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  1. I’ve just returned from a Brittany Ferries holiday just outside St Malo, where we stayed in a very pleasant Apartment overlooking the beach. We had originally planned to stay in Les Sables d’or Les Pins, but due to various factors this had to be changed and so therefore did our crossings. I hadn’t sailed on Bretagne since 2010 and so I thought a crossing during her thirtieth year was a must, but we also wanted to visit the D-Day beaches since we had never done so before. In addition to this, I also wanted to try out a new route, as well as the much talked about ‘Visentini’ vessel, so we elected to return via Le Havre on the Etretat. Bretagne to St Malo – 14/10/19 We arrived in Portsmouth in plenty of time to see her arrive from the comfortable surroundings of the Still and West. Having made our way along to the port just after 19.00hrs, we waited to board for at least thirty minutes before eventually being called forwards and directed up to deck 5. We soon found our cabin, no. 6502, which was a very clean and well-presented four-berth ‘club’ class complete with TV and Kettle etc. After a brief visit to the perfume boutique, we made our way to the front of the self-service to see if I could remember how to get out on to the bow; fortunately, I could and we found ourselves to be the sole passengers watching our departure from this unique vantage point. Once we were out in to the Solent, it was time to think about dinner and we had decided to eat in Les Abers if we could. I was also keen to have a drink the Yacht Club bar, since I’d always found it to be closed on previous crossings, so we had a pre-dinner beer there. I liked this area a lot, especially once the Pianist arrived, and thought the ‘Lighthouse’ style lamp behind the bar was a very nice, striking feature. What was less pleasant was the amount of dust and dirt around the brass (?) window frames, but hopefully this is something which can be rectified at her forthcoming refit. Our meal in the restaurant was wonderful, with excellent food and service to match. The sailing was quite busy and there weren’t many empty tables to be seen. We opted for the buffet starters and desserts, and my main course of Halibut with Chorizo was just perfect. Many people sing the praises of this particular restaurant and it’s easy to see why, it has a timeless quality to it and is, I think, slightly more enjoyable than the similar Le Flora on Pont-Aven. We finished off our evening in the Gwenn Ha Du bar where there was still a few people scattered around. Whilst sat with our drinks the young entertainment manager came up to us and asked if we were enjoying our crossing, if we’d enjoyed the food, entertainment etc and where we were going to; presumably he’d been instructed to carry out some market research, in any case we gave him glowing reviews which he seemed more than happy with. After a very comfortable night’s sleep in what proved to be a remarkably rattle and vibration-free cabin, the familiar music proved a very abrupt awakening. I opened the curtains to see us very slowly approaching St Malo and so, after a quick Coffee, I made my way up to see us gradually edging on to the berth. Shortly afterwards we made our way back down to deck 5 where we waited for around 25 minutes before we were underway and off in to France. Nine years after my last sailing on Bretagne, it really was great to be back. Overall she looked to be in excellent shape and I was particularly impressed by how well presented our cabin was, especially given some of the negative comments I’ve read over recent months. I’m a big fan of this ship and I really hope she will be around for us all to enjoy for at least a few more years. Etretat to Portsmouth – 22/10/19 In many ways it would have made more sense for us to have taken an afternoon or overnight sailing from Ouistreham, but since we’d never used Le Havre before or sailed on a Vissentini, we decided to give it a try. Getting to Le Havre was an interesting experience, particularly driving over the Pont de Normandie. It seemed to take a long time to get to the docks but since Le Havre is quite a large city this perhaps isn’t too surprising. We found the Brittany Ferries signs easily enough and were soon checked-in and parked in the boarding lane. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were called forward to board. I’d read various reports over the years about the parking arrangements for cars on this type of vessel, so was prepared to have to park on the upper deck near the funnel, however I was struck by just how steep the ramp was – definitely a first gear job. Having parked up we made our way inside via long corridor which led to the reception area on deck 5. We had booked an outside 4-berth cabin for the crossing but it was explained to us at check-in that rather than using our boarding cards, we would need to obtain a code from reception in order to open the door. The cabin itself was very pleasant, clean and spacious, with attractive wooden bunk-beds; it was more than adequate for our needs. Navigating our way around Etretat was not difficult and did not take long either since all of the passenger facilities are on deck 5, with the cabins on deck 6. We made our way out on the outside deck at the stern on deck 6, past the many ‘pet friendly’ cabins. Whilst it had been largely warm and sunny, a layer of mist had descended around the port which made viewing our surroundings difficult, in particular the adjacent cruise ship AIDAMAR. Despite this, I thought Le Havre looked quite impressive and definitely worthy of further exploration on a future visit. Etretat left her berth shortly after 17.00hrs and once clear of the breakwaters sounded her fog horn a few times as we headed out in to the Channel. We spent most of the crossing in our cabin, in the bar area or out on deck. The atmosphere on board seemed very quiet and relaxed and we actually found it the perfect way to ‘chill out’ at the end of our holiday. Around 7.00pm we went along to the self-service restaurant to see what was on offer for dinner. I ordered the beef complete peppercorn sauce, chips and vegetables and have to say it was delicious, certainly one of the better meals I’ve enjoyed at sea. The restaurant clearly does not have the ambience or glamour of Les Abers, but it was never intended to; Instead what it did offer was a very good meal, reasonably priced, with pleasant service and comfortable surroundings. All too soon the Isle of Wight came in to view and it was not long before we were passing the Spinnaker tower and heading towards the berth, adjacent to the Mont St Michel which we had seen in the distance for most of the crossing. Once back at our car, it became clear that we would be required to reverse some distance in order to drive back down the ramp; this was a first for me and this was one of those occasions where a reversing camera is useful. I did wonder why we had not been asked to reverse in to position when boarding, particularly since the deck was less than half full. After a brief delay whilst waiting for Border Force to check our passports, we were away and off in to the night. In conclusion then, two very pleasant crossings on two very different vessels, but both seemed to suit their individual roles very well. In my opinion, both offer the hospitality which distinguishes Brittany Ferries from the rest, albeit in different ways. Would I sail on Etretat or one of her sisters again? Definitely.
