“We have just now – with engine manufacturers – confirmed the source of (Monday’s) issue, which was a defect in one cylinder, of 20, in the starboard inner main engine,” Bay Ferries president Mark MacDonald said Tuesday evening.
“We hope to complete the repair tomorrow – a scheduled off day – and should be back in business Thursday in Portland,” he said.
If they are able to meet that target, The Cat will have only missed three crossings due to this issue – one on Monday and two on Tuesday, Aug. 1. As MacDonald stated, there were no scheduled crossings on Wednesdays.
On Monday, July 31, an “abnormality” had been detected in one of The Cat’s engines. The Cat is already only operating on three of its four engines, due to an issue that occurred with its starboard outer main engine on June 28 that can’t be fixed until after the season ends.
MacDonald said Monday that when the abnormality was detected, the engine was taken out of operation as the vessel sailed to Portland.
“The vessel received tug assistance in docking, as she occasionally does on high wind days. With only two engines she is less manoeuvrable around the dock so the captain obtained tug assistance,” he had said. “Based on indications so far, we do not feel this is a similar problem to the serious issue countered in June.”
On Tuesday, Bay Ferries said a full technical crew consisting of personnel from both Bay Ferries and the CAT’s engine manufacturer (MTU) were on location in Portland.
“They are undertaking a thorough assessment of the engine issue identified on July 31, with the goal of implementing a fast and effective repair program so The CAT can continue to provide the Maine-Nova Scotia high-speed ferry service to our customers,” read an Aug. 1 media release.
Because of the cancelled Cat crossings on Aug. 1, Bay Ferries added two extra crossings of the Fundy Rose that sails between Saint John, N.B. and Digby, N.S. The ferry was departing Saint John at 8:15 p.m. and then departing from Digby at 10:45 p.m. MacDonald said the extra crossings were to give customers another option to get to and from Nova Scotia.
Bay Ferries has already had to modify its summer sailing schedule to compensate for the fact it is only operating on three of four engines. It is also operating at a reduced speed –from 33-35 knots to 28-30 knots – which lengthens the crossing by about an hour to 6.5 hours.
Bay Ferries was optimistic about passenger numbers heading into this season, saying advance bookings were up over last season, which was the first season Bay Ferries had operated the run since the summer of 2009. Prior to that Bay Ferries operated a Cat service between Maine and Nova Scotia for 11 years.
Despite these mechanical issues, MacDonald said they continue to be “very optimistic.”
“We have already exceeded last year in total passenger sales,” he said, noting last year they had no mechanical breakdowns and that unfortunately these things sometimes happen.
The City of Portland released passenger numbers a couple of weeks ago, saying the number of passengers departing and arriving on the vessel from May 31 to June 30 was 7,677 passengers. The 2017 June Cat numbers fall in between the seasons of the Nova Star, which carried 6,768 passengers in 2014 and 8,530 passengers in 2015.
In 2016, The Cat only operated for two weeks in June, carrying 3,616 passengers.
Bay Ferries is chartering this vessel from the U.S. Navy. The vessel, renamed The Cat (the third Cat ferry to sail between Maine and Nova Scotia) is the 2007-built high-speed Alakai, which has been under the ownership of the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command.
The vessel’s starboard outer main engine can’t be repaired until after the sailing season. In a July 14 media release Bay Ferries said the engine’s manufacturers are standing behind their product and will absorb all repair costs when repairs take place.