Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Our trip on The Cat Ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

People are stubborn. People keep trying to establish a daily ferry service between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. People keep failing.

I admit, Kim and I have often said, "that looks like fun," as we watched the impressive ferries come and go out of Portland all summer. But whenever we checked the prices we were reminded why these ventures fail. People can go on Caribbean cruises for only a little more money.

Kim Has a Very Particular Set of Skills

I may have mentioned in the past that Kim wins prizes on the radio. It’s kind of embarrassing—smacks of desperation I think. On the other hand, I’m never so humiliated that I refuse to accompany her to these concerts and other events. A few weeks ago she won a round trip for two people and one car on this year’s incarnation of the Portland-Yarmouth ferry. So, off to Canada we went.

This is such a bad business idea, I thought as we boarded The Cat, a high-speed catamaran-style ferry. I bet we’ll be the only ones on the boat. But that wasn’t the case. There were plenty of others, and they didn’t appear to be the wealthy sort either. A holiday weekend bump? I hope not.

Rock the Boat (Don’t Rock the Boat Baby)

Kim is susceptible to seasickness. On our ride from Portland to Yarmouth, the ocean rolled with large, gentle swells, up up up, down down down, up up up, down down down. She didn’t like it, not one bit.

The customer service on this ship was outstanding—I think the crew were mostly Canadians. They offered Kim free crackers and ginger ale to settle her stomach. They suggested we position ourselves at the rear the boat where the ocean swells had less effect. Kim also popped some pills and threw on a patch, and by the end of the 5½ hour trip, she had recovered.

When we docked in Yarmouth, the sun had set, and the fog had rolled in. We drove directly to the hotel, checked in, unpacked, and headed downstairs to inspect the lounge. There were 15 or 20 people spread throughout. Not bad for a hotel bar. A hostessy woman invited us to, “Sit anywhere you like.”

Unfortunately, most of the seats, and all the good ones, were down a short flight of steps. “Is there a ramp somewhere so we can get to the bar area?” Kim asked.

No. There wasn’t. Rather than sit at the periphery of the establishment, or transfer me into my iBOT wheelchair so I could climb the stairs, we went back up to the room and got a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we perused some travel information for Yarmouth, and we came away unsure what exactly we would do on this Friday of Labor Day weekend (yes, it was Labor Day weekend in Canada too). The brochures offered a smattering of obscure museums, a lighthouse, and some mansions with supposedly noteworthy architecture. “We’ll find something to do,” I assured Kim.

I saddled up the iBOT for the day and rode her around town. I blew the minds of some residents as I cruised the sidewalks in balance mode. Brain matter spewed everywhere. What a mess.

We had slept so late on Friday that breakfast didn’t happen. One of the employees on the ferry had advised us on the best lunch spot in Yarmouth. We were not disappointed when we dined at The Shanty CafĂ©. Turns out that “Canadian Potato Skins” (their name, not mine) are delicious, and not meal-sized like the potato skin appetizers in the states.

“Okay, now what?” Kim asked as we rolled out of The Shanty.

“I don’t know. Downtown looks sleepy. Maybe we have to get in the car and drive around to see what the town has to offer.”

We did. We found the strip with car dealerships, fast food restaurants, and Walmart. Kim tried a couple of thrift shops—nothing.

“Maybe we need to drive along the ocean. Let’s find that lighthouse.” I offered.

To The Ocean!

We followed a winding road out to the end of a peninsula and found Cape Forchu Lightstation, a spectacular park with an unusual lighthouse. The problem was, the wind blew about 1000 miles an hour, so we walked around for five minutes and got back in the car. On the way out we had to come to a full stop to let two deer cross the road. I like that.

Our ferry guy had suggested Rudder's Seafood Restaurant and Brew Pub for dinner, a nice restaurant and the only brewery in town. With nothing better to do, we set out early for dinner.

I studied these Canadians at the restaurant. They looked like us.  They even spoke like us, except words such as “sorry.” (Surprisingly, in this corner of Canada there were no dangling “eh’s.”) But they inhabited a parallel universe where Donald Trump is not running to be president of their country and where the term medical insurance has no context.

We enjoyed dinner and lingered to take in some live music for another hour, before heading to the hotel.

Back to the USA 

Kim and I were hopeful that the return trip would be more pleasant for her. Indeed, there were no swells or waves for the entire ride back to Portland on Saturday. But there was something even more disturbing. In the seats across from us, a young couple, generally attractive and appearing otherwise normal, were making their best effort to meld into a single human being. They sat intertwined for the entire voyage. She held a novel in her hands, and I swear they were reading it together. That's right. Together.

Final Impressions

Although I encountered some accessibility challenges, the ferry and the city of Yarmouth were accessible enough, average or better than average. Email me if you would like more specifics.

Like the failed ventures before, I worry about the viability of this ferry service. Unlike the young couple who sat across from us, Portland and Yarmouth are not trying to become one. They couldn’t be more different. Portland is upscale, bustling, award-winning. Yarmouth is quaint, a little boring, but trying their best to improve. To Portland, the ferry service is a nice little addition to a thriving waterfront. To Yarmouth, the ferry service is the centerpiece of an effort to make their city a destination for Americans and a gateway for Canadians traveling to America.

I probably didn’t give Yarmouth a fair chance. I’m sure, with better preparation, we could have enjoyed our time more. I’m rooting for Yarmouth, but making the ferry service a success and building their little town into a vacation destination are tough challenges, especially with brain goo splattered all over their sidewalks.

Photo credits:

The Cat – Portland Press Herald
Cape Forchu Lightstation – http://www.capeforchulight.com/

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Mitch. Insightful, informative and amusing as per usual. Also very pertinent for us as we will end our vacation with a couple of days in Yarmouth (we were planning on only one, but the ferry has been cancelled on the 11th, so we are having to come back on the 12th). I'll let you know how it goes. Details of our trip so far will be posted on Facebook, just as soon as I get a minute . . .