Honfleur vs Rusadir

In April Balearia introduced the effectively brand new Rusadir (ex-Honfleur) onto their route between Malaga and the Spanish enclave of Melilla in north Africa. The history of this ship is quite well known so I don’t plan to recount it in detail here; however, in summary, she was ordered by Brittany Ferries at FSG in Flensburg, Germany in 2017 for the Portsmouth-Ouistreham route and was cancelled by that company in June 2020 when already a year overdue. The incomplete vessel subsequently passed to Siem Industries who, after having the ship completed in Norway and Poland, finally placed it on a seven-month charter with Balearia for the summer of 2023.

Brittany Ferries’ Honfleur as originally conceived
The Rusadir at Malaga.

Whilst the ship’s convoluted history is of interest and Brittany Ferries’ original LNG concept involving fuelling the vessel by driving tankers on board the upper vehicle deck was innovative, this piece is concerned more with the ship’s interior, which Brittany Ferries concepts have survived and how she fits into that company’s distinctive design history.

The Honfleur was largely conceived before Brexit and was ordered before Covid, at a time when the financial and operational climate was very different to the one prevailing when the order was cancelled in 2020. The ship was planned as a successor to the Normandie of 1992 and as counterpart to the Mont St Michel of 2002, large day/night cruise ferries with twin freight decks and relatively expensively fitted-out, custom-designed interiors. On board, the Honfleur was, at least in part, expected to continue this tradition and Brittany Ferries had again appointed their longstanding interior designers AIA to co-ordinate the project, who in turn commissioned a series of works of art to decorate the ship. As it turned out, this would be AIA’s last commission for the company.

The Mont St Michel
The Rusadir.

Although much of the final fitting out work was completed after Brittany Ferries cancelled the contract, in layout, furniture and fittings the Rusadir remains very much the Honfleur. The most visible changes are probably the loss of most of those specially commissioned artworks which has left the Rusadir with plenty of blank bulkheads (what has happened to many of these pieces is open to question but a few have slowly begun to appear on other newly-commissioned Brittany Ferries ships).

The Rusadir on her berth at Malaga. In current service the ship is perhaps unique as a modern, large car ferry which utilises bow loading only, the stern door not being compatible without further work.
The bow doors, like the rest of the ship’s vehicle access equipment, were supplied by MacGregor and are similar to those installed on the Amorique and Mont St Michel.

At the core of the vessel are the twin freight decks. Using the Mont St Michel as the reference, the latter ship’s lower hold has been eliminated, sacrificing its useful 240 lane metres. However, dredging works to the turning circle at space-restricted Ouistreham meant that the Honfleur could be longer by almost 14 metres. In addition, the ship is broader in the beam than the Mont St Michel, by some 2.5m, which, alongside a slightly more efficient design of her centre casing against the earlier ship’s side casings, allows an extra lane of freight to be carried. All in, therefore, the Honfleur was designed to be able to carry 2,400 lane metres compared to the Mont St Michel’s 2,250. As on the earlier ship, a two-way tilting ramp is provided between the lower and upper freight deck and mezzanines are fitted on the upper deck; even when the latter are deployed the height underneath is still enough to accommodate SUVs and camper vans.

Looking aft on the lower (main) vehicle deck with access ramp to the upper deck on the starboard side.
Looking forward to the relatively narrow opening provided by the forward doors.
The ramp in its lowered position.
The upper vehicle deck (Deck 5) with the mezzanines lowered. Even in this configuration there remains sufficient clearance here for taller cars and camper vans.
The mezzanine level (Deck 6) has lower headroom and is suitable for cars only.
Looking forward on Deck 6 with the mezzanines deployed but the ramps down to Deck 5 raised and the upper vehicle deck’s bow door closed.

Whilst comparisons to the Mont St Michel are valid, the Honfleur project also seems to have drawn heavily on what was at the time Brittany Ferries’ most recent purpose-build, the Armorique of 2009. Externally, although far from sister ships, the two vessels bear certain similarities in profile, certainly when compared to the modified Van der Giessen design of the Mont St Michel. This in part reflects the broadly similar general arrangement where a horizontal split of the passenger spaces was adopted for both Armorique and Honfleur, the vehicle decks being surmounted by two saloon decks with cabins on top (on the Mont St Michel and Normandie the cabin areas are sited forward and aft of the public rooms which are spread across three decks). On board it is perhaps fair to say that the Honfleur would have been influenced by both ships, the planned décor being something of a compromise between the quite lavish and expensively-detailed concepts of the Mont St Michel and the deliberately more economic and workaday interior of the Armorique.

