Truckline was formed in 1972 as a freight-only operation between Poole and Cherbourg, with the first sailing on 29 June 1973. During 1985 Brittany Ferries purchased Truckline and a summer-only passenger service began the following year, still operated as Truckline Ferries. By 1989 two freight ships Coutances and Purbeck as well as the passenger ferries Trégastel and Corbière were on this route. As Poole-Cherbourg had substantially grown in popularity, it was decided to replace the ageing Trégastel (1971) and Corbière (1970) with a brand new superferry, the Barfleur.
Barfleur, named after a fishing village near Cherbourg, took shape in Finland at the Kaverner Masa Yard, Helsinki. She was actually ordered by Senamanche, a subsidiary of Brittany Ferries with interests in the La Manche region of Normandy. Overseeing her design and construction were her Senior Master, Captain Claude Lenoir, who divided his time between the shipyard and Brittany Ferries' Roscoff headquarters, and ship's architect Michel Maraval.
Barfleur was specifically designed for Poole's narrow shipping channel, even with a 5.8m draught at low tide there was only 2m of water under her hull (the channel has since been dredged). She is the largest ship to regularly use the port. As planned, the new ship would be 18,000 gross tonnes and cost £53million. However, partly due to the route's continued increase in traffic, it was decided during construction to increase her length by 19m to 158.7m overall, allowing more cabins to be installed as well as increasing her capacity. This brought her tonnage up to 20,133 and construction costs to around £58million.
Barfleur is a multi-purpose ferry, designed to carry large amounts of freight, a significant number of passengers and their cars, or a combination of the two. She can carry 1,200 passengers (which is reduced to 850 on overnight crossings for passenger comfort) with 590 cars, or 304 cars & 66 lorries. There are normally 92 crew onboard although this goes up to 104 during the summer peak season. Onboard accommodation consists 268 cabin berths and 295 reclining seats.
Brittany Ferries took delivery of Barfleur on 27 March 1992. During April she made her first appearance in Cherbourg before arriving in Poole on her maiden voyage on the 4th April. Here a new double-deck linkspan (which was opened the same day by Brittany Ferries' chairman Alexis Gourvennec) had been installed to enable a fast turnaround. At first, the new ship offered freight-only sailings until a year-round passenger service began on 15 April.
The Barfleur settled into a pattern that would remain largely unaltered over the coming decade. From October to May she and Coutances provide three crossings daily from each port (except on Mondays when each ship misses one sailing for routine maintenance and crew training), increased to four daily departures during the peak season. The Poole-Cherbourg route is the shortest crossing on the Western Channel taking just 4 hours by conventional ferry (or only 2 hours 15 minutes by the seasonal fast craft 'Vitesse'). Barfleur berths stern first in Poole and bow first in Cherbourg.
Because during the winter months each ferry is normally dry-docked for a short period, Barfleur used to cover the Portsmouth-Caen route for a few weeks when passenger demand to Cherbourg is less. She also visited Plymouth and Roscoff for 2 round crossings when covering for the Val de Loire in September 2000. In 1997, it was decided to operate Barfleur between Poole and Santander in Northern Spain, providing one weekly return sailing for the winter period only. She was placed on this 28-hour link to provide extra freight capacity, but this only lasted for two winters, the route only being experimental.
Since she was new the Barfleur carried the yellow and grey Truckline Ferries livery, but during her 1999 refit this was changed to the standard Brittany Ferries colours. Only freight services continued to be marketed as Truckline although even this name was phased out during 2002 to be replaced as 'Brittany Ferries Freight'. Overall Barfleur has had a remarkably trouble-free career, with only a few sailings missed due to bad weather. However, during April 2001 the ship was damaged whilst berthing at Cherbourg in strong winds, necessitating repairs in Le Havre. Two years later, on 10 April 2003, a fault developed with the stern door mechanism whilst preparing to depart from Poole. The sailing was cancelled and although temporary repairs were carried out on site, the ship could only use the bow doors for loading and unloading until permanent repairs could be made.
