You would think it is quite easy – just ride down to the port and push your bike onboard? Simple – n’ est-ce pas? Well it would and should be but ideally the guys operating need to be a tiny bit more user friendly than they are at present. On the whole it is not a complete nightmare getting on-board at any of the ferry ports used like Portsmouth, Poole, Ouistreham, Cherbourg or St.Malo for example but it could be a little less fraught. So it is well worth bearing in mind a few simple things to remember.
When using the ferries please bear in mind that the whole system has been designed to get cars and lorries on board as quickly and efficiently as possible, then the foot passengers then everyone else i.e. the cyclists. Every year the number of cyclists grows but the plan for loading/unloading them doesn’t seem to evolve much. Ideally cyclists need to get down as early as possible to avoid waiting around in all sorts of weather. This doesn’t guarantee success and I have been soaked a few times at Portsmouth waiting for up a couple of hours in the rain whilst other vehicle types have taken precedence.
There will invariably be a bit of a ramp to ascend (particularly with the big boats) so make sure you are not encumbered with any heavy luggage even if you are getting relieved of your load at the other end. If it has been raining the surfaces will be slippery – particularly the metal bits between the ramp and the ferry – so be careful. Beware, especially at night, of other traffic – Portsmouth can be a little scary as you compete for space with huge trucks for road space.
So now you are on board having negotiated a few challenges and you want to stow your bike safely and securely. Don’t expect much in the way of security and all the bikes are lumped in together sometimes with only a rope cordon for security. Many a time I have had nightmares during the crossing about my highly expensive beauty going missing and having to face the ignominy of walking off the boat bike-less (although happily this has so far proved groundless). If you want any extra security you will just have to provide it yourself but there is not a great deal to lock the bike to. On the smaller ferries bikes can be open to the elements so if you have anything ‘non salt water resistant’ take it with you. One final tip – when going through passport control have your passport in a convenient pocket – I was once given a severe dressing down for thoughtlessly carrying mine between my teeth (apparently saliva is a major carrier of disease!!!!)
Anyway here are our top tips for getting on and off:
Get to the port as early as possible but it won't guarantee you precedence.
Make sure you are water proof while you wait
Make sure you are ‘hi-viz’ and well lit up- front and rear lights!
Be extra vigilant of other traffic
Make sure you are well balanced getting on and off
Don’t expect any cycle friendly lanes or treatment particularly from the crew (although they will do their best you are not a priority).