One of the things about attending the Le Mans 24-Hour race in June, is that you have to start planning ahead for the next year almost straight after the race is finished, and crossing the channel is obviously a big part of that planning.
Thankfully, the folk at Brittany Ferries are geared for this because their business is based around advance bookings for holidays or away events. I always ask if they can arrange for me to take photos of our vehicle on the quayside in front of the vessel. This is not normally something that one can do, but because it will form part of our blog feature, the answer is usually ‘yes.’ In fact, when I asked to do this on our recent trip to Le Mans, the reply came back from the Caen Duty Manager, “Oh yes, we are used to Mr Smale taking photos of his car next to the ship, no problem!”
Over the years we have sailed in a couple of different vessels, namely the Mont St. Michel or the Normandie. Launched in 2002, the Mont St. Michel can carry up to 2200 passengers and has more than two kilometres of vehicle space, enough for more than 800 cars. Launched ten years earlier, the Normandie can carry 600 cars and 2123 passengers.
Returning from Le Mans in 2015, we were shown to the spot where we could park our vehicle on the quayside at Caen, and take photos in front of the vessel. As I was getting ready to take my photos, a rather large fellow raced up with his container tow truck and bellowed something in French to the extremely polite and helpful young lady who was standing with us. She was the Duty Manager, and just thanked this large chap, who jumped out of this tow truck, hitched up a container, and sped off with it leaving us with a clear view of the ship. We were quite shocked, but she must have called him on the radio to move the container, which was obstructing the view. She then offered me a tour of the bridge and engine room on the ship which I of course gratefully accepted. I was like a kid in a candy shop, and the accompanying photos will show you some of what I saw.
This year I was informed that it would be easier to take the photos at the Caen end on my return journey, so I didn’t argue as I regard this as a privilege. On these trips, it is quite normal for it to be raining at the Portsmouth end, and be clear and sunny at the Caen end. But this year it was the reverse, and so I didn’t get a good batch of photos on my return journey as it was raining quite hard. Nevertheless, the crossing was smooth on both the outward and homeward bound legs.
On longer crossings, such as on the Portsmouth/Caen route, it has been very useful to have a cabin as this gives me the freedom to work or sleep depending on how much work I have to do. This year, on the outward leg, I was able to sit and study the race entry lists giving drivers and team names, as there were 60 cars on the grid this year with many new names. On the return journey one is usually so shattered that sleep is an only option. Still, one has the choice and this is a great benefit.
For a more detailed account of practice, qualifying and the race itself, visit our blog Le Mans rollercoaster and Final Hours of Le Mans 24H 2016. By the end of the weekend, and after many late nights and having walked endless miles with heavy camera gear, and having stayed up all of Saturday night, I was completely exhausted. But there was still the small matter of packing up my gear from a week’s worth of work and gathering reports and press releases from the race. As my ferry was only booked for 08h00 on Monday morning, I wasn’t under any time pressure. And so I made my way back to Caen at a leisurely pace that Sunday evening.
The following morning, I made sure that I was through the gates early, and waited to be called forward to take my photos. The word had indeed been passed down the wires and before long I was directed to the spot where I could photograph the vehicle on the quayside. Because of the rain I didn’t hang around, and I was done in minutes, before being directed up onto the forward deck to park. I made my way up to my cabin as quickly as possible, and after some breakfast and a quick shower, I thought it would be a good idea to just take a short rest…but the next thing that I heard was a blast on the ship’s Tannoy announcing that we were just about to dock in Portsmouth, and would all passengers please vacate their cabins!! Six hours had disappeared I know not where. So I gathered my goodies together and headed for the car deck with some urgency.
So that was my Le Mans adventure behind me. The time had come so quickly and now it was all over already. Is it time to start making plans for my 2017 trip? Perhaps we will just let the dust settle after this event. But before too long, the whole process will start all over again. Crossing the channel with Brittany Ferries on the Portsmouth/Caen route is, for purposes of getting to the Le Mans 24-Hour race, probably the easiest and most convenient option. We can highly recommend it.
Words and images by Glen Smale