Brittany Ferries' Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route, the 40th anniversary

40 years ago, on that day, Brittany Ferries launched its route linking Saint-Malo, in Brittany and Portsmouth, in Hampshire, using two purpose-built ferry terminals in Saint-Malo and Portsmouth (which also celebrate their 40th anniversary today), less than one year after the Saint-Malo - Plymouth route was created.

M/V Armorique, the first ferry that was operated on the St-Malo route.
M/V Armorique, the ferry that opened the St-Malo route in 1976. Courtesy Brittany Ferries.

The long history between Brittany Ferries and Saint-Malo

M/V Penn Ar Bed, Brittany Ferries' first new-built ship in Saint-Malo.
M/V Penn Ar Bed in St-Malo. Courtesy Brittany Ferries

Thus, Brittany Ferries launched one of its most successful routes on 17th June 1976. However, the creation of this service was no bed of roses.

In the early 70s, local authorities in Saint-Malo pledged to Brittany Ferries that the company would operate the first service linking Saint-Malo and Great Britain. Therefore, works on the purpose of creating new facilities to enable such a service began on both side of the Channel. However, in 1975, it was finally decided that the company TT-Lines would create its service, using M/V Mary Poppins serving St-Malo and Southampton, despite the original pledges. Hence, feeling betrayed, the owner of Brittany Ferries decided to blockade the harbour in order to prevent the ship from mooring. Eventually, after talks were held in Saint-Malo, TT-Line accepted not creating the service, leaving Brittany Ferries free to create its own service. Therefore, Brittany Ferries opened in August 1975 its new route linking Saint-Malo and Plymouth, waiting for the creation of a terminal ferry in Portsmouth. This route was served by M/V Penn Ar Bed, whilst M/V Prince de Bretagne was chartered in to operate the Roscoff - Plymouth route. At this time, the route was using the RoRo Linkspan built inside the inner docks.

M/V Armorique leaving St-Malo.
M/V Armorique (I) in Saint-Malo, courtesy Brittany Ferries.

Eventually, works for the building of purpose-build facilities were completed in early-1976, and inaugurated on 17th June 1976. This enabled Brittany Ferries to launch finally its service linking Saint-Malo and Portsmouth, which would later become its main harbour. M/V Armorique, a second hand purchase for this route sailed for the first time between both port on that day.

The determination of the company in order to create this route was at this time explained by Christian Michielini with these words : "I was coming from a respectable Swiss company, and I wasn't expecting doing port occupation. We blocked the harbour. We did a true maritime war. I've well adapted myself to Gourvennec's methods – I used to be in the commando units. Sometimes, the end justify the means, we should not confuse ourselves : it was essential. We would be dead if we hadn't go in Saint-Malo.".

M/V Goelo, a ship chartered in by Brittany Ferries between 1980 and 1982.
M/V Goelo, courtesy Brittany Ferries

In 1978, when M/V Armorique, which was Brittany Ferries' most luxurious ship was transferred on the new Roscoff - Cork and Plymouth - Santander routes, M/V Prince of Brittany was chartered in (and later purchased) to operate the route. M/V Prince of Brittany was Brittany Ferries' first ship to be registered in Saint-Malo. This service proved to be very successful and as soon as 1980, it has been decided to introduced a second ship on the route. M/V Goelo was chartered to be that second ship.

When M/V Quiberon was purchased for the Spanish and Irish routes, M/V Armorique came back on the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route, replacing M/V Goelo, sent back to her owners.

Commemorative plate recalling the opening ceremony of the Ferry Terminal in Saint-Malo.
Commemorative plate recalling the opening ceremony of the Ferry Terminal in Saint-Malo. Picture Antoine H.
M/V Prince of Brittany in St-Malo.
M/V Prince of Brittany leaving St-Malo's only berth. Courtesy Brittany Ferries

In 1989, Brittany Ferries purchased M/V Duchesse Anne, replacing on the route M/V Prince of Brittany, which was sent to the Ouistreham - Portsmouth route. M/V Duchesse Anne was previously known as the M/V Connacht of B+I Lines, and was refurbished before entering service for her new owner. However, those works costed twice more as planned, since she proved to be in a critical condition, requiring more works to be prepared for service. She was also Brittany Ferries second and last ship to be registered in Saint-Malo.

M/V Duchesse Anne berthed in Saint-Malo.
M/V Duchesse Anne in St-Malo. Courtesy Brittany Ferries

In 1993, as M/V Val de Loire was purchased for the Irish and Spanish routes, that proved to be very successful. Therefore, Brittany Ferries' former flagship, M/V Bretagne (built in 1989) was transferred on the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route. Being twice as big as M/V Duchesse Anne, she took over the entire route (replacing both M/V Duchesse Anne and M/V Armorique), operated since then with one ship. A new birth had to be built that year in order to accommodate the bigger M/V Bretagne.

