The Portland-Nova Scotia ferry carried more passengers in 2017 than it did the year before, but an engine failure disrupted its sailing schedule and dimmed expectations of a blockbuster season.

The Cat ferry carried 41,463 passengers from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, between the end of May and Oct. 15, a 17 percent increase from the 35,500 passengers who took the ferry in 2016.

Before the ship’s starboard outer main engine failed in late June, it seemed like The Cat would have a much stronger season than 2016, said Mark MacDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries, the Prince Edward Island-based company that operates the high-speed catamaran.

“Based on our passenger bookings as they stood at that time, we were projecting to double our traffic this year over last year,” MacDonald said.

Because of the engine failure, the ferry had to run at much slower speeds and cancel almost 25 percent of its sailing days, according to MacDonald. Bay Ferries had planned to sail round trips six days a week in July and every day in August, but had to reduce its schedule to five days a week in both months.

It also lost customers who had already booked passage, although Bay Ferries tried to accommodate passengers and fit them into the altered schedule, MacDonald said.

“What we did as a company was to reach out by telephone to all customers who were affected and try to make new arrangements for them,” MacDonald said. “In the course of that process, of course there were customers who ended up canceling.”

Portland received $119,022 in passenger fees from the Cat from June to the end of September.

The ship’s engine will be fixed over the winter and it will be back in service next year, MacDonald said. Despite the trouble this season, he is still optimistic about the ferry, he said.

“I think it presents great potential for the future,” MacDonald said.

“We feel very positive about the business. It is unfortunate that this happened, but this kind of thing happens in the business occasionally and we work through it the best way possible.”

Bay Ferries has a 10-year contract with the Nova Scotia provincial government to run the ferry service. Nova Scotia provided $9.4 million Canadian in subsidies to the ferry in 2017. It intends to continue supporting the service, a vital part of the province’s transportation system and important for tourism, said Brian Taylor, a spokesman for the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

“Bay Ferries finished their ferry season with a solid number,” Taylor said in an email. “Bay Ferries is to be commended for their efforts in handling the challenges they faced this season.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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