It's been almost 32 years since the last purpose built ferry operated between the Breton port of Roscoff and the Devonshire port of Plymouth. It was on the 25th May 1977 the mv Cornouailles departed on her maiden voyage, having been built specifically for the Roscoff route.
Since then the route has been served my many fine vessels, many of which have been built for Brittany Ferries, but not specifically for the Roscoff market. In addition the route has been served by the ‘Spanish’ vessel, providing additional weekend and more recently weekday sailings. This led to an imbalance of the services provided between the two ships, this most recently being between the Pont-Aven and the Pont l’Abbe.
It was the sale of the Val de Loire to DFDS Seaways in 2005 which directly resulted in Roscoff receiving a new ship. The capital raised from her sale was used towards the investment of a new ship specifically for the Plymouth/Roscoff route. This vessel was code named ‘Bretagne II’. Between the departure of the Val de Loire from the fleet and the completion of the new vessel Brittany Ferries chartered the ‘Duke of Scandinavia’ from DFDS Seaways. This charter formed part of the sale package of the Val de Loire. The ship was renamed ‘Pont l’Abbe’ for service with Brittany Ferries, and entered service in Spring 2006, following the delivery of the Val de Loire to her new owners.
On the 19th January 2006 a new light was shone on the route when Brittany Ferries signed the contract with STX Europe (then Aker Yards) for the construction of a 168.4m cruise ferry for the Plymouth to Roscoff line. The ship would be a near sister to the Cotentin, a freight ferry already under construction for the company at the same yard. Identical from the keel up to deck 5, she would share many of the characteristics of the former vessel.
It was announced in December 2006 that the codenamed ‘Bretagne II’ was to be named ‘Armorique’ - the ancient name for coastal north-western France meaning "the country which faces the sea" as well as the name of a national park in Brittany. The name Armorique evokes the very roots of Brittany Ferries. This is not the first ferry in the Brittany Ferries fleet to bear this name. The previous Armorique operated between 1975 and 1992. This would be the first time Brittany Ferries was to name one of their ships after a previous vessel.
The first sheet of steel was cut on the 30th July 2007, before her keel was laid on the 14th March 2008 in Helsinki, Finland. She was launched on the 7th August in the covered shipyard, and floated out of the yard on the 13th September 2007. The ship, starting off costing £81 million but eventually ended up costing £100 million, had been planned for arrival during the autumn of 2008.
The Armorique underwent sea trials on the 17th January 2009, achieving a maximum speed of 26.2kts and meeting all of the design criteria. She was handed over to Brittany Ferries on the 26th January – almost three years to the day since the order was initially placed. On the 28th January Armorique departed the STX Europe shipyard bound for Brest via Plymouth where berthing trials were carried out on the 31st January. Her first arrival into Roscoff was on the 8th February ahead of her planned maiden voyage on the 10th February at 1500 from Roscoff to Plymouth.
Maiden Voyage - 10 February 2009
Due to severe gales being forecast the maiden voyage of the Armorique was delayed. Instead of the planned start time of 1500 from Roscoff on the 10th February, the Armorique sailed ‘light’ to Plymouth on the evening of the 9th February in order to shelter from the storm off Torbay. The maiden voyage was to in fact take place on the 10th February from Plymouth, with the 2200 departure to Roscoff. As this was a night crossing, there was not a massive amount of time to look at all aspects of the ship in detail, prior to bedding down for the night. We sailed only a few minutes late a quietly slipped out of the break water. Immediately it was evident that a swell was present, however the ship felt as flat as you would expect. A quick tour of the ship, and it was time to frequent the bar where we spent the evening before finally retiring to bed at about half one the morning. The cabins are reviewed in detail later on but suffice to say that they were incredibly comfortable, and it was very plesant to enjoy the crisp brand new sheets! About 3am in the morning the swell had got worse, however it was not at all uncomfortable, and due to the ship being new and built with a lot more ‘plastic’ there was hardly any of the usual clattering and banging associated with the older members of the fleet.