  2. Shipping Forecast

    Le Havre Panorama

    Leaving Le Havre terminal looking at UNESCO World Heritage site of Downtown Le Havre. The towers of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Havre (shorter squat tower) and Eglise Saint-Joseph (taller thinner tower) showing in the background above the Auguste Perret inspired downtown area. To the left is the Tour Eiffel du Le Havre (coloured containers sculpture) representing the 500 years (I am sure it could be longer ...) of connection of Le Harve to the sea. Given WorldHeritage Site status in 2005.

    © Shipping Forecast

  3. 'Curiosity' led me to sample Brittany Ferries new économie service to le Havre, sailing onboard their latest acquisition, Etretat. Having been initially critical of the new concept I was keen to keep an open mind and see just what the new service would offer, particularly compared to her previous life as Norman Voyager. 25th March 2014 On arriving at Portsmouth International Port I saw that there was one car lane open for the new service in the usual BF car lanes, with the electronic display indicating 'économie Le Havre'. On subsequent visits to the port there are now dedicated 'écononmie' check-in lanes occupying the formerly empty booths beside Condor Ferries. The passenger terminal was very quiet, where I checked in. The only indication of the service differing from the norm was the boarding card which had the 'économie' logo on it. I was advised that boarding would commence at 11:00, with an announcement being made shortly afterwards. Once through security the low foot passenger numbers (approx 4) meant we were driven onboard in a BF van rather than the bus, which had the added advantage that we were taken straight up to deck 5. Now, the ramp up to deck 5 can only be described as a ski slope - and a real sense of achievement for the driver when you reach the top! Once onboard you immediately arrive the 'information hall' which is a bright open area compromising the information desk, access to a small video lounge and the small 'Waves Shop'. Crew members were on hand here to welcome us onboard. Walking on you pass the ships main stairwell, leading up to the cabins, and also doors giving access to the outside decks. Forward of here is the main passenger accommodation with the 'Seaside Lounge', 'le Bar', 'Horizon Lounge', a small children’s play area and then finally the 'Pit Stop Self Service Restaurant'. Aside from a few new chairs in the bar (taken from the Pont-Aven) the ship remains identical in terms of layout, decor and facilities as she was when sailing as 'Norman Voyager'. The majority of signage (aside from facilities names) has been replaced with BF écomomie - complete with the ribbon and bow motif currently being used throughout the fleet. Deck 6 comprises the cabins (excluding two disabled cabins on deck 5). From the outside deck on the stern of deck 7 (accessible via the 'doggy exercise deck' on the port side of deck 6) I watched loading take place, with approx 10 cars climbing the ramp onto deck 5. Departure was prompt, and without any fuss we set sail for Le Havre. Shortly after leaving the berth we were welcomed onboard 'Brittany Ferries Economie' - with no reference to the ship's name, nor the fact it was the first voyage. Our Captain for the day was Cmdt Raimbeaux (Rambo). Intermittent rain showers were avoided by heading to the enclosed outside decks on the sides of deck 5, although access to these is rather odd as the doors have emergency exit 'push bars' on them so it's not immediately apparent you can pass through. Sadly there were no well-wishers on the Round Tower! Once clear of the Channel we passed the inbound Normandie - and took a rather a large roll in the process! Lunchtime beckoned. The selection on offer was generally good. A small selection of what you'd find on the 'traditional' ferries, with a small desserts fridge and a selection of starters before the hot offering. I did feel that the hot dishes were a little poor, the quality not the selection. I opted for the Salmon but it had been sitting there for some time. The servery is also 'canteen style' with steel lids so you can't see what the food actually looks like - even the chef had difficulty locating some of the options! A selection of drinks is then followed by the cashiers desk. OK, its an économie service so I can't complain, but small improvements here could go along way - that said the food was of a far higher standard than in the LD/DFDS days! The tables are split into two zones (one formerly being primarily for drivers) and there is a large TV screen in both which were showing French and English news channels. Some tables overlook the bow which is always a bonus. As there were only a handful of passengers onboard everyone quickly settled into their routine of reading, watching their iPads etc or camping out in the reclining seat lounges. After lunch I didn't see anyone venture to the bar for a drink nor look around the shop. Everyone seemsd to know what to expect onboard and had accordingly come equipped! There is free wi-fi available onboard and 'On-Waves' provide mobile phone coverage too. The shop has a very basic offering (being smaller than that on the Normandie Express), whilst newspapers were available at the information desk. I did overhear one passenger chatting to a crew