A trip to Portsmouth #1: fifty shades of great

In a previous travel report, I wrote I was unlikely to sail abord Bretagne soon. However, I soon really missed my favourite ship on the British Channel. Therefore, our YouTube-channel manager and I wanted to sail aboard her to Portsmouth once again (it is my eigth crossings aboard), in order to propose you a new report of our favourite. Besides, we also decided to spend a few days in Portsmouth, to which we will dedicate a further report.

 

Travel pictures and pictures by Antoine.

Excited about the idea of sailing once again aboard Bretagne, we woke up early that morning, in order to catch a bus to Saint-Malo ferries terminal. However, there is currently almost no buses serving the Ferry Terminal (apart from a unregular Downtown Shuttle), and we had to walk a bit from Saint-Servan down to the Terminal. Fortunately, this walk is a short one (only 15 minutes) and the pavements are fine.

Once arrived, we asked for our boarding card, and wait in the Terminal built in 1976 to welcome Armorique, and which is currently being refurbished. Having passed the security checks, we took an old bus which drove us to the gangway. Having climbed the gangway, we eventually arrived in the main hall of Bretagne, located at deck 06. Since my last crossing on board, nothing has changed, and the superb amenities are still in a great condition. We will speak of them a bit later.

Once our luggages have been left in the cabin, I immediately went for a tour of the ship. I chose to have a look at the car decks of Bretagne. There weren’t a lot of vehicles there (although deck 5 was crowded), but lorries. Actually, there were much more lorries than what I would have expected. Moreover, there is also in the car deck a hatch that gives access to the storage rooms, located at deck 02. These rooms are accessible by a container lift, depicted below.

Then, my colleague and I then wanted outside to the forward deck. Our intention was to film the departure from there, as this place is only open at day departure and arrivals. However, this plan was soon scrapped as we were invited to witness the departure from a less common place: the wheelhouse. We immediately took our cameras to the bridge, arriving in the bridge right for the departure. We were welcomed up there by Captain Le Josne, I have already met in my previous crossing, who was preparing this old lady for her departure.

After the cleaning team has left and the gangway has been removed, captain noticed the harbour Bretagne was to leave in the coming minutes and would sail through the Petits Pointus channel. Then, he required the release of the moorings, and set sail. He began to use the bow thrusters to move aside, using the bow thrusters, whilst changing the propellers’ settings using the commands installed in the bridge wings. The ship began immediately to move aside. The bridge wings enable the officers having a clear view towards the sides and the ship’s stern when manoeuvring.

Once the ship has passed the main pier, the captain left the bridge wing to the centre of the wheelhouse, asking his helmsman to guide the ship though the channel under his instructions. Regularly, captain was giving the course to his helmsman, with a voice proving he knows his ship and the route to follow by heart, without a single hesitation. The vessel passed the entire coast of Saint-Malo, where weather conditions were not foggy as he noticed us.

When Bretagne had left the channel, captain left the his officers responsible of the passage to Portsmouth, in order to rest and proceeding to administrative tasks. He brought us back to the main passenger spaces, after having invited us to come for the arrival.

We head towards the outdoor deck, in order to take a few pictures of the landscape. As captain reported earlier, it was foggy and we did not see far away. However, we could notice coasts as captain chose to sail east of Jersey, through the Minquiers. Therefore, on the port side of Bretagne we saw Jersey and later Alderney; with the Cotentin peninsula on the starboard side. The vessel rolled a little bit, yet it was very comfortable: we dislike ships that does not roll a little bit.

As lunch time was approaching, we decided to have a tour of the different dining options proposed on board, namely the Self-Service Restaurant and the À la carte restaurant. The Self-Service Restaurant, La Baule, is located on fore deck 07, with a view towards the sea. It is a nice place to have a lunch, with great views. This area was refurbished through Winter 2008-2008, making it one of the most modern part of the ship. We like the decoration of this space. The Self-Service restaurant serves French cuisine meals, which is always perfectly prepared by Brittany Ferries’ teams. As we were visiting the space, we suddenly heard a nice waiter saying there were dolphins on the starboard side of the ship. However, we arrived too late to be able to see them, as they have quickly disappeared. This was quite disappointing as the waiter said us it is very rare to see dolphins en passage to Portsmouth from Saint-Malo. It is however more common aboard ferries heading to Spain.