Barfleur is very popular with passengers and crew alike. With her relatively small size, she has a friendly atmosphere often lacking on much larger ferries. The crew work on board for one week at a time. Due to retirement, Captain Lenoir made his final crossing on Barfleur on 13 May 2003. His position as Senior Master has been taken by Captain Jean-Claude Kerdoncuf.
Onboard the Barfleur
Forward of the engine room on Decks 1 and 2 is the lower freight deck (known as the basement). This takes 14 lorries, accessed by a lift that takes two lorries at a time. The main freight deck occupies Decks 3 and 4, accessed by a clamshell type bow door and ramp and a combined stern door / ramp. The main car deck 5 has a bow garage-type door and stern gates. Also on Deck 5 are a reclining seat lounge, freight-drivers' cabins and port and starboard passenger gangway doors. Deck 6 contains a reclining seat lounge and passenger and crew cabins, as well as hoistable car decks with a capacity for 120 cars. With these car decks in the raised position, lorries can be carried on Deck 5.
The main passenger deck is Deck 7. At the front are the ‘Turquoise' restaurant, which was awarded ‘Best Ferry Self-Service Restaurant' by the AA in 1993, and the ‘Drivers Club' freight driver's restaurant. There is also the former duty-free shop and ‘La Boutique' followed by the Information Desk, Bureau de Change and luggage room. Then come the ‘Les Dunes' restaurant and ‘Le Kiosque' shop, ‘L'Arc en Ciel' patisserie and seating area. Towards the stern are a children's playroom and ‘Les Alizes' bar, where there is often live entertainment. A children's entertainer is also provided during the summer months.
On deck 8 are further passenger cabins. Leading towards the bridge are the Captain's and Officers' cabins. Of interest on the bridge is the ship's mascot, Jumbo the toy elephant! He guards the cork from the bottle of champagne used at the ship's launch. The Captain is usually on the bridge only when entering or leaving port. At other times the ship is on auto-pilot with an Officer keeping a sharp look-out for anything unexpected, after all the Barfleur crosses the world's busiest shipping lanes up to four times daily! Deck 9 is used as a sun deck, but the uppermost Deck 10 is off-limits to passengers.
*cross section image reproduced with thanks to Kevin Mitchell and Ships Monthly
The 2009 Re-fit
In 2009 she underwent a further refit. This saw some of her public areas updated, including the self service restaurant, which now sports an orange and black theme but still retains it's name ‘Turquoise'. The re-fit also saw the removal of both the waiter service restaurant, and the truck drivers restaurant. A 'Games Planet' arcade has now replaced the main restaurant ‘Les Dunes', which is accessed from the main seating areas.
The Uncertain Years
A tsunami of enthusiasm is growing in Poole to welcome the popular Barfleur ferry back to the town.
After being ‘retired’ from the loss-making Cherbourg route a year ago, Brittany Ferries is returning the boat to service at the end of February. The welcome news which came just before Christmas, has delighted the ferries loyal customers who plan a right royal welcome for the grande dame. And there could also be a civic welcome for the ferry which will make a daily crossing from February 28, taking both passengers cars and freight.
Brittany Ferries Enthusiasts, whose website members have been eagerly awaiting her return, aim to turn out at Sandbanks on February 27 when she arrives from Cherbourg. “There are going to be a group of members – not sure how many yet – that are going to be gathering at the Haven in Sandbanks to welcome her back,” said member Brigitte Barnes. Hopefully she’ll give us some toots of the horn.”
The first sailing from Poole on February 28 will depart at 8.30am and leave Cherbourg at 6.30pm for her return. Cllr Ron Parker, Borough of Poole cabinet portfolio holder for transport is hoping to arrange for a civic and twinning party to sail on the first crossing from Poole.
BFE member Seashore said: “I am glad that she is back and hope that people will use her and make it viable for BF. Reading between the lines, I would imagine that she will be plying the route for quite a few years more to come certainly as a freighter; in terms of passenger options, it surely must be a ‘use it or lose it’.”
Brittany Ferries plans to operate the service through the summer and review its commercial viability towards the end of September. “Having listened to the concerns of the community, we now need to call upon everyone’s support of our decision to bring back Barfleur,” said Mike Bevens, the company’s group commercial passenger director.