CAT ferry sets sail for first time in three years, re-establishing Nova Scotia’s link to the U.S.

After three years, the high-speed CAT ferry left Yarmouth, N.S., Thursday morning and headed for Bar Harbor, Maine.

Criticized for costing taxpayers millions, the service is regarded as vital to the economy of southwestern Nova Scotia.

Massachusetts residents Sherri and Ray Ellsworth have spent the last eight days touring Nova Scotia for their anniversary.

The re-established link between the province and state will make it easier for them to come back.

“We didn’t get to Newfoundland, really wanted to get to Newfoundland. So yeah, we’re going to come back and hopefully catch the ferry out of Sydney,” said Ray.

They are exactly the type of tourists the province wants to see.

“When visitors come across the ferry, they are high-value tourists,” said N.S. Public Works Minister Kim Masland.

“They stay longer, they usually stay longer than a week, and they spend money and they travel our entire province.”

Nova Scotia’s contract with Bay Ferries, the company that operates the CAT ferry, runs until 2026. This year’s operating budget is a little over $17 million.

“$17.12 million is a lot of money,” said Masland. “That will take a lot of passengers but again, we have to look at the economic benefit of it to the province as well.”

The service is starting three weeks earlier than usual, and there is optimism the season will be a successful one.

“The Bay Ferries terminals not just in Yarmouth, but in Saint John, N.B., and Digby are getting phone calls from people inquiring about service,” said Jim Kerr, general manager of Bay Ferries.

Sandra and Terry Zink are from Barrington Passage. Like the Ellsworths, they too are celebrating an anniversary. They’re heading to a concert near Boston, Mass.

“It’s great value right now with the cost of gasoline,” said Terry. “We can jump on the ferry and save that amount driving.”

Early this season the CAT will be running four days a week, but will begin daily crossings on June 24 until its final sail on Oct. 10.