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  • Writer's pictureJustin Merrigan

The Channel Islands with Condor Ferries

Jersey via Poole with Condor Voyager and Condor Liberation

Condor Voyager Guernsey
Condor Voyager © Tony Rive

For more than 30 years, Condor Ferries has operated passenger services between the Channel Islands, the United Kingdom and France. However, the company’s history dates back much further to 1947 when it operated as Commodore Shipping and provided the first lifeline freight services to the Channel Islands. More recently, there have been significant changes, both in terms of the markets Condor Ferries services and how it operates.

In November 2019, the Columbia Threadneedle European Sustainable Infrastructure Fund (ESIF), in consortium with Brittany Ferries, acquired Condor Ferries from Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA). Brittany Ferries holds a minority stake in the Guernsey-based company.

Each year, Condor carries approximately one million passengers, almost 200,000 passenger vehicles, and over 900,000 freight lane metres between Guernsey, Jersey, the UK, and Saint Malo. In doing so the company supports the three main strands of the Channel Islands’ economy by bringing in tourists, delivering essential freight services and providing year-round travel for islanders.

On the freight side of the business, Condor Ferries delivers a daily service to Jersey and Guernsey along with a weekly rotation to Saint Malo with the freight-only Commodore Goodwill and the RoPax Commodore Clipper.

RoPax Commodore Clipper Jersey
Commodore Clipper loading at St Helier, Jersey. © Justin Merrigan

In July 2021 Condor sold the Incat 86 metre high speed craft Condor Rapide to Spanish firm Trasmapi and replaced her with Incat 98 metre craft Normandie Express from the Brittany Ferries fleet. As Condor Voyager she is based in Saint Malo for services from there to Jersey and Guernsey with additional crossings to Poole alongside Condor Liberation.

Keen to see Condor Voyager in her new role, we took the opportunity to visit Jersey for a weekend at the end of July 2022, sailing from Poole in the high speed craft Condor Liberation and returning in the fleet newcomer.

Outward from Poole in the Condor Liberation © Justin Merrigan

Jersey lighthouse
La Corbière lighthouse © Justin Merrigan

Technical problems can affect all ferry operators from time-to-time, and so it was with Condor Liberation for our outward sailing – crossing to St Helier at a slow 13-15 knots. Looking for a positive, on what was a gloriously sunny day it did however give us a pleasing cruise past the islands of Alderney, Sark and Guernsey before arriving in Jersey four hours late.

Jersey is a beautiful island, with much to see and do. From World War II bunkers to beautiful castles and the breathtaking La Corbière lighthouse, towering over the island’s south-western corner, flanked by rocks and reached by a causeway. Also worth visiting, the Jersey War Tunnels are particularly fascinating. This vast network of underground tunnels was designed to allow the German occupying infantry to withstand Allied air raids and bombardment in the event of an invasion. In 1943, it was converted into an emergency hospital. A lot to fit in to a very short stay but certainly a taster for a future visit.!

Jersey's stunning shoreline. © Justin Merrigan

All too soon it was time to leave with a morning sailing of Condor Voyager. Built in Tasmania in 2000 the craft had a rather glamorous start to life. During sea trials in August of that year she was the centre of media attention carrying the Olympic Torch from the Hobart suburb of Kingston to the former convict settlement at Port Arthur on Tasmania’s south-east coast. That evening, after the flame was flown by helicopter to the suburb of Bellerive, the craft ferried the torch across the Derwent River to Watermans Dock in downtown Hobart.

Incat Tasmania passes under the Sydney Harbour Bridge in August 2000. © Incat

Prior to taking up commercial service, named Incat Tasmania, she dominated the North West waterfront of Sydney’s Darling Harbour while on charter to the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) for use as a business networking venue for the duration of the Sydney Olympics. The new vessel was a major drawcard in Sydney and a unique onboard attraction was the famed Hales Trophy for the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, loaned for the occasion by Scandlines, then owner of the current record holder, the Incat 91 metre Mads Mols. By the end of the Games over 20,000 VIPs from Australia and around the world had been entertained on board the craft. Her duties complete, she turned her bows towards Hobart where she was fitted out in readiness for a new career in New Zealand as The Lynx, on a three year charter to Tranz Rail.

In 2005 the catamaran was taken on charter by Brittany Ferries. During its delivery voyage from Hobart to Roscoff the newly-named Normandie Express detoured to Indonesia with aid for victims of the Asian tsunami disaster. A joint effort by Brittany Ferries, Incat, the Tasmanian Government and AusAid, she delivered 80 pallets of bottled drinking water, 320 large (including multi-roomed) tents accommodating up to 2500 people, several donated 4WD vehicles including a fire truck, 40 sewage treatment systems to cater for many thousands of people, medical supplies, bedding items, baby food and other non-perishable food items. The Australian Government through AusAid coordinated the offload in Jakarta and the entire shipment was delivered directly into Banda Aceh to assist with the relief efforts. Also on board, catching a lift to the English Channel ,was the yacht Sill et Veolia which had been forced to retire into Hobart from the Vendee Globe solo round the world race after suffering keel damage. Solo sailor Roland Jourdain was third in the race when forced to withdraw.

Entering service on the routes between Portsmouth, Cherbourg and Caen the Normandie Express proved extremely popular with her short crossing times. Two years later Brittany Ferries announced the purchase of the vessel in January 2007.

Now the ship is enjoying another new career, with Condor Ferries on the exposed western English Channel. On the morning of our sailing departure from St Helier was punctual to the minute and a fast 35 knots passage to Poole via Guernsey was enjoyed. Condor Voyager has accommodation for 850 passengers and 235 cars. Despite a full car deck the cabin, with its open-plan layout, felt uncrowded and service at all the outlets - two bars, a cafe and a duty free shop - was quick and friendly. Overall the craft presented extremely well.

Onboard the Condor Voyager sailing from Jersey to Poole © Justin Merrigan

For 2023 Condor Ferries has added additional services to its timetable in response to customer demand. This will be particularly welcome as Guernsey is set to hold the biannual International Island Games, bringing competitors and spectators to the destination. The advice from Condor? Book 2023 sailings early as it expects increasing passenger demand!

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