About Brittany Ferries
Founded in 1972 by proud Breton Alexis Gourvennec and a group of fellow Breton farmers wanting to export their cauliflowers and artichokes to the UK, Brittany Ferries is now the leading maritime carrier on the western and central channel. Gourvennec formed the company, formerly known as Armement Bretagne-Angleterre-Irelande, or B.A.I. for short, which was officially born on a bleak New Year's Day in 1973 with French, British and Breton flags flying and a choir singing carols. With Britain's entry into the Common Market in 1973, Gourvennec saw his chance to end the geographical isolation of Brittany. Realising the quickest route to this new market would be across the western channel to Plymouth, he contacted several large shipping companies to no avail and began setting up his own company by purchasing a freighter, the Kerisnel, named after a small Breton village famous for its cauliflowers - with the Breton farmers who are still the company's main shareholders today.
The 1970s were not without their problems with two vessels running aground in St Malo's harbour, three vessels being plagued with engine problems, and trade union strikes and fishermen's disputes causing the closure of Roscoff's port on the Cornouailles maiden voyage forcing her to return to Plymouth where she was used as a hotel for 3 days. However, the 1970s also saw Brittany Ferries offering the first ferry-inclusive holidays and creating a thriving business by bringing fresh produce north and taking tourists south. Our Plymouth-Santander route inaugurated in 1978 was launched as the fastest sea route to Northern Spain, 14 hours quicker than our competitors!
Brittany Ferries grew in the 1980s with the acquisition of two outside companies. We joined forces with Jersey-based Huelin-Renouf and MMD Shipping to create British Channel Island Ferries (BCIF) and we also bought the cargo service, Truckline, with its two vessels. Our first ship to be awarded the AA 5 stars set sail in 1989, the purpose-built Bretagne, and the Normandie also gained this award shortly after in 1992. The presence of the Bretagne signified our commitment to providing high quality ferry travel and also allowed for the expansion of our Spanish service. In 1986 we opened our Portsmouth-Caen route to overnight success and by the end of the decade our total passenger figures were surpassing 1 million for the first time.
By the end of the 1990s, a decade which saw 3 new ships enter our fleet - the purpose-built ships Barfleur and Normandie, together with the Val de Loire, the largest ship ever to set sail from Ireland on the new Cork - Roscoff route. By 1999, Brittany Ferries had grown to operate six routes with a fleet of seven ships carrying 2.65 million passengers and 173,000 freight units a year. Despite the end of duty-free shopping and the so-called booze cruise, together with the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1996, our carryings continued to increase with a rise of 15% in 1996 alone. We also had several special sailings in this time including one for the D-Day Landings 50th anniversary where the Normandie carried the largest contingent of military vehicles since that day on 6th June 1944. Another special sailing took the Tour de France competitors from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and we also launched our Christmas and New Year mini-cruises.
The Mont St Michel, our flagship Pont-Aven, the freighter the Cotentin, and the Armorique, are all purpose-built ships added to our fleet during the decade. In 2004 we chartered the Normandie Express which was later purchased. 2007 saw the sad demise of our founder, Alexis Gourvennec, but the spirit of his venture lives on 40 years later with fellow Breton farmer Jean Marc Roué as president of the company. We still operate under the French flag and form an integral part in the tourism infrastructure of Western France.
Brittany Ferries marks its 40th anniversary whilst sailing to France and Spain from the United Kingdom with 8 different vessels (including the returning Barfleur to operate once again between Poole and Cherbourg). Again named 'Best Small Tour Operator to Western Europe' and 'Best Small Camping and Mobile Tour Operator' in the British Travel Awards. Wins Best Ferry Operator in the prestigious Telegraph Travel Awards 2013.