By Tina Comeau - THE VANGUARD
YARMOUTH - One thing is certain, Yarmouth knows how to put on a welcome, especially when itâs years in the making.
People came armed with flags to welcome the Nova Star to Yarmouth after its maiden voyage from Portland. TINA COMEAU - THE VANGUARD
Such was the case on Friday morning, May 16, as people turned out on the waterfront, at the ferry terminal and in front of the Nova Scotia Visitors Information Centre to welcome the Nova Star as it arrived here from Portland following its maiden voyage of the 2014 sailing season.
While the ferry service will help to generate economic activity throughout the province, thereâs little doubt that it means the most to Yarmouth, which hasnât seen any ferry passengers disembark at the ferry terminal since the summer of 2009.
Nova Star Cruises aims to carry 100,000 passengers on the Nova Star this summer.
On its maiden voyage company, CEO Mark Amundsen says they carried 82 vehicles and âjust north ofâ 300 passengers. The ferry can accommodate up to 1,215 passengers.
While Nova Star Cruises had been hoping for more people on the maiden voyage, Amundsen called it a good number to start out with as they are still getting used to operating the ferry service. He says the company knows the highest volume of traffic will come in July and August.
Last week, Nova Star Cruises announced that all kids under the age of 18 will now travel for free on the cruise ferry and anyone who books a trip this season by a June 15 deadline will receive a 20 per cent discount on their trip. Since it had first advertised its fares, Nova Star Cruises was seeing a lot of complaints on social media that the rates were too high. Amundsen says they want to ensure that families use the ferry, as this is one of the prime targets in their business plan.
âOur business plan is family centric . . . When we put the fares out that children under 18 were free, our phone lines got bombed,â he says. âWe want to re-energize that market.â
Amundsen says the maiden sail went wonderfully. He says there was a lot of excitement on board the vessel as it came into Yarmouth harbour. âLooking out the window, we were just so giddy,â he said.
That excitement was evident in speaking with Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood, who sailed across on the Nova Star. Mood had been in the States for the week leading up to the crossing. She christened the ship in Boston and took part in the ribbon cutting in Portland. She said the Nova Star exceeded her expectations.
âWhen people get on that ship, theyâre going to know why itâs called a cruise ship,â she said. âItâs top quality, beautiful, clean, friendly staff. I tried to do every corner of the ship, I donât know if I did them all.â
The mayor said she encountered a lot of excitement over the resumption of the ferry service while in Portland, Boston and Portsmouth.
âLots of excitement, lots of questions. The family ties were just unbelievable and the amount of people that said, âIâm coming back because the shipâs back and my family is there,ââ she said.
On Lobster Rock Wharf last Friday, people began gathering shortly after 7 a.m. People kept scanning the horizon for the boat. Finally they caught a glimpse of the Nova Star as it was rounding the Cape Forchu Lighthouse.
âThere she is!â shouted someone. âI see her!â
Although the Nova Star had already visited Yarmouth last month, this was the first time she was transporting paying passengers.
Yarmouth residents Louise Zinck, Doreen Rogers and Colette Randell brought a Nova Scotia and Canada flag with them to the wharf to wave as the ship sailed past. Others had brought flags as well.
At the ferry terminal, on Forest Street and at the Nova Scotia Visitors Information Centre, the atmosphere was electric as passengers came off Nova Star. The Maple Grove/Yarmouth High Memorial Club lined the sides of Forest Street, waving flags, cheering and clapping as vehicles drove by. Local residents joined them in extending a welcome. In some of the vehicles bearing American licence plates, people waved Nova Scotia flags out of their windows and some of the passengers held cameras and smartphones out of their windows and their sunroofs to capture their welcome.
âItâs obviously a great day to celebrate the accomplishments of everybody thatâs worked so hard and relentlessly and tirelessly to get this done,â said Yarmouth resident Neil MacKenzie, who sailed across on the boat after spending time in Portland promoting the area and the province with his Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association colleagues. He credited the provincial and federal governments, the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership, Nova Star Cruises and others for ânever giving up on this need to connect back to our U.S. neighbours.â
Yarmouth tourism operator Brian Rodney called the resumption of ferry service a true team effort that involved many people. The reward for those efforts will now dock here daily for the next few months and hopefully many years to follow, he said.
âItâs a pleasure to see the reality of it. Weâve seen pictures, weâve heard talk about it, but itâs here,â said Rodney. âWe have it, itâs here, weâve got to use it or weâll lose it, itâs as simple as that.â
One couple that was thrilled to be using the ferry again was Bill and Gene Logue, who live in Georgia. In the past theyâve sailed to Nova Scotia on The Cat. The last trip they made to the province, in the absence of ferry service, was by driving the distance by car. Asked how sailing here compares to driving here, Gene Logue said, âI love the driving, but I love the boat too.â
Her husband, though, was quick to interject.
âSince I do the driving, I love the boat,â he said. The couple said they were amazed by the reception the boat and the passengers received when they arrived in Yarmouth.
âIt was emotional,â said Gene. âI teared up.â
Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill, the provinceâs minister of natural resources, was another person who was all smiles on Friday.
âItâs been a long day coming to get this boat back and as you can see everybody is just feeling really positive about it,â he said. âNow we need to focus on making it work, making it successful. I think we can really do that. If we put the determination that we put into getting the boat back, into making it a success, I think we can make it last for a long time.â