From chaos to calm: how our latest trip nearly didn’t happen

 

It started with a bang. A very loud bang. And it didn’t take us long to realise what had happened. The boat trailer that we were towing had become detached from our car and one of the boats on it had come straight through our rear windscreen. Panic set in. We were due to catch a ferry in the afternoon. Now we were up against it, needing to get the glass replaced and make it to the Brittany Ferries ferry port in Portsmouth, about an hour’s drive away, arriving at least 45 minutes before departure.

Broken rear windscreen on Volvo XC90

We had planned to spend the day at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard so luckily had at least some time on our side, but it was still going to be a tall order. Even more luckily, though, the incident had happened on a roundabout just a mile or two away from 1st Direct Windscreens, run by Mark Copeland – the most amiable and helpful man we could have hoped to meet at this moment of crisis. Mark must have seen the look of panic in our faces. This wasn’t just any trip. We were catching the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander so that our boys could compete in their first ever sailing World Championships, representing Great Britain for the first time.

Missing the ferry wasn’t really an option for us – we probably wouldn’t have just been able to catch the next one as they book up a long way in advance, and we wouldn’t really have had time to drive through France and still make the competition. Flying was also not an option as we needed to get the boats out there. Mark, though, was going to do everything he could to ensure that we made the crossing. He called his wife to go and collect the glass that we needed (she is a teacher and fortunately it was the school holidays) before proceeding to call all his customers who he had booked in that day in order to re-arrange his schedule. He then sent us off to a nearby Costa to ‘relax’ and said that he would call once everything was sorted.

Whilst we waited, not knowing whether we would make the ferry, we deliberated on what had happened. We had stopped at a hotel the previous night and called ahead to check that it was going to be OK to park with a trailer. We were told there was no problem, because there was a number of double spaces away from the main entrance which were rarely used. However, when we arrived, all the spaces were full so we had to detach the trailer and park in one corner of the car park on an incline to ensure we were out of the way. Trying to hitch the trailer back on to the car, whilst supporting the weight of the trailer with three boats on it, wasn’t an easy task, but we heard a ‘click’ as we placed it back on the towbar and all was well (or so we thought). In hindsight, we can only assume that it hadn’t clicked into place properly or maybe someone had tampered with it overnight, we don’t know.

Anyway, the call came and we returned to the car to find all was well. Mark had worked wonders and pulled out all the stops for us. We just had to get on our way and catch that ferry. All this, I should add, happened on our thirteenth wedding anniversary. Unlucky for some! When we finally made it to the port, with about 20 minutes to spare, we allowed ourselves a wry smile when we were also directed to lane 13 for the ferry. We were glad to be leaving the chaos of the day behind us and were soon boarding the Pont-Aven, Brittany Ferries’ flagship, with our boat trailer safely secured.

Boat trailer on board Pont-Aven

The crossing from Portsmouth to Santander takes 25 hours. As we set sail, we spot HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – we’d been before, but had wanted to see the re-vamped Mary Rose (I recall it being salvaged in 1982, raised to the surface after 437 years on the bottom of the Solent) but would have to wait a little longer before we could visit again.

HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Instead, it was time to explore the ship.

Looking out from Pont-Aven

Our first stop was at our cabin so we could offload our luggage. We stayed in a Club cabin (the De Luxe and Commodore cabins were already fully booked despite booking in December) which is small but was more than ample for our needs given that we weren’t planning to spend much time there other than to sleep.

Cabin

The sofa that you see turns into a bed and there is one that folds down from the other side of the cabin as well as two from the ceiling – perfect for our needs as a family of four.

Cabin with beds down

The cabin makes amazingly efficient use of the available space and there’s even room for a dressing table and mirror, along with some storage space, and a small bathroom with lavatory, wash basin and shower.

Cabin dressing table

A hospitality tray with a kettle and tea, coffee and hot chocolate is also provided.

For dinner, we chose to dine at the restaurant where there is a buffet starter with a huge choice, including large baskets of prawns and langoustines, as well as a variety of other dishes to choose from.

Prawns

For the main course, you can select from an a la carte menu – because we dined on both our outbound and return journeys, and had a varied choice between us, we can share with you a number of different dishes to give you a feel for what to expect.

