This article was taken from the Times Globe, Thursday, May 21/98

Smooth Sailing
Canada's fastest ferry will soon begin transporting tourists between Bar Harbour, Maine, and Yarmouth

Telegraph Journal staff writer

The cat Ferry
The cat is the only high-speed catamaran in Canada that carries both passengers and vehicles. It can carry 800 passengers and 240 cars.

   YARMOUTH, N.S. - The sleek silver nose of The Cat, the continent's fastest ferry, slid quietly into her Yarmouth berth early yesterday, amidst hopes that she will usher in a new era in high-speed marine tourism.
   The six-month-old catamaran, which has travelled roughly 10,000 nautical miles from her manufacturer in Tasmania, Australia, will begin a summer of transporting tourists between Bar Harbour, Me., and Yarmouth on May 28.
    She is currently undergoing final test before the inspections by the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards.
    "Nova Scotia and the Maritimes in general is going to be a hot tourist destination," says Don Cormier, manager of Saint John-based Bay Ferries.
    "We think there's a market to be exploited here and there will be other markets in the winter months."
   The Cat is the only high-speed Catamaran in Canada that carries both passengers and vehicles. It can carry 800 passengers and 240 cars.
   (Two larger fast ferries are being built in British Colombia).
   "As the technology is proven, there may be applications elsewhere in the Maritimes," Mr. Cormier says.
    The company has said it will investigate expanding the service to Digby and Saint John if the Yarmouth-Bar Harbour run is successful.
    The passenger area in the 91 metre vessel contains a mixture of nautical and aircraft features.
   Contoured seats much like those of passenger seats on a jet airplane are arranged in rows, amidst bar facilities and blackjack tables.
   The captain and navigator sit in high-back chairs in a cockpit with a 360-degree view, facing instruments that include radar screens, a global position system and a television screen capable of broadcasting a night-time, infra-red view of the sea before them.
   "You can see the amount of precision built in to this ship," say Mr. Cormier, pointing to the ship's wheel, which is only two inches in diameter and is operated by the master's finger.
   The company says that its navigation systems and ability to change direction quickly will help it avoid the whales that live in the Bay of Fundy, particularly the endangered right whale.
   "The Cat operates at high speeds (up to 90 kilometres an hour)," says Mr. Cormier, "but there is less draft in the water. These vessels have been operating for 35 years and there has never been a whale strike."
   Bay Ferries has also hired LGL Consulting Services of king City, Ont., to come up with suggestions for ways to avoid whales.
   But Deborah Tobin, a whale conservationist in Freeport, N.S., says she continues to worry about whether the high-speed vessels will be able to avoid the endangered whales.
   "Whether or not there is a solution is the question," she says.
   Ms. Tobin says there were only five new whales calves born in the Bay of Fundy this year.
   "I hope we're not picking up any dead calves this summer," Ms. Tobin says.
   The ferry emerged through a morning mist just after 7 am., as about 75 residents of Yarmouth stood at the Fishermen's Memorial look-off holding small children and snapping photographs.
   For some onlookers the boat represents a chance to revive the tourism industry of southwestern Nova Scotia.
   Nancy Knowles, owner of Designer Tours, a tour operator in Yarmouth, has ordered two cars and a van to "show the visitors southwest Nova Scotia.
   "We've been working with Bay Ferries in bar Harbour to do two hour tours out of Yarmouth, for people who come over in the morning and return in the evening."
   David Whiting, manager of the Yarmouth Development Corporation, says, "When this tourism season ends we'll look back and realize we were short on hotel rooms thanks to this."
   There were also some bittersweet memories for former Marine Atlantic workers who watched the ferry coming in.
   Bernard Melanson, one of the almost 100 Marine Atlantic workers who weren't rehired by Bay Ferries, says he hopes the new ferry will benefit his community.
   "Still," he adds, "I'm a litter bitter. I don't get my job back.
   "The company president predicted 400 spin-off jobs earlier this year. I'd like to know where they are, because I need one."
   John Pierce, spokesman for Transport 2,000, a transportation lobby group, says time will tell if the new ferry is a viable business.
   "It's a real experience to travel on this new, pioneering type of vessel. Whether the interest level continues depends on the quality of the ride and the noise levels," he says.
   Mr. Pierce says the ferry faces some big financial challenges, as federal subsidies for the service are scheduled to disappear by the year 2000.
   One of Bay Ferry's immediate business challenges will be to secure a winter charter in the off-season, to ensure that monthly payments on its $64-million cost can be met.
   Mr. Cormier says that so far the company has not a winter operator for the boat in North America. He says the company has "an option" to lease the ship to operators in Australia, but says this is not the company's preference.