THE Wightlink route from Yarmouth to Lymington is to re-open.

The route will open on Friday, July 17, initially with a single ship on a two-hourly service, seven days a week.

As demand picks up, a second ship will be added.

Passengers will be expected to leave their cars for the crossing, and use the lounge.

The first will depart Lymington at 05:35, the last at 20:05. Customers will be directed to the passenger lounge or outside sun deck during the crossing and need to wear face coverings during the crossing. Toilet facilities will be available but, initially, the café and shop onboard will not be open.

All three ships will be rotated, and the previous engine problem — which meant the route couldn't operate at a certain wind level — has now been fixed.

Wightlink chief executive Keith Greenfield said: "Since the start of the crisis when demand dropped dramatically we worked really closely with the Isle of Wight Transport Infrastructure Board to understand the demand for travel and make sure freight goods and key workers could get across the Solent.

"Together with other cross-Solent operators we kept the shop shelves full, the NHS supplies kept coming, and key workers were able to get across.

"This second stage is a gradual increase in travel and an opening of services to meet the demand.

"We have made substantial losses during the crisis so far during the time of year when we would usually make our revenue. We need to make sure we survive and emerge in good shape to protect routes and services.

"We can only open where there is demand, to cover costs.

"We are itching to re-start and have been reviewing it weekly.

"We are pleased to say we have taken the decision to open on July 17.

"Our crews have been in training, ready to be back seven days a week."

Ticket offices will remain physically shut but phone lines are open.

There has been huge demand to get through by phone, so extra staff have been brought in to manage the lines.

Mr Greenfield said there has been a "huge wave" of enquiries since the government announced the lifting of lockdown and bookings have been busy for cars.

However, the same cannot be said of passenger routes.

The levels of foot passengers are only at 15 per cent of the normal level, so the Fast Cats will not be re-starting yet.

Mr Greenfield said: "Hovertravel is maintaining the Ryde to Portsmouth link until demand increases, and they have plenty of space. There is a low level of demand.

"We are keeping this under review and hope to resume the service at some point this summer."

Wightlink currently has just over half its staff furloughed, but this is unwinding gradually as the services resume.

Council leader, Dave Stewart, said: “I really welcome this move from Wightlink which recognises the need to restore this essential service for the West Wight community and also demonstrates its confidence that the Island is re-opening and ready to welcome visitors back to support our local businesses.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the work of all the ferry companies in keeping the Island connected to the mainland over the last few months, working with and with the support of the Department for Transport.

"This service has been vital to maintain the flow of goods and services necessary to sustain Island life.

“Having worked closely with the ferry companies, I recognise the commercial challenges they are still facing, but I am asking that they look to restore all their services to a regular schedule as soon as possible.

"This will give everyone the confidence they can easily get to and from the Island and in order to rebuild our Island’s economy.

"I am especially keen for Wightlink to restore its Ryde to Portsmouth catamaran to reconnect with the national rail service and our vital visitor markets in the south east.”