One year ago, the HSC Condor Liberation was introduced on the route connecting the Channel Islands and the UK replacing HSC Condor Express and HSC Condor Vitesse. During the winter season, when HSC Condor Rapide, the remaining 86m catamaran built par Incat in the late-90s still owned by Condor Ferries, undergoes essential maintenance, the HSC Condor Liberation operates a through UK – France service.
The HSC Condor Liberation was initially given a warm welcome by the public, but soon became unpopular owing to teething problems and allege problems of stability whatever the sea conditions.
Our team had been wanting to try the HSC Condor Liberation to make up our own mind, that's why we decided to cross between Jersey and St-Malo on 12th March. On that day, the weather conditions were clement, with no more than 0.50cm waves and almost no wind, the crossing was to be perfect as the crew said before departure. Here is our report about HSC Condor Liberation.
A Travel report from Antoine.
A close look at the comfortable passengers seating area
It immediately struck us upon boarding that HSC Condor Liberation is a modern fast ferry, with spot clean and shiny inside spaces, contrasting with HSC Condor Rapide, albeit she remains a well-maintained ship.
We easily found our way to our seats thanks to the plan deck provided all around the passenger seating area.
For the northbound trip, we were in the Ocean Traveler class. As the seats were new, they were very comfortable, although we found them a bit too slack. This class was divided into several spaces, separated from other rooms by a dividing wall. This means most of those areas are quiet, which we appreciated whereas accommodations decks are noisier onboard HSC Condor Rapide and her sister-ships. Besides, all of the seating areas are located on the sides of the ship, and therefore provide a good access to sea view and light. All seats are provided with shelves, they do not look very strong though. Moreover there is a lot leg space, even for tall travelers as us.
On the southbound trip, we decided to upgrade to the Ocean Plus class located in the Horizon lounge for only 6£ per seat. Unfortunately, it was a night time crossing, therefore we were not able to appreciate the view provided by wide bay windows opening onto the ship's bow. Passengers traveling in this class have exclusive access to a bar thanks to a PIN code given with their booking. In this area, the seats are definitely more comfortable than in the Ocean Traveler class. Very convenient and sturdy shelves located inside the armrest were provided where tables were not available. Moreover, all seats are reclining and fitted with a power supply that we haven't tried. That class was definitely worth the 6£ extra charge .
Passengers can also opt for the Ocean Club class located on the starboard side of the ship. The lounge is smaller, and seems to be very quiet with drinks and newspapers provided throughout the crossing.
All around of the accommodations deck, including the public conveniences, are strewed with humorous signs dedicated to passengers information. We love these signs, hence we haven't been able to prevent ourself from photographing them :
Of course, it was impossible for us to write such a report without mentioning the famous Safety Rap, video giving to passengers the security instructions that are to be followed « in the unlikely event of an emergency ». Seen almost 130,000 times on the YouTube channel of Condor Ferries, it has left no one who watched it indifferent. On our side, we love this out of touch video which as the merit of better warning people to safety instructions, even for those who dislike this video so much it is original.
Condor Ferries Safety Rap (Condor Liberation)
The version broadcasted on board is longer than the one unveiled by the company on 20th March 2015.
Last but not least, HSC Condor Liberation's accommodation deck is well soundproofed, so you will not hear the engine roaming like onboard older crafts even when the ship leaves her berth, a manœuvre which is done very smoothly by the Captain.
A wide choice of fully-accessible facilities on board
There are three different catering facilities provided onboard. Unfortunately, we haven't tried any of them.
- The Casquets Bistro, located in the middle of the ship close to the Information Desk, seems to provide good simple meals ;
- The Island Bar, provides light refreshments ;
- The Horizon Bar provides light refreshments as well as cakes and pastries.
There is an Information Desk onboard. There is also a vast Duty Free Shop, Adore Duty Free, located at the center of the ship that sells perfumes, alcohols, tobaccos alongside some food, at prices below those usually given in other shops. Since HSC Condor Liberation is operated on the Southern Route, with many more French passengers than on the Northern Route, the hotel crew was 80% French. Most of the crew speak fluent English, which is not that common with French people. Besides, they were nice and welcoming.
Outdoor decks are much larger than they were onboard the previous Catamarans, which is a great improvement on the tiny outdoor deck available on the old HSC Condor 10, for example. However, the doors that provide access to that outdoor deck are a bit too heavy to handle – which might be improved by motorizing them like onboard HSC Condor Rapide if my memory is correct.
