My duty officer of the watch called me at 07:00 on the morning of our planned transit up the river Seine, informing that, “All was well, but...it’s a bit windier than it’s supposed to be, Captain.”
After the daily ritual of being harassed by my shower curtain, (why are they always so attracted to me??) I proceeded to the Bridge to note that, indeed, it was a bit windier than our forecast had predicted. Not a problem at all, though –the sturdy little Saga Pearl II is a vessel with fine sea-keeping qualities and anyway, we would soon be in the sheltered confines of the River Seine. After a few morning rain showers (which were actually forecast) at 11:15 we embarked our river Pilot to advise myself and the Bridge team on the 75 mile passage to Rouen.
Conditions calmed nicely as we entered the river and skies even cleared to allow people to sit in comfort on the outside decks to watch the rustic world of northern Normandy sail by on either side of the ship. It was very pleasant indeed. I felt like embracing the tradition of the area and popping open a bottle of Calvados, however I would have to wait until we were safely tied up before celebrating. The same decision could not be said for our passengers, though - some of whom had discovered the bar before the sun was over the yardarm... The open decks were abundant with smiling faces clutching glasses –only a few of which were reading glasses.
We docked in Rouen only a mile or so from the city centre, and the famous cathedral which was apparently painted several times by some chap called Monet. It did look spectacular –even from where the ship was docked. Those who wished to wander off and explore the city in the early evening, did just that. It was only a 10 minute stroll to the bars and restaurants dotted along the riverfront. Others waited for a new day to dawn, and tucked into Executive Chef Dirk’s evening gourmet feast which was being served on board.
The next day dawned beautifully. Sunny and warm, it enthused me to go and explore. However, I had a crew safety drill to run beforehand. Once I was satisfied that we were all drilled well I decided to take a cycle along the towpath beside the river. It was delightful. Except for the flies which kept landing in my mouth and eyes at speed.
River barges, locally called “Peniches”, plied up and down the river, as did the occasional long cigarette shaped river cruise boat. Otherwise, it was very peaceful and I enjoyed a good cycle several miles upstream.
Passengers were offered tours which included visiting Monet’s garden –apparently that went down very well. Others were happy to walk around the town themselves and sample the usual French delicacies...
Upon returning to the ship I decided to cross a bridge and use the path on the other side of the river. This was initially a slightly bumpier option however it then led me onto a paved road which wound around away from the river, almost doubling back onto itself, which I thought was rather odd. Suddenly I found myself at the business end of a motorway slip-road, with 3 lanes of oncoming traffic only one hundred metres away, all seemingly revving their engines at some red traffic lights. Within moments, and after a quick “about-turn”, I dismounted and hauled my bicycle up onto the grassy verge, as Citroens and Peugeots blasted past having been released from the traffic light queue. Walking my trusty steed back up the side of the slip road, I decided it best to expedite my return to the ship where a Captain is safely in his element.
Next time, perhaps I’ll take an organised excursion...
We approached the southern coast of Cornwall in the evening, the sun slowly dipping down over the land to the west. The sea was calm and conditions were perfect for our evening sail-in to Falmouth. Our passengers would be lucky enough this evening to observe a rolling scenery change from the restaurant windows whilst eating their delicious evening meal. I would not be so lucky this evening though. Well, about the food part anyway.
We rolled past some grey Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships alongside before turning the ship just before the yacht anchorage (a few anxious looks from nearby visiting sailors on deck as this comparatively large cruise ship edged up towards their little craft) and backed down to our berth, situated right next to the Pendennis lifeboat station.
All fast just after 9 o clock passengers, and crew not on duty, were free to go ashore and explore in the evening should they wish to do so. I decided to go and investigate what Sundowner’s Bar had to offer in the way of a celebratory arrival drink, instead. My shoreside exploration would be on the morrow...