M/V Duchesse Anne was used since then for new seasonal routes created from St-Malo, to Cork and Poole. The Cork service ended in 1994 after two summer season, due to lack of passengers. Moreover, M/V Duchesse Anne had faced sometimes engine troubles, leaving her with only one propeller shaft working to sail back to Saint-Malo. She kept operating the Poole service as a seasonal service until 1996, when she was sold owing to financial problems.

M/V Bretagne entering St-Malo's harbour from Portsmouth.
M/V Bretagne entering St-Malo's harbour in 2016. By Antoine H.
M/V Val de Loire arriving in Portsmouth from St-Malo in the mid-2000s.
M/V Val de Loire in Portsmouth. Courtesy Maritime Photographic

In 2004, as M/V Pont Aven was introduced on the Spanish and Irish routes, M/V Val de Loire was transferred alongside M/V Bretagne on the St-Malo - Portsmouth route, operated by two ships for this season with a day and a night departure from both port. Both ships also operated a new Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Portsmouth service. However, this proved to be unsuccessful and it hasn't been renewed for the 2005 season. M/V Bretagne was then transferred on the Roscoff - Plymouth service, leaving M/V Val de Loire alone on the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route.

M/V Pont Aven leaving Saint-Malo, heading to Portsmouth.
One of M/V Pont Aven maiden departure from St-Malo. Picture Antoine H.

Saint-Malo was dredged in 2005 in order to enable M/V Pont Aven to serve the harbour. Since then, she has been (together with M/V Armorique from 2010) operating winter services on the route, whilst M/V Bretagne is in dry dock for refit.

With the sell of M/V Val de Loire to DFDS Seaways in early-2006, M/V Bretagne resumed service on the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route, on which she has been operated continually since. In 2007, M/V Cotentin visited for the first and only time Saint-Malo, since the lorries she was to ship hadn't been able to reach Cherbourg-en-Cotentin owing to important falls of snow.

Rumours say that M/V Bretagne is to be replaced at the end of 2017 season by M/V Pont Aven on the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route. However, a successor is only to be ordered for delivery in 2019.

In 2014-15, 352,000 passengers, 121,000 cars and 10,000 lorries used the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth route.

Portsmouth, the natural gateway to Western France

M/V Duc de Normandie in Portsmouth.
M/V Duc de Normandie entering Portsmouth harbour. Courtesy Brittany Ferries

Portsmouth harbour kept becoming the natural gateway to France during its 30th first years.

On 5th June 1986, a new route was created by Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth Harbour, linking this harbour to Ouistreham, in Normandy. The ferry terminal was at this time 10 years old. However, the History recalls the creation of this route one day later, which is the anniversary of the D-Day, however M/V Duc de Normandie has actually opened this route on the 5th.

As soon as 1989, P&O European Ferries decided to create its own services to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Le Havre from Portsmouth, whilst Brittany Ferries was operating the St-Malo and Ouistreham routes from Portsmouth. P&O European Ferries purchased for these services the former M/V Viking Valiant (renamed M/V Pride of Le Havre) and the former M/V Viking Voyager (renamed M/V Pride of Cherbourg), operating respectively the Le Havre and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin services.

M/VPpride of Portsmouth in Portsmouth, being prepared to set sail to Le Havre.
M/V Pride of Portsmouth. By Patrick GUEULLE, CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1994, P&0 European Ferries launched its service to Bilbao, operated by former M/V Olympia (renamed M/V Pride of Bilbao). P&O European Ferries also purchased that year former M/V Olau Hollandia and M/V Olau Britannia, respectively renamed M/V Pride of Le Havre (II) and M/V Pride of Portsmouth, which were both sister-ships of Brittany Ferries' M/V Val de Loire. M/V Pride of Le Havre (I) was renamed M/V Pride of Cherbourg (II) whilst the original M/V Pride of Cherbourg was sold to Fred Olsen. However, two years before, Brittany Ferries had introduced on their Ouistreham - Portsmouth route M/V Normandie, their second super-ferry.

From 1998, P&O European Ferries chartered in HSC Superstar Express for service between Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Portsmouth. The ship also performed berthing trials in the Channel Islands however P&O European Ferries didn't win the competition for the operating contract to the Channel Islands. She was replaced by HSC Portsmouth Express in 2000, which experienced a myriad of teething problems, forcing HSC Superstar Express to cover for her failures.

