Honfleur takes to the Baltic
In just sixty seconds, Honfleur was transformed from a vast steel structure in an equally cavernous hangar, to a ship afloat in the Baltic Sea. FSG, the shipyard in the far north of Germany where she is being built is the last to have a traditional slipway, on which the hull of each ship is launched backwards into the sea. All such launches are spectacular. But given Honfleur's vast size - her sides almost touched the walls of the hangar built over the slipway - her launch was always going to be particularly dramatic.
Honfleur grew rapidly in the four months following keel-laying in August. By the time the hundreds of shipyard workers, their families, local schoolchildren and the media joined the team from Brittany Ferries for her launch on December 14, her full 187-metre length was already complete and she towered ten metres above the crowds, despite not yet hosting her upper decks.
Starting the day before launch, dozens of supports propping up her hull were knocked away with sledgehammers until her entire 10,000 tonnes rested, perfectly balanced, on her metre-wide keel. Lasers were aimed at her hull to spot any movement as the props were removed, and vast gantry cranes overhead gently placed 10-tonne weights at exactly the right spots on her deck to ensure she remained perfectly balanced.
The sea-doors at the end of the slipway were then opened, allowing the icy waters of the Flensburg fjord to enter and lap gently against her propellors, and the final support was knocked away just half an hour before the launch ceremony.
Speaking to the crowd, Rudiger Fuchs, CEO of FSG praised Honfleur's 'highly innovative, leading edge' design, and said the launch was always the 'major and most emotional moment' in a ship's construction. Jean-Marc Roué, the chairman of Brittany Ferries, said that Honfleur exemplified the cooperation between the 'brother nations' of France, Germany and the UK, but that the joy of her launch was tinged with sadness that the UK had chosen to leave the European Union, a decision he said the company respected.
At noon precisely, after the playing of the national anthems, the final chains holding Honfleur in place were released. A hydraulic ram at her bow end gave her a gentle nudge, and she began to slide backwards towards the sea on a greased wooden runner. Few 10,000 tonne objects will ever accelerate so fast, but her progress was still stately and even. In just 60 seconds her bow had covered the 200 metres from the top of the slipway to the sea and she was afloat: the entire process a miracle of engineering ingenuity.
"It's always a moving occasion," added Christophe Mathieu, the CEO of Brittany Ferries. "It's the moment when this piece of steel becomes a ship, when 'it' becomes 'she'. Ships are very different to other means of transport. Each has a personality, and now that Honfleur is on the water, you can begin to see it."
"The fact that she will be the first gas-powered cross-Channel ferry brings an extra excitement and curiosity. I'm delighted by the crowds that came to see her launch, and that so many media have travelled here to record it."
With her engines aboard but no bridge from which to control them, Honfleur was quickly captured by tugboats and towed to her berth where her upper decks will be craned-on, in two vast prefabricated blocks. Within a week she'll be structurally complete. Rapid progress: but not as rapid or as dramatic as the sixty seconds in which she went to sea for the very first time.