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  1. 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. Construction 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. Onboard Review: Cabins 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. Dining 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. Shopping 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. Entertainment ‘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. Bars 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. General Comments 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. Garage Decks 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 Summary 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.
  2. '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.
  3. 11 May 2015 The Baie de Seine entered service, in a freight only mode, with an overnight sailing from Cherbourg to Portsmouth on the 7th May. She then sailed to Bilbao and back ahead of her first passenger carrying crossing to Le Havre on Monday 11th May. The first sailing was to be a busy one, thanks to the transfer of Caen passengers due to industrial action. Once through check-in we were directed straight through security and onto the lanes beside berth 2, on which the Baie de Seine was moored, and after a short wait were directed onboard. Her vast stern door reveals her cavernous garage, and fixed internal ramp to the upper deck. We were then positioned on the mezzanine deck - where car’s were parked in a similar manner to that of the Bretagne’s deck 5. This is where the majority of passenger vehicles were positioned in here DFDS’ days, but on this sailing the majority of the upper deck was dedicated to passenger vehicles. Cabins are located on decks 6 – 10, and are considerably larger than those found on other members of the fleet. They had fresh new bed linen and towels, and there was a hairdryer located in the bathroom. More than adequate for an overnight sailing to Le Havre (or Bilbao). At the forward end of deck 7 is the Café. This is a nice cosy area overlooking the bow, and offered an alternative lounge to the bar. The Café was unfortuantely closed for the overnight sailing, so the majority of passengers favoured the bar located one deck above on deck 8. Opposite the Café is the Shop and Peitit Marche. The space has been divided into two (from her DFDS days), but the shop still stocks a good range of products and is certainly much larger than that found onboard the Etretat. The Petit Marche offered a slection of pre-packaged meals (as found on the Normandie Express and Cap Finistere), along with drinks and snacks. There is also small children’s play area located on the port side. Up on deck 8 is the information deck, in front of which is a small seating area. Forward of here you find the ‘la Forumle’ self service restaurant, which is divided in two with a walkway in between. A selection of hot dishes were available, along with a cold buffet option. Further forward is ‘le Bar’ which again overlooks the bow and was where the majority of passengers had settled. Going up, on deck 10 you can find the Economie Plus cabins and Reading Lounge. This area is furnished to a high standard, reflecting its former life as a Commodore Class area. The cabins are very spacious, and offer a tv in addition to tea and coffee making facilities. The reading lounge is an impressive space and offers panoramic views over the stern of the ship. It’s certainly not the something you would expect to find on an ‘economie’ service. There is a coffee vending machine here for refreshments. Baie de Seine offers lots of outside deck space, and it was from this overlooking the stern that we observed the loading operation in full swing, along with a nice glass of red! The departure was delayed due to the volume of traffic on this first sailing, but the arrival into Le Havre was ontime. It was a smooth crossing, with only minimal announcements made over the PA system, and the beds were very comfortable (and wider than the norm too). Disembarkation took a little time, particuarly as were on the mezzaine deck, but it was French passport control that were causing the cars to back up through the port. The Baie de Seine has certainly risen the bar for the economie brand, and would be by far my preferred choice over the Etretat. Whilst offering a high standard, the ship does still fit into the economie brand in comparison to the Caen service, with the former ‘full frills’ DFDS service having been removed. The Baie de Seine offers an attractive overnight option for sailing to France, and with her 08:00 or 08:30 arrival time, also allows a longer lay in at the other side!