member, clearly a regular on the ship, and was comparing it to its former life, and generally praising the ship. He did make a point on departure of complimenting the fact shore cleaners came onboard on arrival in Le Havre! Incidentally a team of cleaners apparently spent two weeks deep cleaning the ship following its handover to BF. Soon enough Le Havre came into view, and with the pilot embarked, and the Seven Sisters sailing past, we made our approach to the berth, just as the heavens decided to open! We arrived on time, but due to her design, it took some time for the cars to be disembarked and approx 30mins for us foot passengers. This time we disembarked via deck 3, accessible by a long corridor and lift at the rear of deck 5. It's then a walk off the stern door to a waiting shuttle bus which then takes you, wait for it, all of 30m, to a stairwell to access the terminal via a overhead walkway. This procedure is nothing new, as since P&O departed no ferry serving the port has fitted the foot passenger gangway arrangement - nevertheless almost 10 years later a better solution has yet to be found! The passenger terminal in Le Havre, like Portsmouth, doesn't show any evidence of the économie brand (not even the boarding cards). Boarding for the return leg was advertised as starting at 21:00 but in the end it was closer to 21:30 before the gates were opened. One negative here. The two BF staff in the terminal were clearly enthusiastic and friendly, however their constant flirting with each other was rather unprofessional, with the foot passengers appearing to be an inconvenience on their night out! Once through passport control it was the usual process in reverse for getting onboard, being greeted by the purser on the car deck directing us to the lift or stairwell. Something which wasn't advised of at check-in, nor mentioned with-in the ship's guide, is the Etretat's unique cabin entry system. The cabin numbering is somewhat bizarre but even stranger is that there are combination locks on the doors - similar to that found in a Forumula 1 hotel. The code to this isn't listed on your boarding card so you must go to the information desk to obtain the magic code. Code in hand it was straight up to deck 6 to bed, after a rather long day! The cabin's are larger than that found on the rest of the fleet and are simple but clean and functional. The bedding is brand new, and now feature the usual BF duvet (compared to her LD/DFDS days). The bathroom was sufficient, but felt rather tatty with holes in the walls where items had been removed and featured an old style fixed shower head. On the return journey I went to bed as soon as I got onboard and thanks to the usual 08:00 arrival time enjoyed a full nights sleep. A negative comment however, is that the lyno flooring within the cabin and outside corridor means that noise carries very easily and I was woken a couple of times as people went past. The sailing back was smooth, being woken an hour before arrival advertising breakfast was being served in the Self Service. This was repeated half and hour before arrival, but there wasn't the usual request to vacate your cabin, so another plus here. The Bretagne berthed ahead of us on No 2 berth, whilst we were on No 3 berth. The Normandie was preparing to set sail to Caen with what appeared to be a full load onboard. There was some friendly jeering between the two crews as we made our way alongside! As in Le Havre disembarkation did take some time, it being half an hour before we were invited to make our way to deck 3 to get onto the shuttle to the terminal. With the Bretagne still unloading the queue for immigration did take some time but soon enough we were through - completing the 'adventure'. So, what did I think? Well to be frank it does what it says on the tin. It's an économie service and BF clearly go to great lengths during the booking process to highlight this fact (you must tick to acknowledge that it's a basic service) so Brittany Ferries usual clientele will be unlikely to be shocked or complain. Essentially its the same service that DFDS are offering to Le Havre and LD to Santander so it will be very interesting to see how they compete against each other. I know some on here have suggested that the Barfleur or even Armorique should also now be branded under the économie banner. This is a crazy suggestion, as both ships are FAR superior to the offering onboard Etretat. If you want to get to France or Spain on a budget, without trekking to Dover, then this certainly is a great option. With BF's route network, and the ability to easily reserve your crossing with a small deposit and make booking ammendments it also wins over DFDS/LD.
  4. I just wanted to share some photos from my new vantage point in Gosport since I started working for the National Coastwatch (NCI) based in Fort Blockhouse. 'Pont-Aven' departing Portsmouth for Santander (21/03/17) 'Baie de Seine' departing Portsmouth for Le Havre (21/03/17) 'Mont St Michel' departing Portsmouth for Ouistreham (06/03/17) 'Amorique' arriving in Portsmouth from Ouistreham (05/02/17) More to follow as I get them....................!
  5. Etretat has just radioed in to QHM saying that she has just lost a Bow Thruster, now just one working. The Captain has not requested a tug though.
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