The 30th September 2005 saw the final P&O sailings between the ports of Portsmouth and Le Havre, a route that symbolised the end of British-based western channel services. The western channel being left in the hands of the well known Brittany Ferries group and the new LD Lines (Louis Dreyfous).
41 years after Otto Thoresen opened the western channel route to Le Havre, originally from Southampton, but moving to Portsmouth in the late eighties. The closure of the Le Havre service marked the end of P&O's business review, which in September 2004 rocked the ferry world when they announced that not only would the Portsmouth to Le Havre service end, but also the equally historic Portsmouth to Cherbourg service.
Initially both routes were to be terminated at the end of 2004, however the Le Havre route was given, what was believed to be a reprieve when Brittany Ferries entered the scene and began negotiations with P&O to sub-charter the two ships Pride of Portsmouth and Pride of Le Havre along with the crews. Brittany Ferries planned to continue the route using the same ships, but operating a tri-angle system so that they operated to and from Le Havre overnight, with the one ship operating a round trip from Le Havre during the day and the other ship doing a round trip to Cherbourg from Portsmouth during the day. The handover was planned to be the end of September 2005, but sadly during a British Monopolies and Mergers commission investigation into the above mentioned transaction, Brittany Ferries withdrew from the deal in early 2005. The axe once again was looming for the ships, the route and finally the crews. It was announced that the route would close after the summer season, and the 30th September would be a day to remember.
Both the Pride of Portsmouth and Pride of Le Havre have served the Portsmouth to Le Havre route faithfully for 11 years following their introduction in 1994. The ships were charted from their owners following the closure of the Sheerness to Vlissingen route due to union action and at the time it was quite a coup for P&O to obtain these vessels as they were highly sought after due to the high standard of onboard layout and fittings.
There are many thoughts as to why the Portsmouth operations failed, but these are in the past and cannot change what is done.
So the sad day arrived, 30th September 2005. A cold wet morning in Portsmouth seemed to echo the occasion, the Pride of Portsmouth was sat on her berth awaiting loading for her final sailing to Le Havre. The terminal staff were in good spirits despite their jobs ending that day and were happy to help and assist to the last.
The ship itself was reasonably loaded with passengers, the majority probably unaware of the significance of the crossing although there were a proportion of the passengers that were only to aware of what the day meant. Onboard were a group of press agents, P&O management and of course a large group of Ferry Enthusiasts who had travelled from all over the country to travel one last time and to wish the crew, many of whom regular travelling enthusiasts considered friends all the best for the future.
The departure saw more than normal amounts of people on deck for the morning sailing to Le Havre, the ship slipped the moorings on-time at 8.30am and after swinging off the berth in front of Brittany Ferries Mont St Michel the ship headed out through the Naval Dockyard and out into the channel. Looking around the ship you could see the pride and professionalism of the crew, the ship was clean, tidy and apart from various shop announcements informing passengers about special discounts for the final sailing to Le Havre you could have been forgiven for mistaking the crossing for a normal everyday occurrence. Mid-way across the channel we passed fellow fleet mate and sister ship the Pride of Le Havre as she sailed in the opposite direction to Portsmouth on her final ever crossing for she was to begin de-storing upon her arrival that afternoon in Portsmouth pending lay-up on the River Fal.
The departure from Le Havre for the final time was unusally delayed due to industrial action by the port workers. The port workers then lined the berth to wave goodbye as the ship slipped here moorings and pulled away. The open decks of the Pride of Portsmouth were full with enthusiasts recording the event and passengers waving back to the port workers. With the flag flying at half mast and to the sound of the ships horn she manoeuvered out into the outer harbour and then through the port entrance. Six hours later, she quietly slipped into a cold and wet Portsmouth harbour having past fleetmate Pride of Le Havre and half-sister Val de Loire outside of the harbour. The Pride of Le Havre anchored and the Val de Loire on her overnight crossing to St Malo for Brittany Ferries.
After spending the weekend being de-stored in Portsmouth the ships headed over to Falmouth and lay-up on the River Fal where they were to remain until transfer to their new owners SNAV in January 2006.
During December 2005 the ships were rotated through dry-dock at Falmouth for all the P&O branding to be removed, the ships were also renamed during this period.