Arriving at 8am in the morning, the music started to play at 6am, reasonably pleasant way to way up although it lasted only 10 seconds at a time, and not too loud. The only thing that was missing were any announcements in the cabins. The showers were excellent, with a good water pressure and the ability to go past the ‘recommended’ hot setting and increase the temperature more.
We docked on time, with almost no vibration or noise, something that you come to expect over the years on the route. The day was spend shopping and eating in the St Pol area. Obviously time was made for a few photos to be taken, although a spot of mountaineering was involved due to the tide being out. We made our way back to the port, and boarded quickly, ready for a 3.30 departure. Everyone was given a voucher entitling them to a free glass of champagne (or orange jucie) to celebrate her first ex-Roscoff departure. Shortly after departure Captain Barboncon invited everyone to join him in the bar.
After about 30 minutes the Self Service was calling so down we went. The food was of a very high standard as usual, with a reasonable selection available to the time of year. It was, however, no different to that found on other BF ships.
After that we had a short walk around, taking in the bar, and games room. By this time Plymouth was on the horizon, so we prepared to disembark. Docking was quick, as was exiting the ship, however the usual Plymouth Passport Control issue arose.... this time however due to the padlock on the gate getting stuck! Military timing was necessary at trains needed to be caught, so there was no time for any photos of leaving the ship.
The cabins of the Armorique are based upon the same design on the recent ‘Pont-Aven’ (2004), with standard 2 and 4 berth cabins, and ‘Club 4’s being available. In addition ‘Club 4 Plus’ cabins are also available, which offer the same facilities found in deluxe cabins but on a smaller scale.
The standard and ‘Club 4’ cabins did feel slightly larger than those on the Pont-Aven, and also a little brighter, with a green, blue and cream colour scheme. Sadly the upper bunks do not retract into the ceiling as found on the Mont St Michel and Pont-Aven. Apparently this was due to cost. The cabins are also not equipped with a radio/alarm clock as per other members of the fleet (excluding the Barfleur). However, an alarm call was provided on the overnight sailing with music being played through the PA system. Club 4 cabins are provided with a flat screen TV and tea/coffee making facilities. Many will be pleased to learn 4 cups are provided now, however they are paper cups, and the milk is now powdered creamer. The bathrooms in the cabins were bright and spacious, and were based upon the standard design used on the rest of the fleet.
‘Club 4 Plus’ cabins offer good value for money, being only £7 more expensive than a ‘Club 4’ cabin. A widescreen TV, tea/coffee making facilities (now including some speciality teas), wardrobe, safe, complimentary chocolates and breakfast on overnight sailings. The cabin felt to be the same size as a deluxe cabin on the former Quiberon. The bathrooms in these cabins were the same as in standard class cabins, but ‘l’Occitaine’ toiletries are provided. I was advised that the cabins would also have a DVD player and a hairdryer, although these had yet to be installed.
There are two reclining seat areas onboard. The first is beside reception on deck 6, which faces sideways and is brown in colour. The second, larger lounge is forward on deck 6, around the café.
The dining facilities see a change in Brittany Ferries usual concept, as no formal waiter service restaurant is provided. A large self service restaurant is located forward on deck 7, with a servery the same as that found on the Pont-Aven. The food on offer here was the same as that found in self-service restaurants on the rest of the fleet, and was of the usual high standard.
Comments were made by the crew, who were receiving many comments from the passengers regarding the lack of a main restaurant, that an area on the starboard side of the self service restaurant could be turned into a bistro in the future if demand warranted it. However, as no such provision was included in the design of the Armorique it seems doubtful that such a service will be provided.
On deck 6 forward, within the reclining seat area, is ‘le Café’. This has a feel not too dissimilar to that of the café’s found onboard the Normandie Express, both in its layout and design but also in the style of food on offer (soups, pre-made salads etc). The area is a vibrant light green colour with informal seating provide, whilst reclining seats are located to either side and directly in front of the Café seating area. It was a nice fresh space, but it was clear that a compromise was being made between people trying to sleep in their reclining seats and those having a conversation in the Café, due to its open plan design.