  4. It was certainly an amazing few days, and it was a privilege to have been onboard the maiden voyage of the Pont-Aven… Tuesday 23rd March The Val de Loire slipped her moorings for the final time a little after 9pm on Tuesday the 23rd March. She was making room for the Duc de Normandie, inbound from Roscoff, sailing empty to St Malo to position herself for her what is now her permanent route, running alongside the Bretagne to Portsmouth and also to Cherbourg. A grand total of 4 people watched her leave from Grand Parade for what might be the final time. The Duc de Normandie sailed past her in the Sound whilst the Pont-Aven was at anchor off Cawsand – 3 Brittany Ferries in Plymouth at once! The evening climaxed with drinks in ‘The Bank’ with fellow BFE members – which has effectively become our new base in the south west! Wednesday 24th March – The Big Day Following a very pleasant nights sleep at the Holiday Inn I awoke to a bright sunny morning, whilst the Pont-Aven was still lying at anchor. She began to make her way into the Sound at around 08:30, her paintwork gleaming in the morning sun. It was noticeable that a small patch of the blue and red stripe had been rubbed off towards the forward end of the starboard side, a badly positioned fender in Plymouth being responsible. Slowly but surely she berthed stern first in, awaiting her maiden voyage are first fare paying passengers. Checking in a little after 2pm, following pre-voyage drinks in ‘Sippers’ the terminal was already full of foot passengers eager to get onboard as early as possible. Not since the Bretagne has Plymouth seen so many mini-cruisers! Boarding card in hand it was time to board, boarding via deck 6 aft arriving right at the bottom of the atrium. Being one of the few passengers who actually knew their way around I quickly took the lift to deck 8 to check into my cabin, number 8412, one of 18 luxuriously appointed ‘Commodore Class’ cabins. The Commodore Cabins are individually named after famous artists from Pont-Aven and contain the standard features from the fleet. A mini bar, tea making facilities, plasma tv, dvd player, radio… and of course a balcony. A nice touch in the Commodore Cabins was that you got a bottle of wine which was same as the name as your cabin when you went to Spain. No wine in here… well not yet anyway. There was also no onboard guide folder as is usually found in the cabins. Instead there is ‘Pont-Aven TV’ which acts as the onboard guide. Having placed the order for tea and breakfast and a dinner reservation it was a race to who got to go out on the balcony first before inspecting what would be ‘home’ for the next 3 days. After a whistle stop tour around the ship we were called to the information desk where we were invited to visit the bridge for the departure out of Plymouth. Once on the bridge, which is furnished with antique maritime memorabilia, and after the obligatory pleasantries with the officers a surprise was in store for the Captain. On behalf of the site a painting was commissioned by myself depicting the Pont-Aven with the Kerisnel in Plymouth Sound. Prior to the departure this was presented to Captain Pascal Saludo to what can only be described as an emotional response. The painting attracted allot of attention with the crew, notably with the ships Chief Officer who’s father had been the Captain of the Kerisnel all those years ago! The painting is being placed on the bridge, described as a lucky charm for the ship! (see end of report). The departure out of Plymouth was delayed slightly due to the volume of traffic, not to mention this being the first time the ship had actually been loaded so extra care was being taken. A little after 1620 the Pont-Aven slipped her moorings and began to make her way out of the port. A large crowd lined the Hoe and Marine Parade with flags waving, and even a firework being let off as we slowly sailed out, the Captain making it look all too easy and ‘matter of fact’. Due to her length it is necessary for the bow thrusters to be used when negotiating the channel off Mount Batten. As we passed the breakwater I was invited to sound the ships whistle as a ‘goodbye’ to Plymouth… the Pont-Aven was underway!! Her ‘sticks’ were pushed forward and all eyes closely watched the ships speed increase to 25.8kts as we shot past the incoming HMS Somerset and the Eddystone Light. Following the departure it was back to look around this mighty vessel once more, taking in the ships shopping mall which was already selling out of ship postcards. Amazingly someone has felt the need to computer edit the image of her by reversing the flag logo on the funnel and logo – sometimes I wonder! In contrast to the rest of the fleet there is just one shop onboard, however it has been divided to make a kisoque, la cave and perfume shop. It works well. It wasn’t long before it was time for dinner. In keeping with the restaurants name every table had a fresh flowers, a nice touch. The buffet was as delicious as ever, all the better with a bottle of Muscadet. I do think far too many cakes were taken for desert though! During dinner the lights of NW France could be seen – in record time! The friendly service made the meal, despite a rather long delay in paying due to some teething problems which were experienced in operating the tills which delayed the second seating somewhat. Fully nourished it was time for the bar, being just in time to watch Illusion show with ‘Jason & Johanne’ – good entertainment which really did you wondering ‘just how did he do that?’, followed by live music with ‘True Flair’. There was a lively atmosphere in the bar which looks fantastic at night with blue neon and rope lighting plus great stage lighting which includes a laser which can write messages on the mezzanine deck! There were some quite ‘strange’ people on the dance floor (no, it wasn’t me!). A giant conga dance around the bar, all 2 decks of it, signalled the evening was coming to a close!...after ‘just a few’ drinks slow progress was made in returning to the cabin, conveniently