At one time I used to take the cross channel ferry quite frequently. I don’t think we ever made the crossing in the summer; it was usually in the middle of winter when the tickets were dirt cheap. So my memories generally consist of ice cold winds that blasted you the moment you went on deck, of being thrown from side to side as I walked up the corridor as the ferry hit one wave after another, and waves crashing against the windows of the upper deck. This was in the days before the super ferries but with shit like that going down I didn’t really see the need for an onboard cinema. In any event it was definitely a step up from the recollections of one bloke I got talking to who travelled second class after the war and and spent the crossing sitting on deck with a blanket.

Fortunately, I never seem to suffer from seasickness and even the most aggressive conditions only serve to fortify my appetite. I took one crossing back in the mid eighties with my French girlfriend which was memorable in that spouts of water were being ejected from the toilets and the entire ship was decorated with people laying on the ground next to pools of vomit. The next morning we were the only two people in the restaurant energetically tucking into a hearty breakfast. And then there was the time we had what I considered to be a relatively mild crossing where I spent the night sleeping peacefully under a table in the restaurant, primarily to save myself the walk in the morning. My mate seemed fine when he woke up, and even when he ordered breakfast, but one moment he was there, the next he was gone. I was just polishing off the last mouthful of croissant when he showed up again. He looked okay, but after looking a little more closely I said “you threw up didn’t you”
“How did you know?” he asked
“You’ve got vomit in your hair. You still want that croissant?”

Suffice to say I was expecting some adventure on the crossing last night. The afternoon was defined by squalls of rain and winds that flattened the plants in the parents back garden which further raised my hopes. However, when we headed down the motorway to the ferry terminal the roads were dry and when the tips of the funnels came into view there was no sign of any cars.

I’m so used to train stations and airports that I find ferry terminals a little confusing. I’m accustomed to coming out of the tunnel at Heathrow airport and being inundated with an array of multi-coloured signs directing me to five different terminals, rental car return, short and long term parking and the bus station. At the ferry terminal there is a single sign saying “Cross Channel Ferries” and as soon as you turn the corner the road fans out into 12 lanes for three different ferry companies, and somewhere off to the left was a sign that said “oh yeah, and the passenger terminal was back there on your right” which was a shame since we were in the far left and about to drive onto the ferry to Bilbao.

The other thing that threw me last night was the complete absence of cars. Usually, whenever I roll up to an overnight crossing the port is a hive of activity with a mass of people milling around a sea of cars. Last night there was a single lane of 15 cars lining up for the crossing.

The terminal was similarly deserted. I walked straight up to the check-in counter and after a cursory glance at my passport I was handed a ticket and a seat reservation and wandered over to the café where there were three people sitting around watching a Sky newsflash about a toxic waste spill in Hungary. A fourth guy was asleep on a row of benches and there was a young couple getting passionate in a dark corner by the payphones where presumably no-one ever goes these days.

50 minutes before departure an order was barked out instructing foot passengers to make their way to the coach that would drive them to the ferry. First of all we were subjected to a similarly enthusiastic ticket inspection and then the bags were run through an aged security scanner that failed to detect my belt and rolled all the bags down into a big heap at the bottom of a ramp.

It was only about 50 yards to the ferry but I suppose health and safety prevented us striking out alone over such a long distance. I didn’t mind because it had started raining again.

If a grand total of 18 foot passengers on the bus hadn’t alerted me to the possibility the ferry might not be filled to capacity, the fact that the escalators had been turned off and we had to zigzag our way up a ramp all the way to deck 7 in order to board certainly brought the matter to my attention.

There were a couple of crew members to welcome us on board after our successful ascent and a couple of passengers standing around looking as if they were wondering whether they had boarded the wrong ship.

A brief inspection of the upper decks revealed 20 people in the one restaurant that they had bothered to open, six people getting pissed in the bar (all British) two people in the duty free (also British) and another 50 or so milling around in the lounges trying to find their assigned seats. I couldn’t work that one out; in spite of the ship sailing at 5% capacity and leaving 10 minutes early because all the passengers were on board, everyone seemed to be careful to ensure they sat in the correct seat. There were 100 seats in my lounge and only 10 people, but I had been assigned a seat next to a portly gent who was already spilling over into my seat. Even if he hadn’t chosen that moment to break wind I still would have found someone else to kip down.

I wandered off to some executive lounge where the seats reclined an additional 3 degrees and were upholstered in a dark purple rather than a garish orange and lay down to sleep by the window. I slept peacefully until four retired blokes came in at around 2am and then turned on their flashlights to try and find their seats. I should point out there were two other people in the room and I was laying on the floor so there were 98 seats to choose from, but it was clear they wanted to match the seat number with the number on their ticket. I’d spotted them in the café earlier and overheard them discussing the merit of having a spirit level on a camera tripod so I knew they could be trouble, nevertheless I didn’t think they could spend 10 minutes fucking around in the dark each holding a high intensity halogen flashlight.

I think I may have been laying in front of one of their seats because I suddenly became aware of someone standing over me. i turned over and looked up to see which fuckwit was shining a flashlight in my face and the guy started talking to me in bad French with a Yorkshire accent. It only took a moment for him to comprehend the expression on my face and he wandered back to his mates where I overheard him say “there’s a French guy in my seat, I’ll just take one of these empty seats” Bingo.

I woke up at 5am and the four guys were already up and drinking tea out of a flask and eating sandwiches they had prepared for the trip. I went for a final inspection around the decks, the emptiness was starting to spook me out. There were a couple of guys in the corridor drinking lager from cans, two more sitting in armchairs exclaiming in loud voices how much they hated France and a French guy out on deck smoking a fag. It was as if we dropped down to 1% capacity overnight, I certainly didn’t notice us making a port of call at any point during the sailing.

It turned out everyone else was in the café wolfing down lukewarm English breakfasts and drinking mugs of tea. I got myself a coffee and listened to two blokes who were settling for a liquid breakfast talking about the perils of long distance truck driving.

When it came to disembarking a small crowd gathered around the deck 7 and we were off the ferry, through immigration and into France in 3 minutes. It was then I realized I’d left my Euros on the shelf in the hall at my parent’s house.


2 Responses to “Ferries”

  1. Jan Says:

    So what did the Yorkshireman say?

    “Ay-oop, je m’excuse monsieur, nessun dorma bien? ” That would be pretty bad.

  2. Pseu Says:

    Excellent recount of your ferry crossing. I hope you found a cash point promptly.

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