The height of the cruise ship season here happens to correspond with the height of the Atlantic hurricane season. Even storms that don’t come near the coast of Maine can stir up enough rough weather to force cruise ship captains to cancel planned port visits to Bar Harbor.
“The end of November is the true end of the hurricane season,” harbor pilot Skip Strong said. “We are in theory in the height of the season now, but the water’s starting to cool off all the time.
“The captains ultimately have responsibility for safety of their passengers. What we have always been told is that Bar Harbor is a stop that if at all possible, they want to make it. If they miss Bar Harbor, their comment cards are not good at all.”
On Oct. 9, both Maasdam and Caribbean Princess cancelled their planned stops here, according to Harbormaster Charlie Phippen. The week before, Regal Princess cancelled on Sept. 30 and Crystal Symphony did on Oct. 2. All were due to high winds, heavy rain or both.
The smaller boats operated by American Cruise Lines that tie up to the municipal pier,Independence and American Glory, are much more vulnerable to weather. “They don’t like to be out in the Gulf of Maine with seas higher than about three feet,” Phippen said.
Sending passengers ashore by small tender vessel is often the riskiest part of the operation for captains, Strong said. “The ship has to be able to make a good consistent lee for the tender to operate in.”
Ship operators prefer to tie up to a dock when possible. Plans to build a cruise ship dock on the former international ferry terminal on Eden Street in Bar Harbor depend on the Maine Port Authority purchasing the property from the Canadian government. Negotiations are currently underway, and a transportation bond to help fund the purchase is on the statewide ballot in November.
“The way the ordinance is written, we plan for a certain percentage of cancellations due to weather,” said Phippen. “It’s all just dependent on the size of the ship, the passenger complement and whether or not it’s safe to conduct the operation. We don’t hold them to the port fee unless they actually discharge passengers into the town after they’ve dropped anchor out in the anchorages.”
This year is on track to be in line with the historical averages from the last five years for cancelled reservations, he said. About 33 percent of small ship reservations are cancelled, 4 percent for large ships.