The Nova Star ferry sailed out of Portland on Thursday night on its much-awaited maiden voyage to Nova Scotia, carrying about 300 passengers, 130 crew members and 81 vehicles.

“After three years of planning, we now have paying customers,” said Mark Amundsen, president and CEO of Nova Star Cruises Ltd. Amundsen stood at the bottom of a ramp, greeting all of the passengers who walked down the ramp into the belly of the ship.

Although the ferry has capacity for 1,200 passengers, Amundsen said he was pleased that the ship was only partially filled for the first overnight trip because the staff needs time to practice.

“We don’t want to be overwhelmed,” he said.

The ship was built in 2011 in Singapore and sailed 10,000 miles to get here, but the 10-hour voyage to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was its first with passengers.

There were some glitches. A 26-foot-long U-Haul truck from Florida, which was hauling a Ford Focus on a trailer, held up the boarding for about 30 minutes. The crew lifted the back of the truck with a forklift and unhitched the trailer, then towed it in separately.

A large motor home and two tractor trailers backed into the cargo bay safely.

Passengers and vehicles entered the ship on the same ramp. Amundsen said a separate gangway has been built for passengers and will be installed by the end of next week.

While the ship will be equipped with WiFi, the Internet connection wasn’t operating Thursday.

The mood on the ship was festive. Big Nellie’s bar, at the stern, appeared busy as passengers sipped drinks and watched vehicles being loaded before the ship slowly pulled away from the Ocean Gateway terminal.

Portland City Manager Mark Rees, who went to Yarmouth with his wife, Beth Rees, said there were many skeptics, including him, who didn’t think Amundsen could pull it off in time to launch the service this May.

“This is amazing how this came together,” Rees said.

The ferry is scheduled to offer daily round-trip service until Oct. 31. It is due to depart every night at 9 and return the next day at 7 p.m. On Thursday, the ship pulled away from the terminal at 9:15. p.m.

Michelle and Jim Temple, who had been riding in the U-Haul, were relaxed as the ship headed past Portland Head Light on its way to Canada.

Michelle Temple, who grew up in southwest Nova Scotia, said they were moving from Florida to Mahone Bay so she could be closer to her aging parents. She said she’s been away for 20 years.

“It’s time to go home,” she said.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com