In June 2001 Brittany Ferries announced that they had placed an order with the Van der Giessen shipyard in Rotterdam for the construction of a new 36,000 GT super ferry to operate on the Portsmouth - Caen route from 2003. This new ferry would become the largest ferry in the fleet and would operate alongside the Normandie, which was introduced in 1992, increasing capacity on the route by almost 60%. Upon its introduction the Duc de Normandie would be transferred to the Plymouth - Roscoff route and the faithful Quiberon disposed of. This would address the imbalance on the Caen route which had existed.
The order was officially placed and signed on the 6th September 2000, and construction began on the 22nd February 2001 with the cutting of the first sheet. The name for this new ferry was announced in June, to be called 'Mont St Michel'. This name was chosen for a shortlist which included Honfleur among others. The keel was laid during a ceremony at the yard on the 7th June 2001 - Yard Number 985 had begun to take shape.
Van der Giessen
The Van der Giessen shipyard was chosen by Brittany Ferries in late 2001 to construct their latest cruise ferry. Previous ferries built by the Dutch yard had been nowhere near as large or on as grand a scale but Van der Giessen rose to the challenge, and to show the world it was capable of building such a vessel. Ferries constructed included the Commodore Clipper, Ben-my-Chree and the Blue Star ferry twins. Van der Giessen-de Noord has a worldwide reputation as a leading designer and constructor of vessels.
Van der Giessen-de Noord made a name for itself in the area of safety and comfort. In passenger ships this is displayed by, amongst other things, high hydrostatic stability, low sound and vibration levels and extensive safety provisions. In 1997 Van der Giessen became part of the IHC Calandl Group.
Sadly it was announced in August 2004 that Van der Giessen was to close as IHC exited the shipbuilding sector. The yard was to close on completion of their final vessel in early 2004. In a statement IHC stated "It has become increasingly clear that the yard cannot survive in the current very weak market place, due to the uncompetitive price levels at which it is obliged to operate".
The Mont St Michel was delivered to Brittany Ferries some six months behind schedule and it is speculated that the compensation paid was in excess of £25 million, which was one on the major factors in the decision to close they yard.
On the Morning of the 16th March 2002 the Mont St Michel made her appearance to the world to much celebration. She was launched stern first down the slipway leaving the undercover construction yard and into the yard basin. She was immediately towed to the fitting out berth where internal components were installed apace. The launch went to schedule, on time and according to her build schedule.
The internal design of the Mont St Michel were themed on 'The Arts of the region of Normandie'. The public spaces were designed by AIA, which was also responsible for the interior designs of the Barfleur, Bretagne, Normandie and the Val de Loire. The theme for the Salon du The was 'The Art of Cinema' and based upon the film festivals at Deauville, Cabourg and Honfleur - covering the role Normandy played in the French Cinema.
'The Art of Music' was the theme for the main bar, reflecting the variety of music which is found in Normandy - from Classical to Blues. The use of brass, for example, reflects the role of Jazz in Normandy's history. Stainless steel and wood was also used resulting in a relaxing contemporary atmosphere. The main restaurant reflects 'The Art of Literature' containing portraits of authors, bookcases and leather armchairs. Combined with the excellence of Brittany Ferries' chefs an authentic French relaxing atmosphere resulted.
The 'Art of Painting' was chosen as the theme for the self service restaurant. The art of impressionism was born in Normandy, and as a result this is reflected here. Whilst easting French cuisine you are able to enjoy exhibits from notable Normandy artists. The passenger cabins were to be equipped with a new design of bunk bed which retracted into the ceiling when not in use giving maximum space in the cabin whilst the bunks are not require.
