I took Union-Castle Dolly to visit Father Christmas recently, and this is a record of the occasion. May I wish everyone a very enjoyable Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year in 2017.
Best wishes from the real Union-Castle Line Dolly.
22nd October 2016
MONT ST. MICHEL
Back at the Wightlink terminal we could disembark and return to the parked car, ready for another little journey - this time to the Brittany Ferry Terminal which is part of the Portsmouth International Port. On 20th October 2016 Brittany Ferries announced that they have just renegotiated a deal to continue sailings from Portsmouth International Port for the next eleven years. Two of us checked in here whilst the car was being parked safely, and then all three of us joined the queue to get the little bus to take us alongside our next ship of the trip.
This afternoon we are to sail on a much bigger vessel: Brittany Ferries MONT ST. MICHEL from Portsmouth to the port of Caen, the city in the Lower Normandy area of northern France. We were soon on board and enjoying the prospect of sailing from here in sunshine at 2.45 p.m. We were last on here in May 2013 and up on deck we could see an immediate difference around the funnel area. She was built and delivered in 2002, at 35,586 gross tons, but now we could see where the exhaust gas scrubbers have been fitted, to remove sulphur from their exhaust emissions.
The ship can carry 830 cars/lorries at full capacity, on decks 3,4,5 and 6; and 2,120 passengers in deck 7 aft cabins and deck 9 forward cabins as well as reserved seat lounges and other public rooms.
We were soon sailing and enjoying the views of HMS VICTORY, the Emirates Spinnaker Tower as it is now known (170 metres high and open to the public) and Spitbank Fort out in the Solent. The Fort was started in 1859 as one of four of Lord Palmerston's Forts to defend approaches to Portsmouth Harbour, completed in 1878 and fitted with guns. These were replaced with newer armaments over the years until the Spitbank Fort was sold by the Ministry of Defence in 1982. It is now a most unusually-situated private luxury hotel, although still a Scheduled Monument.
On board MONT ST. MICHEL tea and cake was enjoyed in La Galerie Self-Service Restaurant with its forward views, and then we had the chance to 'show and tell' about our various ship-related purchases or events since we last met and travelled together. It was only last month (September) but we all seem to lead busy and interesting lives...
A hour or two later we had missed the Quiz in the main lounge, had missed the Wizard (!) entertaining the children in another public area, didn't want to see a film in the cinema, and realised it was time to enjoy evening dinner in the A La Carte Restaurant on board.
After that it was soon time to watch for the 9.30 p.m. arrival in Caen (Ouistreham) and disembarkation some time after that. We are booked to travel home again on the MONT ST. MICHEL overnight but still had to leave the ship, exit the terminal and could then enjoy a short walk in the dark fresh air outside.
When the call came to check in and board the MONT ST. MICHEL, we joined the inevitable queue and I admired the poster pictures I could see nearby.
Sailing time of 23.00 was fast approaching but the Security people had only just turned up so there were lots of delays at the first part of the queue as foot passengers were scanned and/or patted down, as well as putting luggage through the scanner. With luggage collected, Passports then had to be shown further along and this took up more time. We then had to get outside the building and onto a bus, to be taken to the ship. We noticed that some people had been so delayed that the bus left without them, but it was sailing time by the time we were on board, and presumably the bus went back to collect the remainder of the footies. That all seemed a little disorganised and time-consuming to many of us, but that was the way it was.
Back on board MONT ST. MICHEL it was good to leave weekend rucksacks in the cabin and enjoy the surroundings. I really like the flow of the design of this ship, and the various public rooms and staircases. They all seem very passenger-friendly to me.
We are to sail overnight back to Portsmouth so there was time for a short sleep before arrival at 06.45 a.m.
Sunday 23rd October 2016
That was indeed a short night on board MONT ST. MICHEL but breakfast up on the Deck 9 Le Cafe du Festival meant a good start as we headed into Portsmouth Harbour and disembarkation. It was barely daylight by the time we were on the quayside and saw the ubiquitous bus to take us to the terminal. We collected the car from the car park and I was then given a lift to the nearest train station, which certainly helped me.
I live in an area with frequent planned and unplanned strikes and cancellations by the Southern Rail company, plus staff shortages, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a train leaving in ten minutes to a destination that would help me. I think I was the only passenger on board for a few miles, and there was no heating whatsoever - the train guard and I had a friendly moan together as he passed through my carriage - but at least I was on my way home.
Yesterday had been a FIVE SHIP DAY and what a contrast in vessels they had been, as well as an enjoyable day out.
22nd October 2016 WIGHTLINK ferries
On the promenade beside the beach I saw a Memorial plaque, stating that nearby on 14th September 1805 Admiral Lord Nelson embarked for the last time, being killed on the following 21st October at the victorious Battle of Trafalgar. Yesterday evening I raised a glass to Nelson, on what I hope might one day be a Trafalgar Day Bank Holiday in the UK.