In 2002, P&O Portsmouth chartered in former M/V Isle of Inishfree, renamed M/V Pride of Cherbourg III, to replace the ship of the same name. The same year, Brittany Ferries introduced on the Ouistreham - Portsmouth route M/V Mont Saint Michel, replacing the smaller M/V Duc de Normandie which launched the service in 1986.

Two years later, P&O Ferries decided to charter in HSC Caen Express (former HSC Max Mols) to operate a new Caen - Portsmouth service. However, alongside with the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin high speed service, it proved to be unsuccessful, and both were scrapped by the end of the 2004 season.

HSC Normandie Express entering Portsmouth's harbour from Ouistreham.
HSC Normandie Express in Portsmouth. By Antoine H.

On 28th September 2004, P&O Ferries announced that the company was looking for charter M/V Pride of Portsmouth and M/V Pride of Le Havre to Brittany Ferries. However, Brittany Ferries decided not to conclude the deal when competition regulators took the plan under scrutiny. P&O Ferries continued the Le Havre service using both ships until September 2005, when both vessels were sold to SNAV. At this time, P&O Ferries, faced with a strengthening competition made by Low Cost Airlines and the Channel Tunnel, aim was to scrap their services from Portsmouth, only keeping the Bilbao - Portsmouth service (which was eventually closed in late-September 2010).

Brittany Ferries launched their own service to Spain (Santander) in 2009, using M/V Pont Aven. The following year, they purchased M/V Cap Finistère to increase the number of crossings on this new route, pushing P&O Ferries' service, which was 50% smaller than Brittany Ferries' one, to an end. In 2011, Brittany Ferries took over the Bilbao's route. Both routes to Spain proved to be successful and were strengthen with the introduction of M/V Étretat in 2014 and of M/V Baie de Seine the following year. Now, this route carries each year more or less 300 000 passengers.

Whilst P&O Ferries was withdrawing from Portsmouth, Brittany Ferries decided to create its own High Speed Service on P&O Ferries' former routes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Ouistreham, using the chartered in HSC Normandie Express, which was purchased two years later and is still in service for Brittany Ferries. In 2005, M/V Barfleur has also provided a Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Portsmouth service.

M/V Étretat in Le Havre in 2016, being prepared to set sail to Portsmouth.
M/V Étretat in Le Havre. By Antoine H.

From October 2005, LD Lines decided to take over the route to Le Havre left by P&O Ferries a few days before, using M/V Norman Spirit. She was replaced in 2008 by M/V Noman Voyager, and then in 2009 by M/V Côte d'Albâtre. In 2011, M/V Norman Spirit resumed service on the route. She was at this time replacing M/V Norman Leader, a purpose-built that was to be introduced on the route in 2011, however she has never been delivered owing to tonnage issues.

For the 2010 and 2011 seasons, LD Lines has also operated a seasonal high speed service using HSC Norman Arrow.

From November 2011, M/V Norman Voyager operated the route, whilst M/V Norman Spirit was chartered out to DFDS Seaways. The Le Havre route was re-branded in 2013 under DFDS Seaways name, which was at this time LD Lines' partner, whilst Brittany Ferries was launching it sown service on the route using HSC Normandie Express, a seasonal service that carried 80,000 passengers in 2013, 30,000 more than expected.

The service operated by DFDS Seaways on the route closed in 2014, taken over by Brittany Ferries that chartered former M/V Norman Voyager, renamed M/V Etretat. Brittany Ferries chartered in M/V Baie de Seine for this route in 2015, before scrapping the following year their High Speed service on the route.

M/V Commodore Clipper entering Portsmouth harbour.
M/V Commodore Clipper entering Portsmouth harbour. By Antoine H.

Last but not least, Portsmouth has also been for years an important harbour for the Channel Islands. British Channel Islands Ferries has operated a service from Portsmouth to the Channel Islands from 1985, in order to compete with Sealink's services. In 1988, British Channel Island Ferries moved to Poole, and Commodore decided to create its own freight-only service from Portsmouth to compete with British Channel Island Ferries which was loosing market shares on this market since the move to Poole. This service lasts after British Channel Island Ferries' collapse and was eventually rebranded under the Condor Ferries name in 2004. A conventional service has also been operated from Portsmouth to the Channel Islands from 1999 and the introduction of M/V Commodore Clipper.

Illustration featuring the traffic of Portsmouth's harbour over the past 40 years: 90 million ferry passengers, £70 million profit for Portsmouth City Council, 8.5 million units of ferry freight,  25.5 ferry passengers vehicles and 135 ships class.
This illustration features the traffics welcomed by Portsmouth Harour in the past 40 years. Courtesey Portsmouth International Port