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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

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!

The 1980s

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.

The 1990s

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 2000s

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.

Brittany Ferries Timeline

1 Jan 1973 Brittany Ferries is created by Alexis Gourvennec.
2 Jan 1973 Kerisnel inaugurates the Roscoff-Plymouth route.
1974 Buy our first newbuild ship, Penn-Ar-Bed (Land's End in Breton).
1976 St Malo-Portsmouth route sets sail.
1978 Plymouth-Santander route sets sail. We also begin selling ferry-inclusive holidays in our new glossy colour brochures.
1982 The Brittany Centre built in Portsmouth.
1983 We celebrate our 10th anniversary with six ships on four routes (Portsmouth-St Malo route added).
1984 Brittany Ferries joins with Jersey-based Huelin-Renouf and MMD Shipping to create British Channel Island Ferries (BCIF) with a 27% shareholding.
1985 Brittany Ferries buys Truckline Ferries and its two ships to sail the Poole-Cherbourg route.
1986 Portsmouth-Caen route opens to overnight success.
1989 Buy our first purpose-built ship, Bretagne, which provides new levels of luxury in ferry travel.
1992 Buy two more purpose-built ships to add to our fleet, Barfleur and Normandie. Normandie and Bretagne are awarded the AA 5-star award.
1993 Val de Loire is largest ship ever to sail from Ireland on the new Cork-Roscoff route.
1994 The Channel Tunnel opens. Our carryings rose by 15%. Bought out of BCIF by Commodore and Condor Ferries. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Normandie carries the largest contingent of military vehicles since the invasion itself on 6th June 1944. We also sailed a special Portsmouth-Cherbourg sailing carrying Tour de France competitors as the official sea carrier of the race.
1998 Truckline brand is absorbed into the Brittany Ferries brand.
2002 Buy the purpose-built ship, Mont St Michel.
2004 Buy the purpose-built flagship, Pont-Aven.
2005 Our second fast ferry service is launched with Normandie Express. On her long voyage from Tasmania to France, she brought supplies to those in Indonesia who were stricken by the Boxing Day Tsunami. She also brought home the yacht Fil-et-Voila which was damaged during the Vendee Globe Solo Round-the-World race.
2006 Brittany Ferries Holidays voted 'Best Tour Operator to France 2006' by Maison de la France (the French Tourist Office).
2007 Buy Normandie Express and the purpose-built ship, Cotentin. Our founder Alexis Gourvennec dies. Jean Marc Roué becomes president.
2008 Brittany Ferries celebrates 30th anniversary of services to Spain.
2009 The £100 million purpose-built ship Armorique joins the Brittany Ferries' fleet.
2010 New Portsmouth-Bilbao route announced - the first new destination for 24 years. Buy the Cap Finistère.
2011 Which? readers voted Brittany Ferries the best ferry company in the magazine's customer satisfaction survey as well as being named 'Best Tour Operator to France' in the 2011 British Travel Awards.
2012 Named 'Best Tour Operator to Western Europe' and 'Best Small Camping and Mobile Tour Operator' in the British Travel Awards 2012.
2013 Brittany Ferries marks its 40th anniversary whilst sailing to France and Spain from the United Kingdom with eight different vessels (including the returning Barfleur to operate once again between Poole and Cherbourg).
2014 'No-frills' service launched on the Portsmouth-Le Havre and Portsmouth-Santander routes using a newly acquired freight and passenger vessel, Etretat. In June, Brittany Ferries transported around 500 D-Day veterans to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
2015 Exhaust gas cleaning systems ("scrubbers") fitted to 3 cruise-ferries at a cost of £30 million. Baie de Seine joined the fleet to provide additional économie (no frills service) capacity to Le Havre and Bilbao.
2016 We celebrate 30 years of operations between Portsmouth and Caen. We also charter a freight-only vessel, Pelican, and complete the £65 million investment in emission-reducing scrubber technology.
2017 Following confirmation of our new LNG-powered ship called Honfleur (arriving 2019) to serve our Portsmouth-Caen route, we announced investment in a second vessel. To be chartered from Stena Line following its construction in China, she will further increase capacity on Spanish routes when delivered ahead of the 2021 season.