The following day, the sun shone brightly and many passengers mustered after breakfast to head off to various gardens; the Eden Project (it must be hot inside there when the sun’s shining?) and Trebah gardens. Not being a very accomplished gardener myself, I decided at lunchtime to go for a wander around town instead. I left my bicycle on board this time, my near-death experience in Rouen still firmly on my mind...
The last time I was in Falmouth was some 18 years ago, when I had just completed a transatlantic yacht race from Canada with 12 other crew, and we had all eagerly rushed ashore to obtain the best meal we had eaten after 3 weeks at sea having survived solely upon unidentifiable Frey Bentos pies and dried food. The first fish & chip shop we stumbled across we all crammed in to order the largest possible meal. Grinning with pleasure, we scoffed down our catch in the open car park outside the shop.
Then, out of nowhere, a seagull swooped down and aimed directly for my portion of greasy delight. Quick as a flash, and in a most bizarre turn of events, the gull aborted its mission and instead deposited its previous meal all over my upper body and freshly caught cod instead. You can surely imagine the reaction and resulting hilarity from my fellow young crew members. And no - I did not consider this a good luck omen.
Today I had one eye pointing skyward on constant alert for these pesky creatures above. Especially since I had only one mission today: to find the world’s best Cornish Pasty. Hands firmly in pockets off I set on my mission. It was only a 10 minute walk into town (although for those who had eaten too many Cornish pasties, there was a shuttle bus service running from the ship to the centre) and as I neared the High Street I happened to note Rick Stein’s fish & chip shop situated to my left. Well, I thought to myself, it would be a jolly shame to come to Falmouth and not sample Rick Stein’s fish & chips. So, in I went.
After devouring Rick’s tasty cod (although I cannot vouch that Rick had actually caught or cooked it) in a seagull-free zone, I emerged again feeling that I still had room for the best Cornish pasty in the world, for pudding. Only 5 minutes’walk down the pleasant High Street later, I came across exactly what I was searching for: a sign proclaimed that this particular bakery sold what had been voted “The best ever”Cornish pasties. Excellent news! I personally selected my pastry encrusted pie and savoured every bite. Very nice indeed - how fortunate I'd been to stumble across this award winning shop.
Mission accomplished, I decided to walk a little further down the winding High Street to digest my ‘pastie pudding.’ However, you can only imagine my shock when, only 200 metres down the same road, I noted a large sign exclaiming that here was an establishment which apparently sold the “World’s Best”Cornish Pasties. How had I been so easily fooled 5 minutes earlier? I couldn’t believe it! What a quandary I found myself in now though –I was under the firm impression I had already just devoured the best of a kind, but here I was being told apparently otherwise. Well, there was only one thing for it; I would personally test them and then I would know for sure.
Fresh pasty in hand, I emerged from the shop and knew I had to find somewhere to sit and relax with this...second pudding. Luckily a nice little pier, complete with benches, appeared around the next corner with views over the harbour to our little ship, so I sat down to commence my 3rd lunchtime munching duty. Only one seagull loitered atop a nearby rubbish bin. The plump creature looked as if it had eaten as much as I had, so I figured there was minimal risk of it even being able to perform a take-off, let alone soil my edible prize.
After my enormous lunch, well...what a good idea that return shuttle bus service to the ship turned out to be...
Well, some of you may be expecting me to write from the Channel Island of Guernsey today. Indeed that was where I was supposed to be taking Saga Pearl II, but I still haven’t quite got the hang of this Google Maps “app”and it’s incredible how easy it is to accidentally tap the “go-to”button with a fat or wobbly finger. The end result being that you end up being guided to a destination completely different to that you intended.
I’m only having you on here of course. Unfortunately weather conditions were not on our side for our Guernsey call today with strong winds from the north-east making sea conditions far too rough for our tenders to run a safe comfortable trip, so I decided to come somewhere else nice instead. Boulogne might not look so impressive when approaching from the sea, but hidden behind a little hump of a hill is the old town on the estuary of the River Liane. It managed to escape too much of a pounding during WW2, and therefore remains a rather pretty town indeed.