However, we preferred the À la carte Restaurant of Bretagne, named Les Abers. Indeed, this restaurant proposes a buffet of several refined meals, from vegetable and pasta salads to salmon and crayfishes. The buffet is as always aboard Brittany Ferries’ ships perfectly prepared and laid, and especially aboard Bretagne. The buffet menu enables people picking up a few of every meals, all more delicious than the other, they want to taste. Once guests had their main course, they can pick up deserts from the buffet dedicated to deserts, offering a wide selection of tarts and cakes. Aboard a Brittany Ferries’ ship, our pleasure will always be eating at the buffet. Actually, there is no denying Brittany Ferries’ ships are the best floating restaurants on the Channel and the North Sea.

After having lunched, we visited the other areas of the ship. The Saint-Malo – Portsmouth crossing is a long one, as the ships takes 9 hours to cross the English Channel, which gives passengers a lot of time to relax and to begin (or unfortunately end) their holidays by sailing rather than rolling, this is at least twice as tiring.

Therefore, Bretagne proposes a wide choice of entertainment, including shops, cinemas and areas to read and even play. The main entertainment place is the Gwenn Ha Du bar, located aft deck 08, with a view towards the ship stern. The bar proposes throughout the crossing live entertainment, with, depending on the program, singers, theatre play and even a magician on some crossing. This time, there were singers on the stage. Besides, there are a lot of seats with tables enabling guests to read with a view towards the horizon and a drink. It is also possible to play cards or board games.

At the middle of deck 08, there is a smaller bar, named La Gerbe de Locronan, providing snacks and light refreshments at summer – with only 400 passengers aboard it was closed on that crossing. On the port side, there are also extra seats and tables, more quiet than the bar and also offering great views and a TV. It is also possible to use the aboard free WiFi, which is quite fast for a satellite connection. In front of the bar, there are also a big table, enabling people to eat their snacks… or to play a Monopoly.

On the starboard side are located the seats lounge. The seat lounge is a wide open space, although there are small partitions to make the space smaller. It is also one of the more quieter space of the ship, enabling people to rest. In addition, there is also a smaller lounge on deck 09 providing reclining seats.

These seats are very comfortable, I have already slept in them twice, although the ones located close to the portholes and the air conditioning fans are cold and noisy. However, these nights will always be part of my best souvenirs of a crossing; perhaps that’s why I really love Bretagne?

These parts of the ship have been widely renewed through the Winter 2008-2009 refurbishment. Therefore the decoration theme is different from the rest of the ship, with lemon as the main colour.

 

Next to the Les Abers À la carte restaurant, there is a beautiful tea room featuring a piano, the Yacht Club, which was also closed on this not so busy crossing. To access both places, guests have to walk through a long wide red corridor passing on the starboard side of the ship, decorated with sculptures made in 1988-89 by Scottish artist Alexander Goudie. Although air conditioning is quite noisy, this corridor is also an amazing place to enjoy the crossing.

Next to that corridor, is located the main shop, selling clothes, alcohols and tobacco. One of Bretagnes main particularity is it has several little shops, each specialised in a special brand of items; whereas aboard more modern ships there is only one big shop that sells everything. The shop’s entrance is located at the top of the main hall. On the same deck is located La Vitrine, which sells fashion accessories. From there, it is possible to go downstairs using the main stairs. They are decorated with a wide fresco, depicting traditional breton scenes, which is in a very good condition although it is 28 years old. On deck 6, just at the bottom of the stairs, is located the main hall and the Information Desk. It gives access to two further shops: the Kiosque and the Perfume Shop. Besides, foot passengers board the ship via two doors located on both sides of the deck. The hall is decorated with further wonderful sculptures, also depicting traditional breton life. However, this hall is a bit dark as there is no windows all around.