Besides, the ship is fully accessible to wheelchair users, with a lift on each side of the ship and wide enough corridors, and a ramp on the outdoor deck making it possible for them to enjoy the fresh air and sea view.
Finally, Wi-Fi is provided onboard but is not operational at sea since the satellite connection has not yet been made, which ought to be solved in the months to come.
A stable ship
A frequent critic of HSC Condor Liberation's detractors is that she's unstable. As a Kayak teacher, I know that ships designed for high speed are never stable at slow speed, they are not being made for this purpose. Indeed, HSC Condor Liberation is not very stable when she is manœuvring. However, in the sea conditions we described above, she was very stable at high speed, perhaps more so than the previous catamarans. HSC Condor Express on which I traveled 8 years ago, was a bit less stable at high speed albeit with a few more waves. On the videos we have watched on the web, we have noticed that HSC Condor Liberation is not stable on rougher seas, rolling from side to side. However, this movement seems to be more controlled and slower than onboard older catamarans, such as the HSC Normandie Express. As a matter of fact, we found HSC Condor Liberation to be much more stable at full speed than catamarans, which are more stable at slow speed.
A convenient car deck
Our first eye-contact with it was her ramp. This ramp is really well designed, with the central part reserved for traffic. Alongside this ramp, there are two smaller ones for pedestrians. Therefore, unlike onboard HSC Condor Rapide, pedestrians can safely make their way into the ship. Moreover, as this ramp is well designed, she fits perfectly the Link Spans HSC Condor Liberation has to serve.
Inside, the car decks can easily be adjusted to the vehicles carried, with a central mezzanine deck that can be raised if the ship has to carry small freight or caravans, which was the case during our crossing. According to our calculations, HSC Condor Liberation could carry a dozen 12m trailers on each crossing in addition to 137 cars. Operating a sistership of HSC Condor Liberation from Saint-Malo would enable Condor Ferries not serving once a week Saint-Malo with the M/V Commodore Goodwill, since HSC Condor Liberation would handle freight traffic from France to the Channel Islands.
Both sides of the central part of the car deck are fitted with well designed mezzanines that enable vehicles to drive through without reversing, entering on starboard side and getting out on port side for example. However, vehicles that are to be parked in the bow do have to reverse, whether it is on the upper car deck or on the lower one ; something we will never see onboard an Incat thanks to the ramp layout used in their bows. Vehicles have also to reverse and make U-Turns to be parked on the mezzanine deck when it is lowered, since there is no ramp dedicated to the access of this deck from the stern on the ship, like onboard HSC Normandie Express, that has a car deck layout which is similar, apart from the ramp layout in her bow. These operations required in order to park cars can explain the longer turn around in port requires with HSC Condor Liberation than onboard the previous catamarans. However, on both types of ships (HSC Condor Liberation and Incats), vehicles parked in the middle of the ship at the lower car deck have to reverse before parking. Moreover, and this is also an inherent drawback of HSC, once the cars are parked there is little space between two vehicles to walk or open a car door without risking damaging the neighboring car.
About our crossing
We left St-Malo by 1800 on this Saturday evening, ready for a crossing that we have been dreaming of bound to Jersey. Whilst HSC Condor Liberation was leaving smoothly the French cost, I've made some pictures of the landscape, before meeting my old friend M/V Bretagne to which I've dedicated our first travel report.
Then, we enjoyed our free time to try the spaces of the ship, taking the pictures that illustrate this report. The crossing went very fast, HSC Condor Liberation sailing out 36 knots between both harbours.
The arrival in Jersey was made in the sunset, and we met the M/V Commodore Clipper, berthed, getting prepared to set sail bound to Portsmouth.
Since we have not planned to visit Jersey this time, we took our boarding card for the way back to St-Malo as soon as we arrived. We enjoyed the Ocean Plus lounge for this crossing, that went fast too. This is a proof of the level of comfort provided by HSC Condor Liberation, on board on which we do not have to bore.
HSC Condor Liberation had also to board a pilot from the French port to berth. The vessel choose the way that goes close to the cost of Dinard. Hence, her captain had to proceed to a full U-Turn in order to berth. This U-Turn was also made very fast.
To put it in a nutshell, HSC Condor Liberation is the best High Speed Craft I've ever traveled onboard (a list is available in my presentation page). Her accommodation desk is very modern, comfortable ; and she has a top-of-the-range stability. Her defaults are mostly inherent to HSCs. Thus, HSC Condor Liberation doesn't deserve the reputation she has, and we really hope she will achieve becoming popular in the coming months.
We would like to thank Captain Steve Ainscow, his officers and the crew for their welcoming and this unforgettable crossing.