrous predecessor the Nova Star, making the 212-mile journey in just five and a half hours. It can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, while the former ship traveled at a maximum of 24.6 mph, taking 11 hours to complete the route.
The ferry will depart daily from Portland at 2:30 p.m. and arrives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, at 9 p.m. The next morning, the service makes the trip back, leaving Yarmouth for Maine at 8 a.m.
“It will be a schedule which will enable you to get up in the morning in New York City or Boston, or pretty much anywhere in the Northeast, and get to the ferry in time to get Nova Scotia that night,” MacDonald said.
The CAT’s season run is scheduled to start June 15 and come to a close September 30, depending on how the season progresses, MacDonald said. Potentially, the company could extend service to Columbus Day weekend.
For those looking to be the first on the ferry, ticket sales will begin April 11. There aren’t any reserved cabins or seats, and MacDonald said the ship resembles a business class airline.
“Once you’ve bought your ticket, you’re entitled to any seat on the ferry—as long as it’s not already taken,” he said.
Bay Ferries plans to roll out a pricing plan closer to the sale of tickets, but MacDonald said tickets will be similar to the cost of those in the 2009 season — without adjusting for inflation. The company also has plans to offer special deals at different intervals throughout the season.
9. On-board amenities
The CAT will have a gift shop, food and beverage service, TV lounges for watching movies and sports, kids’ play area, and a Visitor Services Area. Bay Ferries is still in talks with providers and plans to finalize the details of its on-board offerings closer to the season’s start.
10. The CAT’s future
Bay Ferries has secured the ship for two seasons, with the opportunity to continue to lease the vessel from the Navy for the two subsequent years, should demand for the service continue. Beyond that, MacDonald can’t speak to the fate of the high-speed service, but he doesn’t see it disappearing, necessarily.
“There’s nothing that says we can’t have a similar conversation [at that point],” he said. “It’s an arrangement that allows some level of flexibility for both [the ferry service and the Navy].”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.