The Duc de Normandie joined Brittany Ferries in 1986 to open a brand new route between Portsmouth and Caen. Upon her entry into service she became the largest vessel ever to sail into both Portsmouth and the newly constructed ferry terminal at Ouistreham (Caen). She remained operating on the Caen route until July 2002 when she transferred to the premier Plymouth - Roscoff route on which she operated until the end of her Brittany Ferries career.
In The Beginning
The Duc de Normandie was began life as the Prinses Beatrix for SMZ, having been constructed at the Verolme Shipyard in Holland. She was to sail between Harwich and the Hook of Holland under the 'Sealink' banner. She was launched by her namesake HRH Princes Beatrix on the 14th January 1978 and entered commercial service on the 29th June. She was to prove to be both a popular and reliable vessel for Sealink, but was soon to prove too small for the continually expanding route.
During the Winter of 1984/5 Brittany Ferries began to investigate the possibility of operating a route from the already popular port of Portsmouth (from which they were the first ferry company to operate) to Normandy. Townsend Thoresen already operated to the Norman port of Le Havre from Southampton (later moving to Portsmouth) but had turned down an invitation to operate to the newly constructed ferry terminal at Ouistreham. Brittany Ferries were quick to accept the offer realising the potential the new port offered, as well as enabling them to finally rival Thownsend Thoresen's established routes to both Le Havre and Cherbourg. Now that Brittany Ferries had a new port and route they were now in need of new tonnage which would be both suitable for the 6 hour crossing but also capable of rivalling the existing services offered to Normandy.
On the 1st October 1985 Brittany Ferries announced that they had purchased the Prinses Beatrix from SMZ to operate the new route which it was decided would open in June 1986 ready for the summer season. Following her purchase she was immediately chartered back to SMZ to continue operating between Harwich and the Hook until the arrival of their own new tonnage - the Koningin Beatrix. As part of the purchase deal the the Armorique was also chartered to SMZ to offer extra capacity during the winter months. In May 1986 the Prinses Beatrix sailed to Rotterdam for a major refit prior to entering service with Brittany Ferries which saw A.I.A. redesign her interior with a Norman feel to give passengers a taste of France from the moment they boarded the ship (a theme which was to continue with all future Brittany Ferries vessels). The main bar, l'Alambic', boasted a real Calvados Still whilst the wine bar had a Norman cider press. The main lounge was named 'Claude Monet' after the French artist who lived in Normandy, and opened out into a terraced garden. Additional facilities included the installation of a bakery capable of producing fresh patisseries, a coffee shop and two restaurants, all of which were to result in the new vessel becoming the flagship of the fleet and offer an attractive alternative to Townsend Thoresen's passengers.
The flagship was re-named Duc de Normandie for her new role and was appropriately re-registered in Caen. Prior to the opening of the new route the Armorique made two goodwill sailings to Caen to celebrate the launch of the new route, where she sailed up the canal to berth the centre of the city of Caen to 'fly the flag'.
The Duc de Normandie officially entered service on the 5th July 1986 with the 23:30 departure between Portsmouth and Caen (Ouistreham). Her interior and size set new standards of ferry travel on the channel and sent shockwaves to rival ferry operators. The route was an immediate success and exceeded all expectations, so much so that plans were considered to 'jumbo-size' her for the 1987 season. The Truckline vessels Purbeck and Coutances were brought in to provide much needed extra capacity on the route during summer weekends as well as the Prince of Brittany which allowed the company to provide an additional passenger sailing to Caen during peak weekends in addition to her own sailings to St Malo.
The following year, 1987, saw the Duc de Normandie and the Purbeck cover the route once again. However before the year was over it was no surprise when Brittany Ferries announced that a second vessel was to be introduced to Caen for the 1988 season. The Yugoslavian built Gotland was then duely chartered. The Gotland was not scheduled to enter service until May but due to strikes affecting both P&O and Sealink Ferries she entered service early along with the the Armorique due to the exceptionally high demand for channel crossings. In fact such was the demand the Duc de Normandie, Gotland, Prince of Brittany and Breizh-Izel all sailed to Caen until the industrial disputes resolved.