Rusadir and Armorique: hardly sister ships but with some similarities in massing and detailing. The common arrangement of a horizontal accommodation split with cabin decks above the passenger saloons is also obvious.

The general arrangement of the passenger spaces follows what had become a typical Brittany Ferries ro-pax design of a forward reclining seat lounge on the lower passenger decks with the self service restaurant directly above. The lower deck, Deck 7, contains facilities broadly similar to that of the Armorique, although the port-side arcade of that ship is modified so that there are broad passageways on both beams leading fore and aft between the reception lobby and the seating lounges forward.

A ‘Premium’ reclining seat lounge has been installed on the port side of the forward area; with Balearia this is the more expensive ‘Neptuno’ seating. For Brittany Ferries, it seems, this space was to have been similar to the concept on board the Barfleur where more comfortable seating and hot drinks are provided – but not a formal Club Lounge offering in the same way as other UK-based operators (a genuine First Class lounge, with all the trimmings, still seems too much for an egalitarian French company like Brittany Ferries to consider). The various reclining seat lounges are fitted with inexpensive, out-of-the-catalogue marine seating – I suspect these aren’t the seats Brittany Ferries would have installed had the ship been delivered to them. Similar to the Armorique a snack bar is situated in this area, still called ‘Le Café’ on the Rusadir’s deck plans with a central area of open plan seating directly overlooking the bow.

Le Café lobby seating area.
Le Café servery area.
Central seating, forward of Le Café and overlooking the bow.
Standard reclining seat lounge, forward to port.
‘Neptuno’ Premium seating on the Rusadir, located on the port side forward. Photography by Loic Pilon was to have featured as the artwork here
Looking aft along the starboard side on Deck 7 with general seating area opening onto the forward of the two main internal staircases.
Deck 7 port arcade seating area as conceived for Honfleur from a Brittany Ferries publicity image
The same area on Rusadir with spaces originally intended for artworks largely left blank.

Heading aft and, again broadly conforming to the plan of the Armorique, a pair of cinemas can be found inbound from the port arcade, the forward of which has had its seating removed and converted to a mosque (somewhat incongruously the gentle slope of the cinema’s tiered flooring plan remains). Aft again is the large Duty Free shop, not currently used by Balearia, which would have opened on to both port and starboard arcades.

On the port side are what were originally designated as a pair of cinemas. One remains in this guise, as pictured.
The other has been converted into use as a mosque.
Deck 7 port-side arcade with the closed doors of the large Duty Free Shop to the left.

At the after end of the superstructure (but only approximately amidships on the vessel as a whole) is the Reception desk, facing outwards and forwards towards the port side arcade. Brittany Ferries had claimed that the ship’s “information desk will be fully adapted to the digital age. Designed to simplify communication, it will provide passengers with information about their destination and the vessel, as well as allowing them to book future crossings. Large screens will present, for example, services available on board, places to visit on arrival at a destination and connection times” but there is not much evidence of this left. A video wall and a small grouping of seating fronts onto the desk with more general seating down the port side aft. On the centreline, facing into the reception lobby, is the blank bulkhead of the central casing behind which the staircases lead down to the vehicle deck. A set of spotlights are aimed at the wall here, suggesting that it was intended to be the location for another, prominent piece of artwork.

The reception area of the Honfleur, as planned.
The same space on the Rusadir.
Looking aft with the video wall on the right and ‘Info Lounge’ in the aft port side corner of the public areas, opening onto the outside deck.
The ‘Info Lounge’.
The blank bulkhead facing the reception desk which would perhaps have been the location of a signature piece of artwork.