With the wind blowing freshly on the ship’s head, and sun poking her nose through the clouds on occasion, our harbour pilot embarked shortly before the breakwater and entered the Bridge preceded by a waft of garlic –providing excellent reassurance that I had actually arrived in the correct country: France. Swinging in the harbour entrance, we backed down just under a mile to our berth on the outer harbour wall, where we arrived just as the noon bells rang out...which signalled (in my opinion, at least) a well-deserved lunch time for the Captain.
So...what to do here you may ask? Boulogne’s origins are as a medieval port protected by a castle up on the hill, which stands to this day, now a museum. The town's 12th century belfry has World Heritage Site status - it is the oldest building in the upper city they say. Boulogne used to be a somewhat more popular place for British tourists to head, before the days of the Channel Tunnel, when there was a regular ferry service in place running over here from Dover and Folkestone. I am also told that it is one of the principal fishing ports serving France - where fish is auctioned, frozen, salted, smoked, processed, etc for distribution across the whole country in the commercial port district. So, to celebrate this fact, I enjoyed fish for my lunch.
Well, this cruise has come and gone very quickly indeed. What fun I’ve had. I get the distinct impression that our passengers have also enjoyed the cruise rather a lot. Since we arrived a little later into port this morning, I decided to sail later in the evening so that folks could spend some more time ashore. However, it became apparent at 7pm that everybody had already returned to the ship –I believe this to be a testament to executive chef Dirk’s fantastic food. This fact was indeed verified by myself after I had eaten a giant tender Prince-of-Wales steak (to start) followed by a deliciously zippy lamb dhansak. Did I have room for pudding? What a silly question. Luckily, I was just able to waddle back up to the Bridge to take charge of the departure proceedings...back to Dover we go!
Well, weren’t we all keen to leave a windy chilly Dover on the afternoon of the 6th May for a 2 week adventure in the Baltic? I certainly was. As we swung Saga Pearl II off our dock in Dover, the band played merrily on the open aft deck welcoming our new travellers onboard. As the ship’s stern became exposed to the wind, the talented musicians became exposed to the stiff breeze and had to hold their instruments tightly to prevent them from being blown overboard –which wouldn’t have made a great start to a ‘classical music’ themed cruise! Our final sail-away surprise came in the form of a WW2 Spitfire emerging from the low cloud and presenting us with an excellent fly-by routine.
The following day, Saga Pearl II steamed into the North Sea, basking in springtime sunshine. Winds were light and passengers enjoyed plenty of sights as we were in the main shipping lanes of the southern North Sea, weaving in between wind farms and light ships. In the early afternoon, we took our river pilot for the Elbe river in Germany, which about 4 hours down the line would lead us to a place called Brunsbuttel where the western end of the Kiel Canal lies.
As we approached the lock entrance, our sister ship, the Astor, emerged from the canal. The Captain contacted me by radio and suggested a sail-by with an ample amount of whistle-tooting to keep everyone happy. It was lovely to see our little sister ship looking shiny and healthy, just like Saga Pearl; what brilliantly built, fine ships, to still be in sparkling condition and happily plying the world’s oceans some 37 years after build. To make this unplanned event even more special, the two ships were actually born & built in Kiel, only a few miles away.
As we approached the lock entrance our docking pilot came aboard and pointed towards the lock chamber in which I was to manoeuvre my ship. It looked big enough, so I happily headed in that direction, and out of the river current. As we approached even closer, the pilot announced that another ship would be squeezing in ahead of us; the other chamber was closed for maintenance reasons and they needed to squeeze as many ships as possible into this lock. “I see.” Was my response, sizing up the ship overtaking us now, to nip in ahead. “And what about those two ships over there?”I asked the pilot, pointing towards two other ships which also looked like they were vying for the same parking spot as me. “Oh yes, Captain, they will come in too!”