There are two shops located either side of the main corridor on deck 7, between reception and ‘les Arcades’ leading to the Café and cinemas. The port side shop is basically ‘le Kiosque’ selling newspapers, magazines, confectionary, souvenirs and toys. The shop on the starboard side offers alcohol, cigarettes, perfume and fashion products. Whilst the selection on offer is good, it’s clear to see how much onboard shopping has declined in recent years with the shops being smaller than that found on earlier vessels.
‘Games Planet’ is located on deck 6 aft, providing a teenager area where video games and simulators are provided. ‘Chance Planet’ is located on deck 7 aft within the bar providing a large number of fruit machines. ‘Children’s Planet’ is located within the ‘restaurant’ on deck 7 forward, as well as a small cinema for children. These two areas, however, was still under construction at the time of the maiden voyage. No formal live entertainment is provided onboard, however a magician was onboard offering table magic shows. The ship is adorned with flat screen TV’s, particularly the bar and café showing music and news channels, as well as BF advertising videos. Two cinemas are located on deck 6 forward.
The ships bar is located on deck 7, aft of the restaurant. This is a large open plan space which also incorporates the top of the atrium and leads to the ‘Reading Lounge’ on the starboard side. The outside deck directly outside the bar has a glass canopy, providing an ‘all weather’ area for smokers. The bar has a large number of flat screen TV’s showing music channels, in place of the traditional DJ and a dance floor. The only criticism in the bar is that all the chairs were fixed meaning that if your group was larger than 4 you were a little stuck. There were, strangely, a number of tables without seats around them. One negative point was that most of the sofa’s in the bar’s were used as beds, even during the day crossing making the area feel a little less welcoming.
One very interesting a nostalgic feature it that one of the main stairwells is almost a clone of the main stairwell aboard the ex Brittany Ferries vessel Val de Loire. Ironically the sale of this ship is what helped to finance the building of the Armorique, therefore it seems fitting that one of her ‘features’ lives on whether by design or accident.
One unusual omission is the lack of a ‘Bureau de Change’ . Given the number of passengers using the route, a lot of which can be school parties at high season, it shows that most of them must purchase their currency prior to travelling or once at their destination thus removing the need for this dedicated facility. That said, a number of passengers were asking where it was. Instead a ATM is provided onboard which dispenses Euros.
The reception is based upon the layout of the MSM and the Pont L’Abbe. There are large open seating areas which feel very open and ‘airy’, a far cry from the crowding with past members of the fleet like the Quiberon. Oddly there is no signage to advertise the fact that it is the reception, it seems to be left more to the open imagination. Signage is provided however for the cabins and the cinema listings, shown in the form of a large computer (Windows) based TV. On the maiden voyage as per Microsoft’s normal showcases, there was a lovely ‘Ok’ dialog box on the screen due to something failing. This shortly followed by the BIOS screen, before logging in and actually working as it should.
There is a modern lounger located under the main staircase, which looks somewhat lost due to its size. A larger design sofa would have suited much better, once more a chance to reminisce about the round red sofa’s found on the same area aboard the old flag ship the Val-de-Loire.
The PA system seems to have a very short intro sound, in the form of just a ‘bing’. What happened to the ‘bong’, well we shall probably never know, probably cut-backs!
Onboard Wi-Fi is available, but unlike the maiden voyage this is now chargeable. The Wi-Fi is accessible only on Decks 6 and 7, although unstated also sounds likely to be available in the Club 4 Plus cabins via a wired connection.
The car decks are much the usual affair, not being able to be altered much due to their function. There is the usual main freight deck, with a very small basement deck below which can hold only three or four freight units. This area is mainly to be used for the stores. The upper deck is designed to be used in a double deck loading environment, however as this is not yet possible at either Plymouth or Roscoff, an internal tilt ramp has been installed. This then creates a situation similar to that on the Bretagne and the dreaded deck 5, where delays are possible. The only difference to this system is that the ramp tilts both ways thus removing the need for the circling of so many vehicles.