Aft and to starboard is one of the more intriguing spaces, what was to have been the ‘Loft Lounge’ with Brittany Ferries, seemingly aimed at teenagers. A mosaic-effect painting by the modernist pop artist Leonore Alexandre on the concepts of “Joy, England and Normandy” had been acquired for display here. Some of the more expensive pieces of fixtures and fittings have seemingly been removed by Balearia but the lounge’s bold burgundy colour scheme is quite effective; the disc-shaped ceiling treatment is quite similar to that of the Armorique. As with many of the passenger spaces the opportunity has been taken to install cushions into the deep circular window recesses, providing extra seating capacity as well as unique vantage or resting points.

What was supposed to be the Loft Lounge is aft on the starboard side of Deck 7.
‘Joy!’ by Leonore Alexandre was commissioned by AIA and intended to decorate the Loft Lounge.
Another view of the Loft Lounge showing tiered seating and enclosed areas. It’s not clear how this space would have been used in Brittany Ferries service.

Forward on Deck 8 is the large, 300-seat self service restaurant, planned to have been named ‘Le Marche’ and intended to be decorated with paintings by the American artist Karen Silve. The basics of the design, including the furniture, have been preserved but the more extravagant touches like the decorative features embedded in the bulkheads forward and what appears to be a glass-panelled partition have been dispensed with. Some of Karen Silve’s artwork has since been installed on board Brittany Ferries’ new e-flexer the Salamanca. The servery area is found on the aft port quarter of the space whilst a childrens’ play area is to starboard. The décor is largely neutral with colour being delivered by the seating, the inside of the window recesses and the edges of ceiling panels which, on either beam, pick up the prevailing colour scheme.

Honfleur’s Le Marche self service restaurant, as planned
The same area on the Rusadir
Seven paintings by Karen Silve were commissioned for this space, including four from her ‘My View’ series, such as this one titled ‘My View III’. This piece, and some of the other Silve paintings, have now been placed on Brittany Ferries’ new Salamanca
Another view of the central seating area of what was to have been Le Marche
The forward area of the self service restaurant with the large blank bulkheads on the left visible on which some of Karen Silve’s works would have been mounted
The self service restaurant’s servery area is located to the port side
Inside the servery area looking aft
On the starboard side, open to the seating area, is this small childrens’ play area

Circulation on Deck 8 is via an arcade offset to starboard, heading aft towards the main bar. It is off this that perhaps the most unique part of the ship’s accommodation can be found: a series of four small lounges along the starboard side, open to the arcade but each with different décor. Brittany Ferries named these the Amber, Topaz, Ruby and Crystal lounges but on the Honfleur they have new names: Whisky, Gin etc. BF publicity had claimed that, “to extend the bar experience our passengers will enjoy more intimate spaces. Four small salons with four chromatic universes: Amber, Topaz, Ruby and Chrystal. Iconic furniture from French and Italian designers as well as a chromatic theme, allow you to dive into the very heart of well-being and the celebration of the holidays”.

The four small side lounges stretching out along the starboard side of Deck 8; the nearest is now named the Champagne Lounge

The success, or not, of these spaces probably depends on how busy the sailing is. On our crossing with around 300 people on board they effectively became private lounges on a first come, first served basis with everybody being too polite to sit down in such a small space when a group of passengers (or even just one passenger) had already occupied part of one. That may, or may not, be a nice feature but the overall impression is less the heart of well-being and more of a stroll through a small IKEA and past a series of perfectly designed small show lounges.

What is now the Whisky Lounge as envisaged by AIA for Brittany Ferries.
The Whisky Lounge on Rusadir: the ceiling treatment has been toned down but it has otherwise largely been completed as planned
The open plan nature of the lounges is evident in this view
As with other parts of the accommodation the lounges feature seating built into the curves of the superstructure windows, seen here in the Champagne Lounge

A boutique (the only retail outlet open in the ship’s Rusadir guise) can be found inboard of the arcade and its lounges, as can empty alcoves which would have housed vending or gaming machines had the ship operated for Brittany Ferries.

The small boutique which, in Balearia service, serves as the only shop on board
Inboard and adjacent to the boutique is the forward of the two main internal staircases – unlike on other Brittany Ferries purpose-built ships the decision was made to not make a feature of any of the staircases and these are nicely detailed but unobtrusive

Continuing astern we come next to the bar in the superstructure’s aft starboard quarter, which was to have been named the Bar de la Baie. The colour here is mostly kept to the perimeter with the red, blue and yellow accents on the seating looking out through the large circular windows somewhat reminiscent of that in Le Grand Pavois bar on the Pont-Aven. In contrast the central seating is predominantly grey in colour and faces inwards or towards the small stage on the ship’s centreline, hidden behind a dark curtain when not in use. Photographs by Mathieu Rivrin were to have decorated this area.