After literally squeezing in between the lock wall and one other ship with barely a metre to spare, I told all passengers that they could breathe out again. Many enjoyed the open deck spectacle and basked in early evening sunshine as we ejected from the lock like a proverbial cork from a bottle, marking the start of our 65 mile transit of the Kiel Canal. However, there were notably fewer spectators on deck at 03:00 when I had to repeat the above procedure to exit the canal at the eastern end...
Tuesday saw Saga Pearl ply northwards in the Baltic Sea; the weather took a brief turn for the worst and chilly winds blew up a choppy sea from the Arctic North, which very sadly made it impossible to run our tender operation into the port of Visby. I therefore decided we should head straight to Stockholm instead! Which is exactly what we did. Everyone seemed to enjoy an early afternoon sail-in through the wonderful archipelago of islands surrounding the Swedish capital, followed by a quiet evening alongside preparing for a busy day’s tours ashore the following day.
Now, the Baltic can be an unpredictable place in May. Last year, during my visit on Saga Pearl to the Gulf of Bothnia in May, temperatures soared into the high 20’s and shorts & t-shirt were rig of the day for passengers heading ashore. This year, however, we could almost expect Santa to be flying overhead. Our visit to Stockholm was punctuated by frequent snow showers, although in between there were pleasant sunny spells. Stockholm was made even more magical by the snow, in my opinion.
One of my favourite highlights of Stockholm –similarly for many of our passengers - is visiting the old restored sailing ship the Vasa. She is the only fully preserved 17th century ship in the world. More than 95% of the ship is original, and it is decorated with hundreds of impressive carved sculptures. The 69 metre-long warship Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in the middle of Stockholm in 1628, and was salvaged 333 years later in 1961. For nearly half a century the ship has, with the assistance of some extremely patient and talented people, been slowly and painstakingly restored to a state approaching her original glory.
Well, we’ve got a lot of ports to visit in the coming days, so it’s goodbye to Stockholm and off we go to ... oh hang on, let me check with my navigator...ah yes, Helsinki!
Well, what a lottery of weather conditions Saga Pearl II finds herself experiencing so far on our trip in the Baltic...this morning we awoke to glorious sunshine, only moments later to be enveloped in a thick veil of fog. However, almost on cue, about 30 minutes from the final approaches to the archipelago surrounding Helsinki the fog cleared and we were left basking in sunshine for our arrival into this very unique place.
Our passage into this “Daughter City of the Baltic” as it’s apparently referred to, took the ship through a gap some 90 metres wide with a rocky cliff on one side and an impressive fortress called ‘Suomenlinna’ (I may have accidentally pronounced this to sound like ‘semolina’ during my arrival broadcast...) perched on the island to the other. After this narrow slit in the land was negotiated, we took a swift turn to port (or to the left, for landlubbers) and into the City’s south harbour.
Now, the south harbour is an ideal spot to park one’s ship in order to explore this city. It happens to be very central; right next to Market Square, with Senate Square and Esplanadi Street (which offered exciting shopping opportunities) only a little further away too. Just as I transferred the control of the ship out onto the exterior Bridge-wing console so that I could conduct my docking manoeuvre (parking it - again for the purpose of any landlubbers reading) from a better viewpoint, it started snowing again. Nobody seemed to mind though asides from me, as most sensible passengers were inside enjoying a delicious lunch whilst admiring the ever-changing view from the restaurant windows, for this was an afternoon call into Finland’s capital.
Our tour options for passengers today ranged from ‘Helsinki Highlights,’ where passengers could roam the city by coach and foot, visiting cathedrals, markets selling Scandinavian delights (comprised of cheese & fish, with some fish and cheese, and a little more fish for good measure) parliament buildings, the art museum and a convention centre designed by world famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto –a name which guaranteed he was always the first on any roll-call list. Other tours included a scenic harbour cruise - for those who simply can’t get enough of cruising –and a visit to the ancient town of Porvoo which is a pleasant 45 minute drive from Helsinki, where the red riverside storehouses of the old harbour are said to be the most photographed attraction in Finland.
