20 December 2002
After waiting for nearly six months the maiden voyage of the Mont ST Michel was upon us. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, before the Mont could enter service there was one final formality to be carried out - the final sailing of the Quiberon.
After a very early start, by my standards anyway, I arrived at Portsmouth ferry-port at 0715 ready for check in for the Quiberon - that is if my traveling companion Will had been on time! The only evidence in the terminal of their being a new ship was the model of the Mont behind the desk. Once boarding had started it became apparent that the Quiberon was on the wrong berth. She was on Number 1 due to hydraulic problems on her regular berth. Foot passengers were being boarded via the car decks. There were a fair number of cars traveling onboard, many of which had joined the queue for the Le Havre sailing! When walking up to the information desk it was noticed that the carpets had been removed from deck 5 and below. Once we had dropped our belongings in our de-Luxe cabin we set out on deck. The Commodore Clipper and Pride of Portsmouth were in the port too. Once loading had finished we set sail ahead of the Pride of Portsmouth, which seemed to have a very heavy freight load.
On departure there were no announcements mentioning the fact that it was the Quiberon's final sailing, and none of the other ships in the harbour said their goodbyes. Very disappointing. However on rounding the Naval base the Bretagne was awaiting our departure. Her crew could be seen on the outside decks and in the windows waving their goodbyes to their old running mate. The Quiberon's crew responded accordingly with many a blast on the ships whistle, ensuring everyone knew she was going!
The voyage was uneventful with no events or visible signs of her 'demise.' Only le Kiosque looked slightly under stocked and decks 5 and below had been roped off. After a light lunch in the self service restaurant (with a very limited choice) it was almost arrival time. It was then we realised we were running late and so began to become concerned as to if we were going to miss the Mont!
As it turned out we were not the only passengers onboard solely for the final voyage and the maiden of the Mont. A group of about 8 fellow enthusiasts had turned out in force and were recording the arrival from above the bridge. Kindly we were invited to join them. From this vantage point we could clearly observe our arrival and the immense size of the Mont. As we arrived a 'ships whistle' competition began with both ships crews waving to one another. But something was missing! The starboard forward lifeboat was not on the Mont - why? We never found out! It is interesting that the official Mont photo (at sea) on the French site shows the totally enclosed boat in the center on the starboard side, as well as with the revised logo - very strange. Also strange, the Quiberon took on a pilot before arrival.
After what seemed like an eternity the foot passenger ramp was installed and we bid the Quiberon a fond, if not rapid, farewell. Check in in Caen was smooth as they appeared to know of our whereabouts. A souvenir stall by French enthusiasts had been set up in the terminal, but unfortunately we were ushered through passport control before we got a good look.
When on the bus to the Mont we could see that lifejackets were being stacked on the quayside from the Quiberon, and the newspapers were being rushed to the Mont!
After a steep climb onto the Mont we boarded via deck 7. This is initially on an outside deck where a teak path had been laid between the footbridge and the automatic door leading to the information hall. A bright warm welcome was received as we were overwhelmed with what we saw. We maid our way, after being given directions in French (must have looked the part!) we went to Deck 9 where our Commodore Cabin was located. Before entering the cabin area on deck 9 (for all cabin types) you are issued with your key by a hostess. The keys onboard are the credit card style. We were warned that each cabin would only be issued one key and that when the cabin door closes it automatically shuts! The cabin corridor was beautiful. A navy blue carpet with words embroidered on it ran the length, navy cabin doors, and blue direction signs guided our way.
Our steward opened our cabin for us. What a nice sight! A standard design of Commodore Cabin like those found on the Val and Bretagne but with a cherry wood. White bed sheets, white leather chairs, DVD player etc all made this cabin look the business! 4 beds are located in the cabin, the two single, a convertible sofa and a fold down bunk from the deck head - an amazing new feature found throughout the vessel which saves so much space, yet is so simple.
After dragging Will from our cabin we made our way to the outside decks. The lack of a single deck plan onboard did make this rather like a mystery tour. Their are multiple deck levels available to walk on, with a new blue non slip surface instead of painted steel. Very nice, but more drains would have been useful! Disappointingly there were two mounds of rubbish on the outside decks, and it became increasingly apparent that some small touches were still to be finished, including the removal of protective films on doors. Worryingly there were a couple of cans chemicals labeled 'highly toxic/corrosive' left out too!
The ship was ready to sail after loading a few supplies from the Quiberon. A small crowd lined the beach, despite the rain, to wish us well. Also onboard were French TV crews and radio - myself and Will were interviewed! Just after 1510 (25mins late) we set sail into the increasingly dense fog. The ship maneuvered with ease off the berth and her power could be felt beneath. The Quiberon remained silent with only 5 crew members watching our departure.
Once fully underway the flags were brought down and the rain drove us inside. The ship suffers almost zero vibration and engine noise - you really could not guess you were at sea. We thoroughly explored the vessel from top to bottom. A feature marketed was not onboard though, much to our disappointment. It appears second thoughts were had as the the viability of having an internet cafe onboard.
An interesting new feature found throughout the ship is the use of plasma screen TV's, found an almost every corner displaying special offers and useful information. Something we failed to see onboard was a route progress board which would be welcome. A Brittany Ferries 'tradition' is also missing from the Mont - no neon!
There is also a forward viewing area, similar to that on the Val de Loire, which can be accessed from deck 5, although it is not yet signposted and is behind fire and weather tight doors.
Soon enough it was time for dinner and many Brittany Ferries dignitaries could be observed, including Captain Prigent, David Longden and Alex Gornevec! A very pleasant meal, (on unused crockery!) in the company of fellow enthusiast Alex and his father (who visit BFE!) it was almost time for arrival. It was thick fog and the whole of the harbour was full of horns. The outward bound Bretagne welcomed the Mont to the port - one of the few people who could see her arriving. So with the chants of "Aren't we big!" to onlookers on the round tower, the maiden voyage was all but over.
A sad and happy day. The end of one era but just the dawn of a new standard of ferry travel. The Mont St Michel is a beautiful vessel and her crew and BF should be very proud. Very positive comments could be heard from the passengers, most of whom were onboard by chance. It was surprising I through than no announcements were made on either vessel as to the importance of their crossings.
So, with Christmas rapidly approaching ask for a ticket on the Mont! I hope you have enjoyed this report. My thanks go to the crews of the Quiberon and Mont St Michel, Will for coming with me, and to Alex and his father for their company.