BAR HARBOR, MAINE – And then there were two.
A Bar Harbor company that has long thought about delving into international ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia is hoping the town of Bar Harbor will give its proposal the same consideration that it is giving to one submitted by Bay Ferries.
Bay Ferries has approached the town expressing interest in operating its existing Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service from Bar Harbor as opposed to Portland as early as next year. At a July 17 meeting, Bar Harbor council approved a motion to consider the proposal with an early October timeframe for a decision.
However, another company also wants a chance to operate its own international ferry service out of Bar Harbor, given that the town has recently purchased the terminal facility and is exploring multi-use facilities for it.
Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines, which has been operating sailing and boating excursions in and around Mount Desert Island and other parts of Maine for over 30 years, has submitted a proposal for a 10-year lease to operate its own international service from the ferry terminal property. The company says its proposal differs from that of Bay Ferries which has asked for a five-year lease with options to renew.
Bay Ferries – which is into year three of a 10-year contract with the Nova Scotia government to operate ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine – operates a high-speed service that this year is running from June 8 to Oct. 8, with daily round trips in July and August and five or six round trips a week during the shoulder season months. If it were to change ports, the company says it would have a mid-afternoon turn-around in Bar Harbor that would have as minimal impact as possible on other multi-uses at the terminal property.
A SMALLER OPERATION
Captain Steve Pagels says the Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines proposal envisions the use of a smaller-sized displacement monohull ferry – which the company has not yet secured as this, for now it is only putting forth a proposal. It is proposing in its first seasons of business to operate three one-way trips a week from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia and three one-way trips from Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor. Initially they would look to operate with a late-spring to early-fall schedule with the intention of expanding in future years into the shoulder seasons with a reduced schedule. And after some time they may look at operating two vessels back and forth during the summer in sailing in opposite directions.
Much further down the road Pagels says they might even explore the possibility of year-round service on a reduced schedule. Yarmouth is one port they are looking at in Nova Scotia but Pagels says they would also explore other options. There have been no discussions on the Nova Scotia side, Pagels says, as for now this is only a proposal being put forward.
“We realize that restarting a ferry service between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia will require a considerable effort in time and details,” Pagels writes in a July 23 letter to the town of Bar Harbor, although he says they would like to start ferry service sometime during the 2019 season.
Pagels says it just makes sense to have international ferry service between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia, given that it is a tradition that dates back over half a century. Up until after the 2009 season when Bay Ferries ceased operations after the Nova Scotia government pulled its operating subsidy, a ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth had existed since the 1950s. Bay Ferries operated the service from 1997 to 2009.
Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines operates what it refers to as ferry operations, but these are small vessels that only accommodate passengers, not vehicles. It also operates schooner cruises. Asked what the company’s furthest ferry sailing distance would currently be, Pagels says it’s about 10 miles.
“I’m the first to admit, it’s a whole different ballgame,” he says. “But I’ve been looking at this for a while.” While his company does not have any experience in running an international passenger-vehicle ferry operation, Pagels says he’s spent a lot of time researching and analyzing such a service and he believes the key to a service is starting out slow and expanding from there as the years go by.
NOT A CONTRACT REPLACEMENT
Aside from the type of service the company is proposing, there is another important distinction.
This proposal is not about replacing the contract that exists between Bay Ferries and Nova Scotia for ferry service. That service is entirely separate from this private business proposal. While Bay Ferries is interested in relocating to Bar Harbor, if the town doesn’t go with its proposal it would still be operating ferry service out of Portland.
A letter from Windjammer to the town of Bar Harbor says when it comes to terminal infrastructure, it would endeavor to improve the facility in Bar Harbor with the approval of the town, utilizing private funding, as well as seeking grants from both state, private and federal sources. In the Bay Ferries proposal, it is the company and the province of Nova Scotia that would foot the bill for infrastructure work. The town has stated it won’t fund any work.
In other correspondence to the town, Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines gives an example of the size and class of ferry that it had submitted for a previous ferry terminal study. That was a 286-foot RoPax constructed in 1982 and refit in 2008, that could carry up to 383 passengers, 120 cars and 10 trucks and has a cruising speed of 15 knots.
In other correspondence to the town, when referring to the capacity of an operation the company also refers to passenger capacity of around 500 people, approximately 150 passenger vehicles and 15 commercial vehicles.
Bay Ferries’ Cat has a passenger capacity of about 700 passengers and about 200 regular passenger vehicles. There is currently no commercial truck traffic on the ferry but it does accommodate buses.
Bay Ferries is exploring the option of switching ports as a means of bringing down its operational costs and making the ferry service more efficient. A 106-nautical-mile crossing to Bar Harbor, as opposed to 186 nautical miles to Portland, would result in less fuel consumption and lower crew costs. Bar Harbor also opens up access to Acadia National Park, which sees around 3.5 million visitors annually. Bay Ferries also says there is uncertainty about available waterfront space in Portland in the future given development taking place there.
While Pagels says he has nothing against Bay Ferries pitching a proposal to the town of Bar Harbor, in fairness he thinks the same consideration should be given to other companies who may want to use the port as a base for their own international ferry service. He was surprised not to see the town move forward with a request for proposals if international ferry service is a route they are looking to entertain as a multi-use.
Bar Harbor town council’s next meeting is Aug. 7. Asked what he is hoping for, Pagels says just consideration.
“I hope they’ll at least listen to us, that’s the bottom line. They’re beholden to their townspeople, they have to make that decision, what is best for the town, what is going to make the most sense for what they are doing,” he says. “We’re just trying to be one of the options. We feel we have some ideas that are worth considering.”