PORTSMOUTH to ST HELIER via ST PETER PORT – 16 MAY 2002
Having heard rather mixed reports about passenger facilities and comfort on the BEN MY CHREE,
I was both apprehensive and excited at the prospect of voyages on her "sister" COMMODORE CLIPPER.
Sixteen of us met up at Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port at 0830 on 16 May. Car parking is easily available (but at a price) at the edge of the approach area but (a tip!) – try the "Short Term Parking" area next to the terminal as you can, apparently, do a better deal!
We were made very welcome. The terminal booking staff were friendly and told us the Captain (who has an interest in French canal vessels) was a bit of a nautical enthusiast! A really nice feature was that all our baggage was taken aboard for us by container for collection at the destination.
We had been given a very good "group deal" by Commodore, which even included cabins on the homeward leg.
Ferries PORTSMOUTH EXPRESS, DUC DE NORMANDIE, PRIDE OF HAMPSHIRE and PRIDE OF PORTSMOUTH were in evidence.
We were driven aboard on a minibus and directed to stairs and a lift to ascend to the two passenger decks. The COMMODORE CLIPPER is predominantly a freight ferry but has enough passenger space to cope with any passengers diverted from associated operator CONDOR’s fast ferries if these are cancelled by weather conditions ex Poole or Weymouth. She had many commercial trailers and a dozen or so "export" cars loaded.
We found the ship immaculately clean and well furbished. There was a children’s play area, ample toilets, a quiet lounge, a first class lounge (empty!), a very nice Bar with vast picture windows, a large Self Service Restaurant with plenty of seats and tables, a Duty Free Shop and an Information Office.
All the crew were pleasant and customer orientated. We matched their number almost one to one!
The Restaurant was open over the whole voyage for snacks, drinks etc, and hot meals were available from 0830 to 1000 (breakfast), 1230 to 1400 (lunch) and 1730 onwards (dinner). Prices were reasonable, the choice of dishes was surprising and the quality good.
The Bar was always open!
Ship photographers found plenty of room each side of the ship to "click" at passing traffic!
We sailed fairly promptly at 0930 and enjoyed wonderful views of the Naval Base. At Flathouse we saw fruit ship POLAR ECUADOR and feeder HUELIN DISPATCH then passed all sorts of naval vessels. SUPERSEACAT TWO was refitting in the naval base and STA sail trainer PRINCE WILLIAM was at the Gunwharf.
We followed aircraft carrier R07 ARK ROYAL out to sea, then passed frigate F234 IRON DUKE inbound. Next we skirted tanker CRESCENT HIGHWAY (ex Esso Avon) at anchor before passing Bembridge. We ate a decent breakfast before visiting the bridge.
COMMODORE CLIPPER hugged the Isle of Wight coast to Ventnor as the Captain showed us around a spacious bridge. The sunshine and good visibility made the prospect of our leisurely voyage very attractive!
We saw PRIDE OF CHERBOURG inbound and in the distance container ship CAP FINISTERRE (for Southampton). Next ARK ROYAL did amazing "speed runs" at the start of her new commission. Passing through the "up" lane of the Channel later we encountered coaster TRADER, bulk carrier TAI SHUN, German tanker DORSCH, Finnish tanker KIHU and Portsmouth bound ferry BRETAGNE, from St Malo.
We rounded the Cotentin peninsula and could see the lighthouse and lifeboat house at Cap de la Hague. On past Alderney then eventually between Sark and Guernsey where ST SAMPSONS harbour was bereft of ships!
We docked at ST PETER PORT in scorching sunshine. We were bussed ashore for an hour whilst the ferry unloaded/loaded. In port were coaster PONGO, fast ferry NORMANDIE EXPRESS, relief RNLI lifeboat 52-46 DUKE OF ATHOLL, fishery vessel LEOPARDESS, ferries HERM TRIDENT V, HERM TRIDENT VI, HERM CLIPPER, HERM VENTURE and ambulance launch FLYING CHRISTINE III. We plundered shipping company offices of postcards, leaflets, books etc and managed a swift Guernsey pint too!
Back aboard we were lucky to see Guernsey lifeboat 17-04 PRIDE OF GUERNSEY return from refit at Devonport Dockyard just before we sailed.
A very pleasant dinner ensued then at 1900 hours we entered St Helier harbour in Jersey. We passed Army landing craft L110 AACHEN outbound as we docked on time.
ST HELIER TO PORTSMOUTH – DIRECT OVERNIGHT – 21/22 MAY 2002
COMMODORE CLIPPER docked on time ex Guernsey. We handed over our luggage and boarded promptly (the 2200 departure time was adjusted slightly to load as many "Jersey Royal" potatoes as possible).
We sailed west to meet the bumpy Atlantic swell as far as the Corbieres lighthouse then settled down to a very smooth run home north eastward with the wind astern. A few drinks saw us tired and ready for bed! The 4 berth cabins were very clean with a large shower/WC and unusually wide and long bunks, lots of fresh towels too! Full marks Commodore!
The bar closed when the last customer left! I slept for a while in our cabin but then went up on deck around 4am! I was amazed to find crew cleaning the ship, laying ready new linen and stashing away rubbish!
It was a lovely night and the ship was cruising slowly over calm waters!
Soon we were alongside the Isle of Wight and rounding Bembridge into Spithead. We overtook the Latvian tanker MIRZA (bound for Fawley) and the freighter ATLANTIC CRUSADER (for Marchwood).
Entering Portsmouth by 0600 hours we saw the harbour waking up! Ferries, workboats, fishing vessels and the navy again – lots of grey warships. Since we had left here, newly arrived were, the NATO Mine Countermeasures Force (North) – (the flag changing from Belgian depot ship GODETIA to British patrol ship DUMBARTON CASTLE), chartered in Svitzer tug HALLGARTH, survey ship SCOTT, ferries NORMANDIE, PORTSMOUTH EXPRESS and PRIDE OF LE HAVRE plus smart looking reefer SOUTHAMPTON STAR.
We were bussed ashore just after 0630 to disperse after a very pleasant Commodore experience. Lets hope that the Condor/Commodore operation, currently for sale, continues with such good standards?