Portsmouth - Ouistreham : the 30th anniversary of a success story

Today, on 6th June 2016, whereas some are celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day in Normandy, Brittany Ferries is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its own landing in Normandy : the one of its first passengers of the new route linking Ouistreham, in the north of Caen and Portsmouth, operated by its newest purchase : the M/S Duc de Normandie.

Antoine H.

The M/V Duc de Normandie, a ship purchased in 1986 by Brittany Ferries which served the Ouistreham to Portsmouth route between 1986 and 2002.
M/V Duc de Normandie, the first ship that has served the route. Picture : Brittany Ferries

On 6th June 1986, the latest purchase of Brittany Ferries, M/S Duc de Normandie berthed for the first time in the new port of Ouistreham. Works began in June 1985 to create a new Ferries Terminal, instead of what used to be a camping site. These works were completed in less than one year to welcome the new ferry service. On the other bank of the English Channel, Brittany Ferries chose to serve the Ferries Terminal built 10 years ago in Portsmouth in order to enable the opening of a new Saint-Malo - Portsmouth service.

Alexis Gourvennec (the iconic founder of Brittany Ferries)'s aim was to create a new port for Paris, to the detriment of the harbours of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Le Havre, served by companies such as the Townsend-Thoresen or the new subsidary of Brittany Ferries, Truckline Ferries. Moreover, creating new ferry services on the West was a huge challenge whereas the route linking Calais and Dover was facing a huge growth and whereas the Channel Tunnel was being built.

However, the maiden arrival of the M/S Duc de Normandie was promising. Onboard, and he was the first to disembark, was Bill Millin, famous for having played bagpipes on Colleville-Montgomerry's beach during the D-Day. Nevertheless, M/S Duc de Normandie hasn't been the first ship ever to arrive in Ouistreham, since M/S Cornouailles was serving the new port from January, although it was operating a freight only service. The first passengers had to wait for the introduction of the M/S Duc de Normandie, on that 6th June, to use for the first time the new facilities.

As soon as 1988, it was decided to meet the growing traffic to introduce the chartered-in M/S Gotland in order to increase the number of daily crossing on the new route. The following year, M/S Reine Mathilde, former-M/S Prince of Brittany freshly refurbished, was introduced on the route, operated alongside M/S Duc de Normandie.

M/S Reine Mathilde was replaced in 1992 by Brittany Ferries' latest super-ferry, M/S Normandie, built specifically for this route. A new linkspan had to be built to accommodate the new ship, only 6 years after the commissioning of the new harbour. Eventually, in 2002, months behind scheduled, M/S Mont Saint Michel was introduced on the route, replacing the much smaller M/S Duc de Normandie. It is still today one of the biggest ships ever operated on the English Channel. Between 2005 and 2012, HSC Normandie Express has also operated a daily seasonal service from April to September.

Today, the Ouistreham-Portsmouth route, it is three crossing each way each day, operated with two ships: M/S Mont Saint Michel and M/S Normandie, carrying each year 990 000 passengers (a million is expected this year), 288 000 cars and 108 000 lorries according to the 2014-15 figures. This figures keep growing, making this route the main operated by Brittany Ferries.

The ship that served the route