Piperade, Serrano ham and a poached egg

Piperade, Serrano ham and a poached egg

Roasted organic Scottish salmon in a shellfish kari gosse sauce

Roasted organic Scottish salmon in a shellfish kari gosse sauce

Fillet of duck tornedos

Fillet of duck tornedos

Breast of guinea fowl with seafood conchiglionis

Breast of guinea fowl with seafood conchiglionis

Poached sole with carrots in many ways

Fish

Fillet of beef with mushroom tartlet and kampot red pepper sauce

Fillet of beef with mushroom tartlet and kampot red pepper sauce

For dessert, there was a buffet selection once more. It had been well ‘picked at’ by the time we got there, so my photograph doesn’t really do it justice. Instead, here’s a picture of four happy on-board chefs, justly proud of their evening’s work.

Brittany Ferries restaurant chefs

Whilst the thought of spending an entire day on a ferry might fill some of you with dread, it really needn’t. There is so much on board that the time flies by and, if you embrace it, it’s actually a very relaxing way to reach your destination.

We had a drink at the bar, watched a film at the cinema, made one or two purchases from the shop, and relaxed with a spa treatment. For toddlers, there’s a play area and a ‘Games Planet’ for teenagers. There’s even a swimming pool on board if you fancy a quick dip.

Although, there’s free internet on board, it’s dependent on a satellite link and I didn’t find it too reliable. It’s certainly not suited to streaming so make sure you download anything on iPlayer in advance if you plan to pass the time watching some of your favourite programmes.

You could be forgiven for thinking that prices on-board are high, given that it’s a captive audience, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Prices are in fact very reasonable indeed, whether it be the ferry shop, the cinema (£20 for a family of four to watch a recent blockbuster), or the food and drinks at the restuarant, café and bars.

Before we knew it, 24 hours had flown by and we were privileged to be invited onto the bridge by the purser as we approached Santander. This was a wonderful opportunity to get a prime view of our destination and see the captain and crew at work.

View approaching Santander

There’s also a small section of glass floor that you can stand on and look down below… if you dare.

Glass floor

But one of the real highlights of this experience is seeing the pilot from Santander approach the ferry. Pilots, in case you’re not aware, are responsible for bringing ships in busy or congested waters, such as the port at Santander.

Pilot approaching the ferry

I captured the moment the pilot boarded the ferry to take over – this is actually quite a dangerous manoeuvre and consequently considered to be a fairly high-risk job.

Pilot boarding the ferry

As we approached Santander, we admired the blue skies and sandy beaches, and what had happened just a day earlier was now a distant memory – proof that taking the ferry can be a truly relaxing way to travel.

Santander beaches

I’m also pleased to report that our return journey was uneventful… and didn’t involve lane 13.

Pont-Aven

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Brittany Ferries.

Comments (7)

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  1. Maya Russell says:

    So glad you got the car & trailer sorted (and no one was killed!). The ferry sounds amazing and the cabin arrangement is excellent. I have never been on a ferry like this.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    Thank you. To clarify, it wasn’t as horrific as it looks – we were just pulling off from a standstill at the time that it happened, so only doing around 5mph.

    And yes, the ferry is a really relaxing way to travel.

  3. What a shenanigans with the car and trailer Paul :) So great that Mark of 1st Direct Windscreens was able to help so efficiently.

    I’ve always enjoy ferry trips when I’ve taken them, and my last one was Irish Ferries, where we also had a lovely meal on the Oscar Wilde. The food in your photos looks excellent. I’m not surprised that you found the trip so relaxing with all the ingredients of the cabin, treatments, facilities and perks of the end of the journey. :)

  4. Anna Parker says:

    We double stacked to Ireland once and on the ferry our wheel nuts were tampered with. Half way to Wexford on the motorway a wheel fell off the stacker and overtook us 100ft up in the air… A long way to retrieve it but after moving nuts from one side to another we could drive on to a breakers yard for more…

  5. Paul Johnson says:

    Oh dear, Anna! Funnily enough (or not so funnily), on our drive back from Portsmouth two weeks later, we witnessed a bicycle loaded on the top of a car along with one other, become detached at speed on the motorway. We were about 5 cars back from the incident, but I saw it in the distance and the bike bounced extremely high also. How it didn’t hit any of the cars behind it, I have no idea!

  6. What an adventure! I’m glad all went fine and you guys kept on going along with your trip. Greetings from Ouarzazate!

  7. Patrick and Cecile says:

    Glad to see that in the end no one was hurt! Must have been a bit stressful though! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us! Next year we are taking a year off and we will probably spend 6 months in South America then we will probably go to Europe. We cannot wait! Keep up the great work!
    Patrick and Cecile

 
 
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