Well, at about 6 o clock I received a call in my office from the Officer of the Watch on the Bridge, informing me that all our passengers were back on board having been duly exhausted from their activities ashore, and it was time to sail (drive the ship out from the harbour, landlubbers...). I waited for the passing snow shower to pass, before heading out to the Bridge-wing in the evening sunshine to manoeuvre off the dock wall. We headed out to sea again, passing my newly christened ‘Semolina Island’ again, but this time on the other side of the ship.
Speaking of food, it’s supper time...and executive chef Dirk has got another 5* treat in store for us tonight (no - it’s not semolina).
At about 0405 in the morning, the sun rose in the east above Russia’s second biggest and ex-capital city, St Petersburg. At about the same time, I wandered up to the Bridge to survey the scene, put the kettle on and make preparations to greet our pilot, who would be boarding shortly and then assisting me in taking Saga Pearl II up the Neva River. We would be berthing as far up the river as we could possibly take a ship of this size, to a berth on an embankment named after Lieutenant Schmidt. He was a gentleman who apparently had an important part to play in the Russian uprising and resulting revolution at the beginning of the 20th century.
We passed through the giant city gate at about 05:30, and weaved our way through the outer industrial parts of this massive port, before entering the River Neva and passing dozens of different types of ship, both new and old, berthed on the riversides. Submarines, ice-breakers and even a floating nuclear power station (I steered well clear of that one...) were moored along the banks, before we eventually found our spot at the famous Lieutenant’s embankment. Safely tied up at 08:00, no time was wasted as our passengers eagerly embarked on their day’s tours almost straight away –even though we would be alongside here for two whole days, there is simply so much to see and do in this impressive city.
There are too many tours offered at this destination for me to mention them all, however to name just a few, our passengers could visit the largest museum in the world, the Hermitage, spend an evening at the ballet or watching lively Russian folklore in theatres, visit the Faberge museum (one for the ladies...) tour around royal palaces, cathedrals or even boat around the canals. The weather remained nicely on our side here, too, with sunny skies prevailing over the city throughout our call, making it very pleasant to roam the streets and squares. One of the most impressive sites in the city for me is the Spilled Blood Cathedral –built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Presumably they cleared him, along with his spilled blood, away before building commenced, but I suppose we shall never really know.
I took a wander on our first afternoon here along the river to the Hermitage and the Cathedral perched on top of the poor old Tsar, and very much enjoyed my little roam. I will say however that, much like London is for cyclists, St Petersburg can be a tricky city for a pedestrian at times. For the most part, one finds stretches of excellent pavements, along with a sensible spacing of zebra crossings where they happen to intersect with roads. However, every so often a pavement will suddenly end and pedestrians will find themselves halting their march precariously short of a busy 6 lane city road, with no apparent easy way of crossing it. To make matters even more challenging for us lowly pedestrians, it seems that Russians –when inside their vehicles –tend to be very keen to reach their destination in record time.
And so it was that I found myself during my return trip to the ship arriving at one such perilous junction, on Friday afternoon, at Russian rush-hour; a time when Russians really were in a particular rush. Looking left and right, I could see no sign of a pedestrian crossing nearby, so I decided to take the matter into my own hands. I clung to the roadside guardrail and duly waited for what seemed like a small eternity for traffic to abate, until I spotted my moment and dashed in a very English manner (calm and composed, but at the same time almost running) across the road.
It was only when I reached the other side that I realised Friday afternoons in St Petersburg were obviously seen as a opportune time to re-paint roadside guard rails, and my hands were coated with sticky, black bitumen-like paint. To the bemusement of local bystanders, I tried in vain to remove this freshly applied paint by first rubbing my hands on the bark of a nearby tree, and then on a grassy verge.