also on deck 8, only to devour a bottle of champagne left to chill on our balcony. Quite where the cork went is now is anyone’s guess! At night even the outside decks look impressive with ‘rope lighting’ being set into the stairwells and of course string lights spanning from the radar mast, funnel to the stern. Thursday 25th March The day started off by taking breakfast on the balcony, despite it being cold it just had to be done. Most onboard had been early risers and by the time the coast of Spain could be seen the ship was bustling with people eager to have a look around Spain, or indeed start their holiday. The crew began to put up the ships ‘bunting’, keen to make a good first impression to Spain of their new ship. Rounding la Magdalena the city could be seen and the pilot boarded. Sometime later he finally appeared on the bridge ready to ‘watch’ the arrival. The weather was just holding for us, as launches surrounded the ship as she edged her way past the sand banks and fishermen in boats resembling bathtubs! A couple of helicopters took a few passes, no doubt for later TV coverage. People who were out for a morning walk stopped to take a look at their new regular as we neared the berth before turning around 180 degrees to come alongside bow first. The heavens then opened one we were berthed! After a few ‘tense’ moments the bow door was finally opened and discharge began. This being the ships first visit to Santander a large press function was held with the city welcoming the ship and presenting the Captain with the cities plaques and thanking the company for the faith shown in the city over the past 21 years. All of BF’s ‘top brass’ (as they became known) attended the event including Alex Gournevec. The ferry terminal is literally in the city centre, being only a stones throw from the shops and central park area. After visiting the animals in the mini zoo in the Magdalena palace it was time to head back for the afternoon departure back to Plymouth. The terminal was packed full, not helped by the coach loads of Spanish school children. The port has been refurbished including redesigning the interior of the terminal and the construction of a new linkspan capable of receiving the Pont-Aven. Departure was delayed as we awaited 5 cars which had not turned up in check-in, and a couple of mini cruise passengers. At 1730 the decision was taken to sail, and for the first time the ships whistle boomed over the city, echoing off the hills and buildings. Quickly building up speed, pilot having disembarked, we rounded the peninsular into a moderate swell as we sailed north back home. Looking aft from the outside decks at the wake you get a real feeling of the ships speed. The water ‘jets’ out of the back almost in the same way as on the Vitesse, as she steams along at an average sailing speed of 26kts. The decision was taken to sample the ships pool, looking so inviting. Unlike the Val de Loire its use is free, your passports or equivalent being used as a deposit for a towel (our towels were still all wrapped up!) and locker key. The locker rooms are smart but small, their being only one changing room and shower meaning delays if its busy! Today thankfully it wasn’t. The pool is very nice, even having underwater lighting, is at a good temperature and definitely the largest swimming pool I have seen on a ferry. Swimming against the large waves generated is quite a challenge though! The pool remains open until 9pm when it is netted off, the area becoming a pleasant bar area in the humid and pleasantly lit surrounding area.Dinner once again was of the usual high standard, with a few new items being placed on the buffet. Back in the bar the magician was doing his stuff with a different show followed by live music and disco. Friday 27th March The following morning breakfast was taken in ‘le Flora’ having a continental style buffet followed by a cooked English breakfast. Usually on BF the cooked breakfast is brought to your table, but here you served yourself. Not sure if that is a good thing or not? All too soon the Cornish coastline could be seen, as we passed the Eddystone lighthouse. The ship made its turn off Millbay before coming alongside, her maiden voyage complete. General Thoughts The Pont-Aven certainly impressed all onboard, her style being a contrast between the Bretagne and the Mont St Michel. Thankfully she is not as open plan as the Mont is, but in the areas which she is the effect works well. The atrium is impressive and a focal point, although I am not the only one who is not quite sure about the fake ice between the lifts. The bar in my opinion is the heart of the ship with its magnificent cascading staircase which frames the swimming pool area whilst opening up the bar to two levels with its own glass ceiling. The ship has, as expected, its own mobile phone network, however thoughtful signs restricting their use have been placed outside the restaurant and commodore lounge. Probably something that will only happen whilst she is new, but her carpets are so deep that when you touch anything metallic you get a shock. By the end of the trip I was quite tired of being electrocuted whenever I opened a door, although it did have its funny side! Oh yes, a top tip, don’t put your swim shorts out to dry on your balcony… they wont be there when you wake up!! The ‘early’ arrival of the Pont-Aven has certainly been a boost to Brittany Ferries who are clearly impressed with their new acquisition. The ship has already boosted Santander figures for the year by 25%, and I am sure that once word spreads both via the press and word and mouth she will be hard competition to beat. In fact, just about the only complaint anyone had about her is that there wasn’t enough time to do everything onboard. My thanks go to all who made the trip as enjoyable and memorable as it was, with special thanks to her officers and crew and Brittany Ferries at Plymouth.
  5. 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.
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