The CAT ferry is getting yet another life between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland, Me., with a deal to put the U.S.-built ferry-turned-Navy ship Puerto Rico on the route that has been financially troubled.
Bay Ferries Limited, Charlottetown, P.E.I., will lease the 349’x78’x12’ Puerto Rico from the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command, Nova Scotia provincial officials announced Thursday, confirming earlier media reports that a deal was imminent.
A rendering of the new CAT. Bay Ferries image.Bay Ferries will rename the vessel The CAT, after an earlier high-speed catamaran the company operated on the same route from 2006 to 2009. With capacity for 866 passengers and 282 cars, the new CAT will be smaller and faster than the 528’x85’x9’ Nova Star ferry, which ended its service to Portland last year after two financially ruinous seasons.
The provincial government will provide $10.2 million for the first season and $9.4 million in the second year, including marketing. There is $4.1 million for terminal upgrades and other start-up costs, and $9 million for refitting the vessel, now laid up at Philadelphia since 2012.
"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," Geoff MacLellan, transportation and infrastructure renewal minister, said in announcing the agreement. "With this service in place, we will bring more visitors to our province – that means more jobs for the people of Nova Scotia."
The round-trip service will depart Yarmouth in the morning and return from Portland that evening, reducing travel time by half and eliminating the need for onboard passenger cabins and additional crew. The 2016 season schedule is anticipated to run June 15 to Sept. 30, departing Yarmouth and Portland daily at 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. respectively and returning to Yarmouth at 9 p.m.
Faster than the overland drive from southern Maine to Nova Scotia, it should increase overnight tourism stays in the region, officials hope. A fare schedule is being developed and tickets will go on sale around April 11, the company said.
"We're ready to aggressively market the ferry service to Americans and beyond and help boost tourism to Nova Scotia,” Bay Ferries president and CEO Mark MacDonald said. “Our company is excited and proud to announce re-introduction of high-speed ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia – and return of The CAT.”
“We're thrilled to be back in Maine and to provide you with an afternoon departure from Portland that allows you to wake up in the morning in New York – or Boston – or Ottawa – or Allentown – and spend the night in Southwest Nova Scotia.”
The Cat was built by Austal USA for Hawaii Superferry and entered service as the Alakai. The venture proved short-lived amid opposition from environmental activists and other critics, ending after Hawaii’s state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a state law that allowed the service between Oahu and Maui to operate without an environmental review. The ferry was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 2012 along with its sistership, intended for use as a transport vessel, but was never put into service.