Every year millions of passengers worldwide rely on ferry
operators to help make their journeys smooth ones. With
a firm commitment to safety and security, you can rest assured
that all the ferries have carefully and thoroughly planned
every element of your journey to help reduce the stresses
To help you be prepared for
your next ferry crossing Ferry Crossing Europe would like
to offer some suggestions on how you can travel safely on
your next trip. Click on a heading below for more details
and suggestions for each stage of your journey.
Channel Tunnel vs Ferries
Things are definitely changing in the cross-Channel
travel marketplace as competition reaches new levels and travellers
become aware of their power when it comes to choosing their methods
of transport to the continent and beyond. Things used to be very
easy, if you wanted to get to France you simply got on and off
a ferry. Those days are firmly in the past. Travellers now have
the option to travel by sea (ferries), under the sea (tunnels)
or over the sea (aircraft). Following closely in the footsteps
of Eurotunnel are the low cost airlines. They are the latest to
make major inroads into this particular travel market. As a result
of all this, ferry companies have now got major competition, which
in turn drives down prices which can only benefit the traveller.
About the Ferry and Channel Tunnel Market
During 2004 the total cross Channel trips
fell by around 5% compared to 2003, with the ferries and
reporting disappointing figures. Passenger traffic on the
ferries was 3% down in 2004, while passenger traffic through
Tunnel increased by 12%. This decrease in the number
of trips taken by United Kingdom consumers during 2004,
is expected to continue in the short term at least. The
Euro currency has made the price of goods in Europe more
expensive for the British. And a sharp rise in French tobacco
taxes and aggressive United Kingdom high street prices has
also made travellers reconsider the benefits of making that
shopping trip across the Channel.
The History of Ferries, Ferry Ports and the Channel Tunnel
19th century paddle-steamers were a huge advance,
they suddenly appeared at a time when travel was slow, very expensive
and nearly always dangerous. Only the very rich could take holidays
and when ordinary people travelled abroad it was mostly soldiers,
sailors or pilgrims.
Crossing the English Channel by Sailing Ship
Ships crossing the channel were usually at the
mercy of tides and weather and until the late 19th century, landing
on shore was a big problem - harbours on both sides of the channel
were shallow and not protected against storms. Ships usually had
to wait offshore at the ports until the tide was high enough to
enter or else they had to cross to the beach in small rowing boats.
Sometimes this small boat trip would cost more than the channel
Paddle-Steamers and Steamships
During 1820 the French government bought a Glasgow-built
paddle-steamer called the "Rob Roy", to carry post from
Calais to Dover. It proved extremely fast and reliable and in
1822, a Dover company purchased two paddle steamers to carry Post
Office mail and passengers across the English channel. These were
very small boats by today's ferries. These paddle steamers had
wooden hulls, around 30hp engines, weighed about 100tons, were
15ft wide and over 80ft long. Because these ships were very small
they rolled about in the waves making passengers very seasick,
there was also very little shelter onboard these vessels too.
Boulogne versus Calais
During the 1840s long distance railways were built
and brought more passengers to the channel ports. This is when
Boulogne began rivalry with Calais to develop their ferry trade.
The English South Eastern Railway company preferred the Boulogne-Folkestone
route as an alternative to Calais-Dover mainly because of problems
with Dover harbour. They were able to purchase and develop the
port of Folkestone (only a few miles from Dover), from where they
operated a fleet of steamships with connecting train services
between London and Paris. This service was initially aimed at
the more wealthy traveller.
Around the1850s most ships were powered by sail.
Paddle steamers still kept masts and sails in case their engines
broke down. Small steam ferries could usually make a fast crossing
whatever the direction of the wind.
Towards the end of the 19th century, better deep-water
harbours were built on both sides of the channel. The Admiralty
Pier was Dover's first deep-water berth. After 1850 ferries could
land their passengers at any state of the tide without having
to pass the shallow inner harbour entrance.
Dover Naval Harbour
During 1895 the Admiralty decided to build a large
deep-water anchorage and naval base at Dover in order to help
defend the South east coast. The harbour was completed in 1909
by which time torpedoes and longer range guns had been developed.
This hugely expensive outer harbour became a bonus to the ferry
companies at the Royal Navy's expense.
Traditional cross channel travellers had always
been foot passengers. They would arrive at the port by horse-drawn
stage-coach, then steam-train and then embark on the ferry with
their luggage. Due to the growing popularity of motoring, Captain
Townsend purchased and converted an old minesweeper for people
who wanted to take their car with them on a motoring holiday.
Like other cross-channel travel, most of the demand was from the
United Kingdom side. Cars were initially loaded onto the Dover-Calais
car ferry by crane. 6,000 cars were transported in the first year
and that figure rose to 31,000 in 1939, before the outbreak of
the Second World War which obviously interrupted all services.
After the war "drive on" ferry terminals were built
both in Dover and Calais. They were opened in 1953 and had moveable
loading bridges, so that cars could drive on whatever the state
of the tide in the English Channel.
The Train Ferry
Sometime in 1936, the Southern Railway company
and the SNCF French train service invested in train ferry docks
at Dover and Dunkerque. These ships had rails on the cargo deck
to carry railway carriages and wagons. The ship ran into a dock
where the water level could be adjusted so that the trains could
run off the ship onto the tracks. The "Night Ferry"
train had through coaches between London and Paris, while the
famous "Golden Arrow" used the Dover-Calais route, with
separate trains either side of the channel. These rich passengers
had a small walk on and off the SS Canterbury (later called the
SS Invicta), which was specially furnished for their benefit.
During 1959 a hovercraft successfully navigated
the channel, landing on the beach inside Dover harbour. This British
invention promised to revolutionise cross-channel travel. It offered
a fast crossing without the initial investment in building a tunnel
which would be needed for high-speed trains. Hovercraft were successfully
made bigger so that they could carry hundreds of passengers and
cars, but these vessels could not cope with rough weather. "Hoverpads"
were then built at Calais, Boulogne, Pegwell Bay near Ramsgate,
and in Dover harbour. British Rail, SNCF, and Hoverspeed all competed
to develop the hovercraft. Unfortunately hovercraft were made
uneconomic by the rise in fuel prices in the 1970's. They used
fuel heavily just to stay up as well as to move. The last hovercraft
service was withdrawn in 2000.
Tunnel schemes were talked about even in
the 18th century, and serious construction work started
on both sides in 1881 which was only halted by political
rather than engineering problems. Work then re-commenced
a century later in the 1980s, and the Channel
Tunnel was at last opened in 1994. The train ferry was
discontinued at this time.