Oddly the car deck strays away from the rest of the fleet (including her sister) in as much as rather than the usual blue paint on the floor, it is a somewhat drab grey colour. It does appear to have been coated with a much better anti slip protection, which is better for people walking as well as vehicles. Another noticeable difference is that the anchor points to chain down freight units are now flush with the deck (again, unlike her sister.
Thankfully with the open car deck to the stern of the ship, there is very little impact on the outside deck space on board. Deck 6 aft is very much based on the same area as on board Norfolk line, with a two tier smoking / sitting area. This does leave plenty of room for a wander, with access to the top deck, which is actually quite big. BF seems to have learnt from other operators and have made the car deck staircase identification much easier, with simple numbering and the use of colours, so hopefully there will be less lost cars!
Interior Design (Brittany Ferries Press Release)
On the ARMORIQUE, The public spaces have been made as open as possible, both towards the outside world and to each other, creating a feeling of spaciousness and light, whilst a simple, flowing layout heightens the passengers’ feeling of freedom, and encourages movement from one space to another.
Certain public spaces reflect the coast of Brittany: the forward lounge, the gallery, the information lounge, the area for teenagers, the restaurant, and the main bar. Here, the carpet is blue, and an off-white ceiling with large ovals represents the cloudy sky, with breaks in the clouds allowing the sun to break through. The walls are white and grey, corresponding to the colours of the horizon, and enhancing the feeling of space. The sofas and other furniture in these areas are predominantly blue, with a touch of pink towards the aft, and turquoise and green forward. These are the colours of the sky early in the morning, and the colours of the water and the waves in the Iroise Sea. Translucent glass partitions provide intimacy, whilst giving the impression of the transparency of water and fog.
Other spaces relate to the ‘closed’, inland areas of Brittany: the reclining seat lounge adjacent to the information desk, the main staircase in the middle of the ship, the cinemas, reading lounge, the food court, the games rooms, public toilets and shops. The carpets here are earthier in tone, interspersed with pink and green to suggest flora and fauna. Where these two spaces meet, a granite floor represents the beach; the ever-present connection between sea and land.
The ‘art walls’ flowing from fore to aft are covered in photographs of typical Breton scenery. With its combination of small- and large-scale photography, it has been designed in order to be seen from afar as well as close-up, and invites the passenger to walk from one end of the ship to another. Yellow openings symbolise the coastal ‘land lights’; lighthouses and homes scattered along the rugged Breton coast.
Three artists are featured on board Armorique:
• Philippe Plisson is a photographer, specialising in maritime photography. His works feature on the ‘art walls’ in the public spcaces, as well as in the passenger cabins.
• Alexander Goudie, (1933 – 2004). Ceramic art features in the club plus cabins.
• Matthieu Dorval’s paintings are on display in the public areas of decks 6 and 7
The Armorique is definitely a very modern ship, taken from a very modern image of shipping design. This does mean however, that form gives way to function far too much, in much the same way the UK does with America. All aspects of the ship represent a balance in the cost to produce and install verses the possible value it could add to the Brittany Ferries product. She is very much a product of design, designed for today’s flagging economy, with much forward thinking incorporated into her interior design.
The important thing to note however, is that this does not make the ship any less of a competitor in the Brittany Ferries fleet pecking order. Where points are lost in the corners that have been cut, restraints that were not to be, and the funnel being offset giving an outside silhouette like no other, the stability of the ship seem unmatchable. During a 10m swell the only way you could feel that you were at sea was looking out of the window, where the horizon was going up and down. Looking back inwards, all was still. Even the Pont Aven doesn’t feel as sure footed as the Armorique. Only time will tell if the Armorique is as well designed for the Plymouth – Roscoff route as Brittany Ferries have hoped, but as is evident from above, she is a very capable ship, with plenty of options for the future, and this should easily see her through the next decade with very little trouble at all.