Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yarmouth to Bar Harbor: the ideal cruise

There's a news story in Nova Scotia that won't go away about ferry service from Yarmouth to Maine. The latest ferry — a fairly large ship that offered a mini-cruise experience — was the Nova Star. She ran for two seasons and wasn't very successful in attracting passengers. She won't be back this season. She lost money, quite a lot of it provided by Nova Scotia taxpayers.

The number of passengers wanting to travel between Nova Scotia and Maine has been decreasing over several years and no one seems quite sure who needs the service and whether there's any way to get those travellers back who seem to have found some other mode of transportation — driving around through New Brunswick, for example, or crossing the Bay of Fundy from Digby to Saint John and then, on to Maine.

I don't have all the answers to this complex problem but I do have one small contribution: The Nova Star travelled from Yarmouth to Portland. Yarmouth to Portland is too long! Even for a mini-cruise, it's at least two or three hours more than is comfortable. The theory is that getting off in Portland puts you closer to Boston — which is, of course, true. But it's never really been clear to me that landing in Maine and being close to Boston is always the traveller's desire.

The second last passenger ferry to run from Yarmouth (I'm going to ignore The Cat which was a high-speed ferry whose function was speed, not pleasure) was the MV Bluenose. (Yes, the Bluenose as a big ferry, not the schooner that's on the dime). The Bluenose sailed between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor.

When Dan's and my relationship was young, back in the '80s, we took a few summer trips to Maine and New England. We both had busy and quite stressful jobs, the kind of job that it's hard to shake off even when you leave it behind, and I still remember leaving Halifax in the morning and heading down the South Shore toward Yarmouth. The further we got from Halifax, the less tension we were feeling and by the time we reached Yarmouth, our vacation had truly begun.

The Bluenose sailed at 3:00 p.m. We'd be in the compound by 2:00 p.m. at the latest — time to stroll around, watch the inshore fishing boats coming into port, maybe chat with other people waiting to board.

By the time we were settled in the lounge with a cold drink, Halifax and our jobs were the furthest things from our minds. We had time to sit and relax, read and chat, watch for whales and seabirds, and just generally luxuriate in our freedom. By 6:00 p.m., we were ready to make our way to the dining room where the food — usually a hot and varied buffet — was good and enjoyed in lovely ambiance.

We would drive off the ferry around 9:00 p.m. and after a short stop to go through Customs where they asked if we had any firearms or green apples, we'd be free to go. (One year, it was quite funny, we had grabbed some fruit off our kitchen counter as we were leaving; it would make a good snack and it would just rot if we didn't take it. You guessed it — green apples. They were confiscated but we didn't get in any trouble — unless the FBI has a Green Apple File on us. We're been very careful ever since.)

We always thought ahead and had our room reservation made in advance. So we would drive from the ferry pier straight to the Cadillac Motor Inn and be ready to check in about an hour after we'd docked.

It's such a warm and neighbourly place that the office was often closed by the time we arrived but the front door would be unlocked and our key would be on the counter with a note, telling us which room to take. I think maybe we'd lock the office door after picking up our key.

The point I'm making here is that a six-hour cruise is much more enjoyable than a 10- or 12-hour cruise. You're going to be driving when you get off the ferry so you can't sit and drink for several hours. Not everyone likes to gamble and many people are just a little impatient with all that down-time. I'm pretty sure that at the six or seven-hour mark, people are checking their watches and tapping their foot and sighing. It's too long.

Besides that, if you get off at Bar Harbor — even if you don't want to stay and visit that sweet little town and the surrounding area — there's a very efficient highway system and you can make it to Portland or Boston without too much grief.

So that's my solution. It may be that there won't be ferry service in the future. Bay Ferries is supposed to be taking the route over but they haven't got a vessel yet so things are still up in the air. If they do get it going though, my vote is for a run from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor.

1 comment:

  1. I've done that trip twice in my life...the first at the age of 3 when we left Canada (Yarmouth, where I was born) to live in Jamaica- we then took a train from Maine to Miami, sea-plane to Jamaica....)and then again when my sons were about 9 and 11. We had done a camping trip on the East coast, and were heading home, after a quick visit to where I lived in Yarmouth- the mayor drove us to see it! still in good shape-this was in 1978- Greg, my eldest, was seasick the whole way on the ferry, and we spent much of our time on the deck....meantime Scott had been befriend by an elderly woman who was gambling in the Casino- she asked him to get her some change, and when he returned with the money she gave him 1/2! for being so honest! Of course in those days I wasn't worried about him being kidnapped, and I doubt that he was allowed in the Casino, but every now and then I had to go to find him, leaving Greg on the was a somewhat stressful trip!