The main bar area, looking aft on the Rusadir; this was to have been the Bar de la Baie on the Honfleur
Artist’s impression of Bar de la Baie
Visible on the bulkheads in the artist’s impression are some of the series of photographs by Mathieu Rivrin which were to have been displayed in this area, including this one depicting Mont St Michel
The forward section of bar seating with the bar counter to the right
Decor in the centre section of seating is predominantly grey

The last of the public spaces is the 122 seat waiter service restaurant. This would have been the Giverny Restaurant on the Honfleur, named in honour of the Normandy village in which the impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and died. The English artist Wayne Sleeth was given the commission for this space, producing works inspired by visits to Giverny which he hoped would “echo” Monet but, when studied up close, would prove to be much more contemporary. The restaurant is not generally used by Balearia and, without its intended artworks, seems somewhat soulless on the Rusadir and will probably only be used as additional passenger lounge space during the busy season.

The Giverny Restaurant as originally conceived
The largely out-of-use space on the Rusadir
One of Wayne Sleeth’s paintings intended for the Honfleur’s restaurant
Another of the Sleeth artworks
Looking astern with one of the restaurant’s buffet counters in the foreground
The view across to port showing how, apart from the missing artwork, most of the rest of the design and its furniture was completed as planned

The ship’s passenger cabins are spread across Decks 9 and 10 and are solid, if not spectacular, in concept but nonetheless well designed and furnished. They vary from very small two berth insides to six berth family cabins and some larger deluxe suites. An Owner’s Suite with double bed, separate lounge and walk-in shower is provided forward on Deck 9.

The lowest-grade cabins are very small two berth insides like this one on Deck 9
Standard four berth cabin from one of Brittany Ferries’ artist’s impressons
A similar cabin on board the Rusadir
One of the Rusadir’s larger, six berth cabins
A BF preview of one of the Honfleur’s deluxe cabins
The same grade of cabin on the Rusadir
An alternative version of the deluxe cabins on the Rusadir features twin beds rather than a double
The deluxe cabins were to have featured artworks by Mark Van Wagner
A BF impression of the owner’s suite
The same room as completed on the Rusadir, with undecorated bulkheads © Seven Yield
The cabin corridors are quite smartly detailed if again lacking in the planned artwork; pictured is Deck 10
Deck 9 cabin area

Outside deck space is relatively plentiful but is rather stacked one level upon another. Frustratingly on the upper levels it is impossible to get from one side of the ship to another without either heading inside or going downstairs to Deck 7. Sun loungers and general seating are provided in certain sections but the view astern over the LNG plant is not the most appealing vista.

The somewhat stacked-up starboard side outside decks of the Rusadir, seen from Deck 7
One of the short promenade decks at either side of the after accommodation block on Deck 7
Deck 10 to port is fitted with plastic sun loungers and is notionally a pet area with a dog loo provided
Deck 10 on the starboard side
The view astern showing the ship’s LNG plant
The uppermost deck, Deck 12, with its helipad is not usually available for passenger use
The Rusadir en-route to Melilla

Even without the finishing decorative touches that the ship would have been given had she entered service with Brittany Ferries it is clear that the Rusadir is a vessel of high quality and good workmanship. Assuming the ship is technically running as expected the main question for Balearia, no doubt, is the price tag – both the charter rate or potential purchase price but also the ship’s operating economics. It’s not clear exactly how much her current owners have her in the books at but such a ship, effectively brand new, would likely be a substantial commitment for any ferry company.

The short and beamy Rusadir was designed for a very specific port pair for a company which had a quite particular service concept. As such it’s likely she will never quite be optimal for any other operator. However the ship’s underlying quality, all being well now backed by a proven and reliable spell in service, will hopefully guarantee her future – be it with Balearia or elsewhere.

The Rusadir at Malaga.
The Rusadir at Malaga.

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