I returned to the ship looking like I had partaken in some bizarre children’s art competition, and quietly summoned the Bosun to bring a rag and a can of paint thinner to the top of the gangway, before I started leaving black marks around my beautiful little ship. On departure the following evening, I enquired with the Hotel Director if anybody had been run-over, or had their hands painted whilst in St Petersburg. She raised her eyebrows and responded, “Of course not, Captain!”
The sun shone brightly whilst rising above the horizon over a flat calm sea, as we approached the bay housing the ancient Estonian city of Tallinn. It was the sort of morning where it was a real pleasure to be up and about at 06:00 –and several Saga passengers clearly shared my thoughts as they marched intently around the wrap-around walking track on the upper decks, completing their early morning exercises.
We backed down to our berth and were safely tethered alongside by 07:30, allowing eager early-morning explorers to head off and see the sights in and around this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site. I enjoyed breakfast and then had to endure a few essential meetings before I would be able to go and discover this magnificently preserved medieval town myself.
The last time I had visited Tallinn, I had been a Senior Second Officer holding the 12-4 Bridge watch with a different cruise line, which had not allowed me sufficient time to go ashore and see the place. My colleagues had all had a marvellous time ashore and had returned boasting about how lovely it was. Rotten bunch. Today would be my day, though...
A pleasant walk of 15 minutes or so from the ship, found me in the centre of the old town. Alternatively of course there was the complimentary shuttle bus. However no matter how hard Executive Chef Dirk is trying otherwise, I am doing my best to maintain a slim waistline.
The old town is a melee of winding narrow cobbled streets with watchtowers, graceful spires, shops, museums and various public houses alike. The city started to rise to an impressive status a rather long time ago in the early 15th century, when it joined the so-called Hanseatic League. After wandering around aimlessly for some time, occasionally waving my camera around aiming at views which I hoped would aid great memories in the future but would more likely end in blurred images containing Japanese tourists or some street cobble-stones, (I’m not a very accomplished photographer) my stomach reminded me that lunch time was fast approaching and that I should locate a restaurant with a certain sense of urgency.
Happily, I then bumped into some fellow Saga colleagues who recommended a nearby ‘Medieval’style restaurant, in which apparently traditional dishes were served in an appropriate atmosphere. Sure enough, upon arrival we found waiters clothed in ridiculous looking medieval gowns (one of them resembled Kermit the frog), old wagons and wooden furniture with fire torches burning overhead. We were supplied with goblets for our beverages, and encouraged to eat from pottery apparel similar to flower pots. I enjoyed a true first for me: bear sausages. Delicious. I wasn’t sure what type of bear they were made from, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t Paddington, as there was no fluff. At some stage during our medieval meal, Jemma the Cruise Director enquired as to the availability of WIFI...
During our stroll back to the ship we bumped into several Saga passengers also enjoying the scenery and pleasant weather, whilst others had gone on organised tours around the city and beyond. Everyone seemed to enjoy this port very much indeed. I arrived back to Saga Pearl II feeling very pleased with myself - so much so that I proceeded straight to the Bridge, whereupon I immediately informed Michael, my 12-4 Bridge watch-keeping officer, of the delights of Tallinn and how much he’d missed out on.
Approaching the Danish island of Bornholm housing the little village of Gudhjem (pronounced “Goodyum”) from the east, my first thoughts were that I don’t think I’ve ever visited a port of call containing fewer residents. In fact, today the population of Gudhjem would almost double, with the arrival of our 400 passengers. What a pretty little village, though, with Denmarks’largest windmill, Gudhjem Molle, perched above on the hill. The windmill has not worked since 1962 (windmill repair men are hard to come by, these days. N
o, I’m joking, of course...) but it retains its sails and fantail, and is open to visitors.
