MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Clipper) Portsmouth – Cherbourg (23rd August 2015)

Emma Howe-Andrews, Hazel Pittwood, Jamie Coleman, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather:
Outward - Sea State: 3-4. Wind Direction: W-WSW. Wind Force: 4-6, rain, clearing to scattered sunshine. Poor to good visibility with glare at times.
Return - Sea State: 3-4. Wind Direction: W-SW. Wind Force: 3-4, sunny, excellent visibility

Summary of sightings:

Seabirds:
Gannet Morus bassanus 180
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Herring gull Larus argentatus 10
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus 18
Great black-backed gull Larus marinus 3
Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus 41
Sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Black tern Childonias niger 18
Skua sp. 1

After an efficient check-in at the impressive Portsmouth International Port Terminal, we were rapidly escorted aboard the Commodore Clipper and were greeted by the very friendly Condor Ferries staff, Andy and Alan on the information desk.

With a prompt departure from Portsmouth in rain, we headed to the bridge to be introduced to Captain Steven Leake and his team, who were very welcoming and accommodating. Captain Leake mentioned that dolphins had been sighted just the day before, so our hopes were high!

Manx Shearwater Steve McAusland 03Heading out into the English Channel in a sea state 3 and poor visibility, we were still able to observe a number of gannets, herring gulls, manx shearwaters and a single skua. After some time, the rain stopped; which improved visibility and even brought some scattered sunshine, and at times glare.

It remained quiet as we travelled across the channel for both cetacean and birds and during this time, 2nd Officer, Gerard Rickett showed us a record in the ship's log about a dead whale that had been reported by the Coastguard over the past couple of days. He also showed us on the chart how the ship would navigate into Cherbourg harbour and told us that a Pilot would shortly be joining us to assist with manoeuvres. It was fascinating!

With no cetaceans recorded, the ship arrived in Cherbourg and after a quick turnaround; we headed back into the channel for the return crossing to Portsmouth. It was now a beautiful afternoon, with excellent visibility and sunny conditions, and we remained hopeful when we began to observe a large number of birds. This included sightings of Black Tern, Fulmar and Sooty Shearwater skimming across the waves.

GBB Gull Adrian Shephard 04With no cetaceans recorded, the ship arrived in Cherbourg and after a quick turnaround we headed back into the Channel for the return crossing to Portsmouth. It was now a beautiful afternoon with excellent visibility and sunny conditions and we remained hopefl when we began to observe a large number of birds. This included sightings of black terns, fulmar and sooty shearwarers skimming across the waves.

Despite the wonderful weather, we soon saw the Isle of Wight in the distance and even after seeing a large number of gannets diving on the starboard side, cetaceans remained elusive. Before we knew it, we were making our final approach to Portsmouth with a beautiful sunset casting magnificent light on the water and approaching buildings. After our arrival, we said our goodbyes and a swift disembarkation followed.

A huge thank you to Captain Steve Leake, his bridge crew, Gerard Rickett, Andy and Alan and all of the staff at Condor Ferries for making us feel so welcome and for taking an immense interest in our work. Final thanks to Condor Ferries for their continued support.

Photos:
Manx shearwaters (Steve McAusland)
Great black-backed gull (Adrian Shephard)