There was also a blue plaque to Sir Alec Rose commemorating his single-handed round-the-world yacht voyage in 1968.
Then it was back to the car for a fast drive to the Wightlink ferry terminal, and boarding ST. CECILIA for the 40 minute ride from Portsmouth to Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight.
She was built in 1992; there were many passengers on board and we enjoyed seeing the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, the Mary Mouse 2 former lightship, now a floating restaurant at Haslar Marina, Gosport, as we sailed out of the harbour.
We sat in the sunshine near the Fishbourne terminal building and then waited for the ST. FAITH Wightlink ferry to take us back to Portsmouth.
There were few of us passengers on board but our little tour of the ship showed us a familiar poster picture: it was the same one used on board the ANNA MUR, the ex ST. HELEN of Sealink and Wightlink fame, that we sailed on last month in September to and from the Sardinian mainland port of Portovesme and the St. Peter island port of Carloforte, where we had stayed. It made us smile happily to see this reminder of another fascinating ferry trip.
Here on the ST. FAITH I got talking to a member of the crew up on deck and mentioned that we had recently been sailing on the previous ST. HELEN in Sardinian waters, and seen the previous ST. CATHERINE as well.
He was fascinated to see the pictures and asked if we could wait just a moment, disappeared inboard for a couple of minutes, and then returned to ask if we would like to come onto the Bridge and talk to the Captain about our trip and photos! We certainly did and would, and followed him up on to the Bridge. That proved an interesting and enjoyable time up there with the Captain, as the Quartermaster skilfully took us around the many Saturday sailors out on the water as we headed towards Portsmouth again.
We had to leave the Bridge as we neared Portsmouth Harbour but had enjoyed meeting the Captain and the views as we sailed along.
To be continued...
Saturday 22nd October 2016
It was early on a bright and sunny autumn morning when I stood on the pavement near Southsea beach in Hampshire, England. My ferry friends arrived by car and we were soon parked and taking photographs of NORMANDIE of Brittany Ferries as she sailed out of Portsmouth, heading for France.
We could then walk into the Hover Travel office nearby, to buy return tickets on a Hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde in the Isle of Wight. The journey takes only ten minutes, but it was fascinating to anticipate and also to enjoy.
We were soon allowed out of the Terminal building to walk across the short distance to board FREEDOM 90 for our Flight at 9 a.m. She had arrived and berthed between SOLENT FLYER and ISLAND FLYER, which made for an unusual sight as far as I was concerned. We felt our vessel lift, and we turned and headed out to cross Southampton Water to the Isle of Wight. I marvelled at the 1955 invention by the famous Sir Christopher Cockerell, which first crossed the English Channel in July 1959. The vessel is described as a vehicle supported on a cushion of air supplied by a powered fan mounted on the craft - brilliant - hence Hover Travel calling it a flight.
I first went on a SRN4 Hovercraft called PRINCESS ANNE back in the early 1980s, sailing from Dover across the English Channel. Some passengers had their cars loaded on the hovercraft, which were much bigger than today's craft, ready to drive south in France; we simply went as foot passengers for the experience.
Today though we soon arrived at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, disembarked from FREEDOM 90 into the terminal and then climbed the nearby stairs to the bridge over the railway lines. This gave us a good view of the hovercraft down below, and we could watch our vessel head back to Southsea. The tide seemed to be out and there was a lot of mud-flats to be seen as we watched her go. Then it was time for breakfast ashore.
Back at the bridge over the railway lines we were pleased to be able to see the brand new SOLENT FLYER down below us on the tarmac, and we were even more pleased to see her changing places with ISLAND FLYER. We really hoped she might be our vessel for our ride back to Southsea... and yes, she was to be!
We were soon on SOLENT FLYER, embarking at the front/bow end this time (rather than near the stern) and admiring her new livery of our national flag. Once inside we could also admire the spacious look of the design with big windows and a streamlined look throughout. The builders plate by Griffon was dated January 2016, with a delivery date of March 2016, and after sea trials she soon came into service with a gross tonnage of 15.27. I particularly admired the mural effect of the wall behind the 24 passengers she can carry, as we sat down and prepared to 'fly' across the water back to Southsea. One of the crew came to talk to us and he was obviously very proud of the new hovercraft.
We noticed that as it was a Saturday there seemed to be a lot of other smaller craft around us, and it became necessary to take a somewhat convoluted route across the water. The Wightlink ferries were also crossing back and forth between Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight, so there was a lot to see in our short journey!
Back in Southsea we went down on the beach towards the sea and could watch SOLENT FLYER embark more passengers before she set off for Ryde again.
What wonderful vessels they are.
To be continued...