Shipping forecast: patchy

Ferry services are to be slimmed this Christmas. Why? By Simon Calder

"FOG IN Channel - Continent cut off." The famous headline looks like coming at least partly true over Christmas and the New Year. The cross-Channel companies are cutting back sharply over the festive season. Normally the waters between England and France teem with ferries. But anyone hoping to celebrate Christmas Day or the arrival of 2000 with a cruise across the Channel must think again - on 25 December itself, only Eurotunnel is running, and even that service stops over the New Year holiday.

"FOG IN Channel - Continent cut off." The famous headline looks like coming at least partly true over Christmas and the New Year. The cross-Channel companies are cutting back sharply over the festive season. Normally the waters between England and France teem with ferries. But anyone hoping to celebrate Christmas Day or the arrival of 2000 with a cruise across the Channel must think again - on 25 December itself, only Eurotunnel is running, and even that service stops over the New Year holiday.

Millennium Bug fears are not to blame, say the cross-Channel companies. They cite lack of demand, and the wish to give staff time off. This exclusive survey reveals the chances for a festive crossing, listed from west to east.

Brittany Ferries (0990 360 360): only one service inbound from France on 24 December (8am from Caen to Portsmouth) and only evening departures on Boxing Day. But Brittany Ferries has the one passenger vessel sailing in the Channel on Christmas Day itself: an evening ferry from Portsmouth on 24 December arrives in St Malo at 8am on Christmas morning. On 31 December the only departures are 8.30am from Poole to Cherbourg and 7.45am from Portsmouth to Caen; no sailings on 1 January.

P&O Portsmouth (0870 24 24 999): the company packs up for Christmas earlier than any other, with no outbound services on 24 or 25 December; the last pre-Christmas arrivals from Le Havre and Cherbourg are at lunchtime on Christmas Eve. Most sailings restart late on Boxing Day. For those who want to spend Christmas all at sea, though, the operator is running a Portsmouth-Bilbao-Portsmouth service that straddles Christmas. The return journey of the Pride of Bilbao sails from the Spanish port on 24 December. Christmas Day is spent traversing the Bay of Biscay before arriving, on 26 December, at Portsmouth. A mini-break costs £65. You can't try the same stunt over New Year, though, as the vessel has been chartered for a trip to the Meridian Line in Greenwich.

There are no sailings at all to France on New Year's Eve, nor 1 January. Lucky crew.

Hoverspeed (08705 240 241): from Newhaven to Dieppe, the only Christmas Eve sailing is at 8.30am, returning from France at 1.30pm. The final Folkestone to Boulogne sailing is at 3pm, Dover to Calais goes an hour later, with the returns from France around 6pm.

The next departures are at 7.30-8.30am on Boxing Day - except for Folkestone-Boulogne, which stops throughout Christmas and the New Year. With a single morning departure to Dieppe on 31 December, and the last Dover-Calais sailing at 4pm that day, that's the last you'll see of Hoverspeed until 2 January - the company takes New Year's Day off.

SeaFrance (0990 711 711): its last Dover-Calais runs are late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, restarting around 8am on Boxing Day. The same pattern is repeated on 31 December and 1 January, with the neat twist that every passenger, and vehicle, will travel free on New Year's Day (see story, right).

P&O Stena Line (0990 980 980) winds down early on Christmas Eve, with the last Dover-Calais sailing at 3.15pm and the final inbound service at 6.30pm. Nothing is sailing on Christmas Day. On 26 December, the first ferry leaves Dover at 7.45am, and the first one back from Calais is at 11am.

For 31 December, the last outbound ship sails from Dover at 4pm, with the last inbound service at 7.15pm. On New Year's Day, the first trip from Dover is at 8.15am and from Calais at 11.30am

Eurotunnel (0990 353 535): the fixed link from Folkestone to Calais has departures around the clock on 25 December, with an hourly service all day and night. Over New Year, though, the company is taking a break from around 10pm to 7am.

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