As soon as the launch had been completed the fitting out of the Mont St Michel began. This was a mammoth task with all of the air conditioning systems, cabins, public spaces, safety equipment, machinery and electronics all having to be installed. Unfortunately fitting out did not go to schedule as problems were encountered with the air conditioning systems and delays with suppliers being experienced. As a result the service entry date began to slip back from July. Following many provisional entry dates the Mont did not depart the shipyard until 1700 on the 25th October, and even then she was still not complete. Another ferry under construction in the yard (for SNCM) was to be launched and the fitting out berth required. The Mont St Michel was relocated to the Verolme Botlek ship yard at Europort. Sea trials were planned for the 26th October but were postponed due to poor weather conditions and further fitting out delays.
On Friday 8th November the Mont St Michel departed Holland for her sea trials. The poor weather conditions resulted in the Mont sailing off the south-east coast of England near Harwich in Essex. She reached her service speed of 21.4kts with no difficulty. She returned to Holland in the early hours of 11th November where fitting out continued.
Wilma van Ryn, project manager said "We went over to the English coast because there was quieter weather there and the sea trails have gone very well. Machine-wise the ship is very good, and we maintained the speed we were aiming for. She will be a very nice ship when she is completed. She is quiet, noise and vibration are both low - so comfort should be high. The passengers should be very pleased."
Following the success of her sea trials her insides continued to be finished, with carpentry being the major task. It was announced by the company that she was to be named in Caen by the French Prime Ministers wife on 9th December and enter passenger service on the 17th December. On the 26th November it was then announced that the naming ceremony had been cancelled and she would not enter service until the following week.
Finally on the 11th November the Mont St Michel departed Rotterdam for the last time on her delivery voyage to Brittany Ferries at 1400. She immediately sailed to Caen where berthing trials took place on the morning of the Thursday 12th. The Normandie had been diverted, as planned, to Cherbourg, to accommodate this.
On Friday 13th December At 0815 on the 13th December the Mont St Michel entered Portsmouth harbour for the first time. Despite poor weather conditions she was greeted by crowds lining the shore watching the new Brittany Ferries giant sail in whilst dressed overall. She entered the harbour after the Quiberon and Pride of Portsmouth had departed. Her tight time slot for trials was also restricted by the closing of the harbour from 1030 to allow the damaged HMS Manchester to be towed into port. Once in the habour she was greeted the harbour by the mighty Bretagne, who moved berth to allow her to carry out berthing trials.
Following press and company events (which were poor in comparison to those in Caen) she set sail for Cherbourg at 1215. Again, in more favourable weather conditions, the shore was once again lined with crowds, eager to get a glimpse of their new Portsmouth family member. Sailing out into the mist she passed the inward bound Pride of Le Havre, which was also keen to view the new arrival. Finally fitting out and tests were completed in Cherbourg before she sailed to Caen on the evening of the 19th of December.
The maiden voyage took place on the 20th December 2002 from Caen to Portsmouth. She departed on the 1630 departure (revised to 1545), slipping her moorings at 1615. Dressed overall for the occasion spirits onboard were high, not being dampened by the inclement weather conditions. Crowds lined the banks as the Mont St Michel blew her whistle as she headed out into the fog.
There were no special passenger events onboard to mark the occasion but a large number of company representatives and members of the press were onboard including David Longden and Alex Gournevec, who all dined in 'les Romantiques' for dinner with the passengers. The maiden voyage of the Mont St Michel also heralded the end of an era for Brittany Ferries as the veteran ferry Quiberon stood down from service after over 20 years service to the company.
The arrival into Portsmouth was not as grand an occasion as it might have been. Thick fog concealed the harbour and fog horns were in abundance! The outward bound Bretagne welcomed the Mont - one of the few ships able to see her arrival, apart from a lone person on the round tower, braving the elements. The Mont St Michel commenced regular departures from Portsmouth that evening with the 2230 departure.
The Mont St Michel was officially named in Caen on the 20th January 2003 by the French Prime Ministers wife. The festivities complete, the Mont St Michel was able to begin to settle into her new role out of Portsmouth, and has proved to be a very popular ship with both the travelling public and freight operators alike.