For the 1989 season the Prince of Brittany joined the Duc de Normandie sailing to Caen having been replaced on the St Malo route by the newly bought Duchesse Anne. Before coming to Caen the Prince of Brittany was re-named Reine Mathilde after William the Conquerors Queen. The Truckline vessel Normandie Shipper was also to sail to Caen forthe season.
In May 1990 plans were announced for the construction of two new cruise ferries in addition to the new Bretagne and to expand the continually expanding Caen and Cherbourg services. The Masa Yard at Helsinki was awarded the contract for the new Caen super-ferry which would enter service during May 1992. The Duc de Normandie was to undergo a £3 million refit prior to the new ship's arrival which was to be named Normandie. The ports of Portsmouth and Ouistreham were both to see a new double deck link span and major dredging work in preparation for the new ship's arrival.
The newly constructed Normandie entered service on the 16th May 1992 increasing capacity on the Caen route by 40% overnight. She became the largest ship to operate out of the two ports, just as the Duc de Normandie had some years earlier. The two vessels were to operate together for the next 10 years which saw the route continue to grow and expand despite the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
A New Challenge
It had long been realised there there was a growing discrepancy between the mighty Normandie and the smaller Duc de Normandie both operating to Caen, and it had been Brittany Ferries intention for some time to build a sister ship to the Normandie but following financial difficulties, including the loss of duty free and increased competition, it would not be until 2002 that the Duc de Normandie would be replaced on the line. The Van der Giessen shipyard was awarded the order for the Mont St Michel in 2000 which was to become a larger sister to the Normandie. Upon her arrival the Duc de Normandie was to be transferred to the Plymouth-Roscoff route in July 2002 replacing the smaller Quiberon.
The Mont St Michel's delivery date was severely delayed by the shipyard, however the Duc de Normandie moved to Plymouth as planned on the 10th July 2002 following sixteen years service to between Portsmouth and Caen. Portsmouth said a found farewell to the vessel which had opened their new continental ferry terminal all those years ago, which has since grown into Britain's second largest ferry port. The Duc de Normandie undertook a one off passenger carrying sailing between Portsmouth and Roscoff at 0700 - leaving Portsmouth for the last time. The Quiberon filled in the gap left by the Duc de Normandie on the Caen route until the arrival of the Mont St Michel which was anticipated to be in August. As it turned out it fell to the Quiberon to cover the entire summer season along with the Normandie, and following further delays the it was not until the 20th December that she could herself stand down from service following the Mont's arrival.
For the 2003 season the Duc de Normandie continued to sail between Plymouth and Roscoff, operating alongside the Val de Loire. During the winter of 2003 she carried out a new weekend sailing between Plymouth and Cherbourg during the winter months.
During 2004 the Duc de Normandie gained a new partner on the Roscoff route following the arrival of the mighty Pont-Aven. The summer season at Plymouth was, however, to experience difficulties following the breakdown of the Pont-Aven which led to the Duc being diverted to Poole on several occasions before a normal service was able to resume. In July it was officially announced that the Duc de Normandie was to be laid up during the winter season, and that the Bretagne would transfer from Portsmouth to operate between Plymouth - Roscoff.
Her final sailing of 2004 was on Wednesday 29th September at 2300. The Duc de Normandie then departed Roscoff at 1400 bound for Caen. On 1st October 2004 she sailed up the canal towards Caen itself and was laid up at the 'Calix' berth to await her fate. On the 12th November 2004, she made her final visit to Portsmouth to take on fuel before sailing onwards to Gdansk, Poland awaiting sale. Whilst in Gdansk, she was briefly re-united with her fleetmate m/v Val de Loire, which was in the port for her planned dry-docking.
The Next Chapter
It was announced in March 2005 that she had been sold to Transeuropa Shipping Lines (TSL), the parent company of TransEuropa Ferries. She was renamed Wisteria and sailed to Ostende for a refit. Since then she has spent much of her time on charter in the Mediterranean, but did return to UK waters in the winter of 2005 when she operated for Trans Europa Ferries on their Ramsgate - Ostende route. The following spring she returned to the Med on charter, where she has remained since.