Eventually, Bretagne proposes several gambling and video game machines, located at the Games Planet located at deck 09, and in the corridor leading to the Gwenn Ha Du bar.

Live position of Bretagne is displayed in several places all arround the ship

Bretagne spend the all crossing at circa 20 knots, enabling her to be ahead of schedule at the Isle of Wright. Therefore, she slowed down when passing aside the Island. Once the vessel has passed the Isle, we went back to the wheelhouse to witness the arrival. The night has fallen when we arrived, and the curtains separating the part the wheelhouse where the wheel is located from the rest of if were draw. This enables the wheelhouse to be dark, enabling the crew to have a better view.

Every single source of light was switched off (including computer screens), when not hidden. The only light switched on was a red one at the entrance (meaning the ship is on pilotage mode), and some others above the navigation space, providing some light to the officers that are mastering the ship.

 

Under the captain continuous surveillance, the task of approaching Portsmouth was given to a lieutenant, which was a woman, which is unfortunately quite unusual actually, although there is now a woman captain among Brittany Ferries’ staffs.

On the horizon, we weren’t able to distinguish the contours of any building nor ship, but the spinnaker. There were just red, green and white lights over the horizon. This was not disconcertung the lieutenant, which was giving instructions to a seaman which was handling the wheel, as usual without any hesitations. At one time, the Second Captain arrived in the Bridge. Having been freshly granted permission to pilot ships in Portsmouth without any external help (i.e. from a pilot), he was to command the arrival into Portsmouth. This permission can be given to any officer in Portsmouth, whereas only captains can pass the related-exams in Saint-Malo.

Once Bretagne has sailed long enough along the seafront, second captain said the seaman he was to handle the wheel himself, from the side panels located in the bridge wings. Only helped by an officer in training, he began manipulating the commands on the panel, looking at the other ships cruising in the channel. At this time, captain was still supervising the approach from the middle of the wheelhouse, whilst the other officers has departed to the mooring decks to supervise the mooring.

 

When close enough to the continental ferries terminal, the second-captain switched on the bow thrusters, ready to moor the ship precisely at her berth. On the ground, there are marks the officers have to place just below their wheelhouse in order to ensure there is the right distance between the bow and the linkspan. Indeed, we are unable to evaluate this from the weelhouse, as there is a blind spot of 43m from the bulbous bow’s end. Besides, an officer in the mooring decks was giving the estimation of the distance remaining (50, 20, 10, 0m) before the vessel had to stop.

Once Bretagne was precisely at the place she had to be, the second captain ordered the crew to moor the ship, and then asked the captain if he could switch off the engines… which he had already done a few seconds before. Indeed, there is a great teamwork between the officers, that spend half their time together, enabling a great efficiency in the ship's mastering. Meanwhile, an officer called the wheelhouse in order to congratulate the second captain for his perfect approach.

As the ship has berthed, lights were switched on again in the bridge, giving a better view of the instruments – fortunately the officers know perfectly were are located each instrument.

It was however time for us to disembark with the other foot passengers, that had to wait for 15 minutes in the main hall as Brittany Ferries asks customers to free their cabins long before arriving, whereas other companies as DFDS do not, which is more comfortable for passengers.

This crossing aboard one of the greatest ship on the channel was once again a wonderful crossing. Bretagne really deserves to be one of the fleet’s favourite despite her age – she will turn 28 years old this year. And although she is ageing, her accommodations still look in a very good condition, and are very comfortable for customers. Her small size (Bretagne is the fleet's smallest ship in terms of size) makes her a very convivial, with a crew which is always very committed and friendly with its passengers. There is really no denying Bretagne is one of my three favourite ships.

 

We would like to sincerely thank Captain Le Josne, his officers and the crew of Bretagne for their kind welcome, and for this very pleasant crossing abord Bretagne. We look forward to sail with them again, and wish them to keep it up. We also have a little thought for Bretagne, which was to head to dry dock a few days later to be maintained, enabling her to sail for several further years.

 

(This travel report is one out of two travel reports dedicated to our trip to Portsmouth).

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