PC 147 Ferries (Continued)


Having used the cross-channel services on numerous occasions, it was funny to find myself, years later, working with the executive team of Hoverspeed, who operated a large Mk3 SRN4 hovercraft and a SeaCat Rapide out of Dover, to Calais and Boulogne. Their owner, Sea Containers, also owned Wightlink who provide travel links across The Solent to the Isle of Wight with a small hovercraft and two ships. Some of my sessions with the individuals of the management teams were afloat. Sure as hell beat an office environment!

Then last year we took the Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth to Santander in northern Spain, and returned 5 weeks later. On our return the incoming ferry, the Pont Aven, was delayed by bad weather.

409 Pont Aven

The Pont Aven alongside in Santander (The name comes from a commune in the Finistère department of Brittany)

I started scribbling my observations and thoughts as we waited. The harbour area of Santander is typical of many port cities; business-like warehouses and customs sheds abound with their attendant lorries delivering and collecting, the lazy eyes of the port officials keep a wary lookout for anything suspicious, the sun harsh, its heat reflected off the acres of concrete. In town the shops shut at 2 o’clock for over two hours; northern Europeans, used to being able to shop from breakfast to suppertime, on every day of the week, think this a throwback to a different age, one less time driven, less focused, more relaxed; the Catholic versus the Protestant?

The dockside’s a sight: the old-and-bold with a rather gone-to-seed look but whose car is their pride and joy; the convertibles with their ‘look at me’ drivers mingle amongst the normal utilitarian ones that form the majority. There are caravans, some being towed by a car and others under their own steam (well petrol or diesel not steam). And there was obviously a rally somewhere for off-road quad bikes as a number, all muddy and tired, bit like their owners, sit on trailers behind …. the caravan. There is a large group of motorcyclists, probably all unknown to each other but joined by their love of their bikes. There are bikes of all sorts, bikers of all sorts- most look grubby, all leather and boots in the heat, the tattoos de rigeur and the hair making a statement too; worn long, worn short, a muppet look, wigs black and blonde and the atypical ponytail; and all podgey! We all sit aligned in our lanes on the tarmac in the hot sun. The cars get hot; blankets shield pets and humans as we wait ….. and wait. Some sit in their cars with the air conditioning on …… for an hour or so …. global warming??? We load eventually, hard on the heels of the poor cleaners who are trying to turn around the cabins for the new passengers. After the long hot wait on the quay everyone is anxious to occupy theirs, unpack and join the queue to pre-book a table for supper. This queue reflects both eating habits and the social importance of eating! The ferry shudders as the propellers work to turn the ship away from the dockside and into the narrow navigation channel. Slipping out, we leave the green starboard-hand buoys to port; the convention being port-hand markers are on the left coming in from the sea.


The bar is already busy – it seems part and parcel of the sea-going experience – beer in hand, queuing. Mind you these days as many stand with Kindle in hand, free thumb ready to ‘turn the page’. The average age seems 50 plus, with few children, as the schools only broke up a week ago. I realise this is rather like an airport terminal – busy every day, in this case three times a week, hundreds of people are in one place, at once, from all points of compass, from all walks of life.

The tannoy announces a demonstration of how to put a life jacket on – “andibetavmkgdu will be on B D…k at 1700″ – no one moves in its direction, imagining that disasters happen to other people. Mind you the loudspeaker volume is such that you only discern every second or third word and it could have been a demonstration of life drawing or some such. During the night we pass close to Ushant at the north western tip of France; it’s a calm and uneventful crossing. At breakfast I spy an oldish chap in a light blue polo shirt – it obviously has been sitting in his suitcase and is woefully creased, except where his large stomach presses against the material, producing a smooth area. Life huh!

You will know I love coincidences. You may not know that as part of my homework for my creative writing sessions I had to dream up a script for a Soap Opera, one that had individual stories and continuing themes and characters. I wrote mine after our outward trip on the Pont Aven in June. I had imagined the restaurant staff was run by Sabine: “The other main character is Sabine, tall, willowy and very French, whose responsibility is the waiting staff, of which there are 40. Some have been there for ever, some are taken on for the High Season, and some are apprentices seconded from the L’école de Cuisine de Belle France in Lyon.” And here was Sabine, exactly as I had imagined her, in real life. Tall, rather haughty, very short hair – and running her staff with enthusiasm and efficiency. So weird; so lovely!


We dock in Portsmouth, locate the correct staircase and lift to ensure we enter the right car deck, on the right side. We sit and wait; eventually, we disembark, drive through passport control and join the M27/A27 for the slow run home.

Memories huh!

Richard 16th March 2019



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