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Vive la révolution!

When a revolutionary Breton farmer linked Brittany with the UK, Brittany Ferries was born
Vive la révolution!

The birth of the Brittany Ferries fleet can be traced back to a revolutionary Breton farmer operating in the early 1970s.

Undeterred by unsupportive banks and the ridicule of shipping operators, Alexis Gourvennec took it upon himself to raise the funds to charter a ship and open a trade route linking the agricultural heartlands of Brittany with the UK.

The timing was right: Britain was about to enter into the European Economic Community (EEC), which Gourvennec believed may weaken internal French markets.

In launching BAI (the fore-runner to Brittany Ferries), Gourvennec and his collective of fellow French farmers aimed to take power from Paris, develop Brittany for the benefit of its people and show the world that a peasant ship owner could make a success of a route that others dismissed as folly.

And so, with a converted tank carrier, the company was launched. Kerisnel set sail from Roscoff on 01 January 1973, the day that Britain joined the EEC, with a cargo of artichokes and cauliflowers destined for Plymouth.

The rest, as they say, is history – but it’s a history with an interesting twist. There was certainly a market for goods exported from western France to the UK, but it soon became clear that the potential was not only in rich agricultural exports, but in the import of British tourists eager to experience for themselves the wider riches of the Brittany region.

Today British visitors comprise the vast majority of Brittany Ferries’ cargo.

But the company has not changed in its raison d’être. Kerisnel was the vehicle to develop regions that had been largely forgotten by more affluent centres of commerce and to improve links with other countries.

42 years on, with 10 routes, 11 ships and crossings to Cork in Ireland and Santander and Bilbao – as well as five between the UK and France – you might well say that the Breton farmers have achieved their aims.

‘If we are proud to be Breton and French, then it is also true that we are also profoundly European. We took risks to help develop our region in the knowledge that this project would not be to the detriment of others, but rather to their benefit too.’

Founding father of Brittany Ferries

This summer, Brittany Ferries completed the final phase of a project to reduce the environmental impact of its fleet.

In total, £60m has been invested over 18 months to install so-called ‘scrubbers’ to six cruise-ferries. These vast and technically complex funnel systems are the maritime equivalent of catalytic convertors in cars, stripping sulphur from emissions and significantly cutting particulates released into the atmosphere.

The project is part of the company’s drive to be guardians of the land as well as stewards of the sea.

Brittany Ferries also works closely with ORCA, a leading whale and dolphin charity dedicated to studying and protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK and European waters.

Wildlife officers use regular sailings to collect vital data on animals sighted from Brittany Ferries vessels and enthuse passengers with interactive talks, children’s activities, quizzes and deck watches.

Working with SAHFOS (Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science), the company’s Plymouth to Roscoff sailings are involved in the world’s oldest continuous environmental survey, measuring the health of seas and oceans.

Continuous plankton recorders (CPRs) are towed by Armorique as part of her day-to-day ferry operations, recording plankton and helping build a picture of changing patterns and migratory trends.

Click here to find out more about Brittany Ferries’ sustainability initiatives.

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