I had a very pleasant weekend in France to celebrate my 40th birthday – and it coincided with another recent 40th celebration. Anoraks at the ready, it’s Brittany Ferries.
The Port of Portsmouth really does have a lot to thank the ferry company for. It was the first to introduce a car ferry service from the Continental Ferry Port back in 1975.
The company was set up in early 1973 by a group of Brittany farmers who wanted to send their produce to Britain. Taking their goods to Cherbourg or Le Havre involved a great deal of time and expense.
It proved cheaper to hire their own freighter and run her from new facilities in Roscoff to the naval port of Plymouth.
Southampton was the major ferry port on the south coast in the early 1970s with Townsend Thoresen and P&O running to Le Havre and Cherbourg.
But a bold move in 1975 heralded the introduction of the 5,000-tonne passenger car ferry Armorique on a new service from Portsmouth to St Malo.
Slowly, Townsend Thoresen and Sealink moved all their operations to Portsmouth, as it offered better motorway access than Southampton and had shorter crossing times to the Continent.
The next development for Brittany Ferries was the introduction of a new service to Caen via the quaint port of Ouistreham. Using an old Dutch ferry renamed Duc De Normandie, this service took on Townsend Thoresen’s Le Havre route head on.
Poor management and ship selection saw the demise of P&O and Sealink services as Brittany Ferries prospered, introducing new services to Spain.
I think its success is down to the product it offers and it’s an example to any company. Consistency in the quality of service it provides and its purpose-built ships have seen off many competitors. Indeed, it has made the UK/Spanish link the fastest-growing ferry market in the country.
The pristine white ships have been part of Portsmouth life for almost four decades now. From one small ship in 1975, six super-ferries now serve our city, employing hundreds.
A success story of which the city can be very proud.