After five-year absence, a car ferry again links Maine and Nova Scotia


Built five years ago to ply the English Channel, Norman Leader never sailed due to a dispute between the buyer and builder over deadweight capacity. Now the ferry has a new name, Nova Star, and a new role: reviving service between Maine and Nova Scotia.

The 528-foot ship began sailing May 15 from Portland, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, restoring a link between the cities that was severed in 2009. That’s when Bay Ferries Ltd., owner of The Cat, a high-speed catamaran, dropped the route after the province stopped providing annual subsidies.

With new financial support in hand — Nova Scotia has agreed to provide $21 million over seven years — operator Quest Navigation Inc. is aiming to take the daily service to another level. Nova Star has been upgraded to offer a cruise ship experience, with amenities including luxury cabins, three restaurants, four bars, a casino, a theater and a spa.

To add to passenger comfort on the 10-hour, 185-nm crossings, Nova Star has two 16-foot retractable Mitsubishi fin stabilizers to reduce roll. Propulsion is provided by four 7,500-hp MAN diesel engines, giving the ship a cruising speed of 21 knots. It can carry 1,215 passengers and up to 336 cars.

Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for Nova Star Cruises, said the ship “performed beautifully” on the long passage from the Singapore shipyard where it was built to Yarmouth, where it arrived in mid-April. He was aboard the ship two days later when it sailed to Portland for inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“I had been on the Scotia Prince from years ago, and this ship seemed like it wasn’t moving,” Bailey said, referring to the ferry that sailed the route from 1982 to 2004. “There was no rocking. It’s more stable than the Scotia Prince and certainly more stable than The Cat.”

The new ferry, originally slated to sail between Portsmouth, England, and Le Havre, France, had been idle in Singapore since early 2011. That’s when LD Lines, the French company that ordered the ship, terminated its $179 million contract with shipbuilder Singapore Technologies Marine. LD Lines’ parent company, Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, cited a delay in delivery and a “deficiency in the deadweight capacity of the ropax vessel.”

Bailey said deadweight capacity wouldn’t be an issue on the Portland-to-Yarmouth route because Nova Star will be carrying far less cargo than the ship would have if it had been put into service on the English Channel. As Norman Leader, 85 percent of the vehicles on the ship would have been commercial trucks. Nova Star is catering to tourists and most of the vehicles it carries will be passenger cars.

“From what I understand, it didn’t meet the specifications that the original buyer wanted,” Bailey said. “It meets our specifications fine. I think there were some other issues as well and the buyer backed out. But it’s brand new.”

Nova Star was repainted and underwent other cosmetic modifications before sailing from Singapore to Yarmouth. It has 130 crewmembers and a captain, George Pallas, who served on the 469-foot Scotia Prince. “He’s very familiar with the route,” Bailey said.

Daily service will be offered until Nov. 2 this year. The ferry leaves Portland at 9 p.m. EST and arrives in Yarmouth at 8 a.m. AST. On the return leg, departure is 10 a.m. AST and arrival is 7 p.m. EST. For more information and fares, go to

By Professional Mariner Staff