Today was an anchor port, which meant ferrying our passengers in on board our tender boats. Fortunately, I could anchor the ship nice and close to the shore so that the journey was a pleasant 5 minute boat ride into the little harbour, which was situated pretty much right in the centre.
As well as the static windmill, the village also features a particularly old chapel called St Anne’s, dating apparently back to around the year 1300, however be sure to take an umbrella if you plan to visit as it’s missing part of its roof. And walls. There is also a museum devoted to a local painter by the name of Oluf Host, a gentleman who appeared to be very keen to paint scenes of his own farm house - which he achieved some 200 times over - but in different weather and light conditions...
Whilst some Saga passengers proceeded ashore and roamed leisurely around the village in their own time, others had booked organised tours around the island of Bornholm, where they had the opportunity to visit a glass-blowing factory and, perhaps what the island is most famed for, smokehouses. Yes, smoked herrings are the local delicacy here –and whilst unfortunately I did not get the chance to go ashore and try some for myself –I was subsequently told that indeed they were satisfyingly smoky fish, by others who had had the opportunity to sample them.
Well, the weather for our stay was relatively pleasant and although slightly chilly and overcast to begin with, the forecast predicted it to clear up by the afternoon. Thus, it was with pleasure that I announced this fact to our passengers upon anchoring in the morning. It was therefore with predicted irony that, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, a large bank of fog rolled in, reducing the visibility to less than 300 metres and meaning that we could no longer even see the village any more from the ship. Luckily, at that time of day, everyone had enjoyed their time ashore enough and most were back on board preparing to enjoy afternoon tea, so once the final tender had picked up a few remaining passengers from the harbour, we weighed anchor and headed out into the horizon-less white. Destination Warnemunde! (If we can find it...)
Well, the morning dawned and I found myself approaching into another port I’d never been to –Warnemunde, Germany. Actually, I’ve been to Rostock (just up the river) before but Warnemunde is just as good a spot –so they say. First impressions were of a busy little place –ships, yachts and fishy boats all funnelling in and out of the harbour entrance had our local pilot jabbering away on the radio in German to try and clear out of the way some of the more careless boat owners who stayed into our path.
We were arriving nice and early again –this time to ensure that our passenger tours to Berlin (about a 3 ½hr drive away) got away in good time for their busy day of exploring. Once we were alongside (all in a very efficient, Germanic fashion, I might add) I noticed that behind us one of those enormous new cruise ships was also preparing to park, too. It literally was gigantic. I couldn’t believe that I used to work on machines that size, now that I am so used to the comfortable size of this little ship. It towered over us, hundreds of identical balconies on each side which resembled battery chicken pens instead of holiday staterooms. It was so large that it took an eternity to moor up on a pier only just big enough to accommodate it.
Well, after a busy morning of Captainy sort of duties (that paperwork stuff) my thoughts turned excitedly to one thing: sausages. Yes, Germany is of course famous for its Wursts, and I was informed that Warnemunde boasts a more than adequate selection of sausage-selling shops, situated along its river and sea front. I required little persuasion to go and investigate.
In the meantime, our passengers off to Berlin would be reaching their destination and exploring such landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial church and many more. They would also enjoy their sausages, I was told, during a pleasure-boat tour passing these and other famous sights. Other Saga passengers chose to venture off on tour to nearby Rostock where they were to be visiting dozens of local treats, including a visit to the Russian KGB museum, which I think would have been particularly fun as far as museums go.
Meanwhile, I joined the Chief Engineer on a sausage-hunt. We were almost immediately successful in our search, and plonked ourselves down on a pleasant terrace next to the river to peruse a German menu which promised Wursts galore. We eventually settled for the famous ‘Currywurst,’which did not disappoint.
The river bank was bustling with locals enjoying riverside cafes and restaurants in the glorious sunny weather, interspersed with Saga passengers –and of course some others from the monster ship berthed nearby. That ship seemed to carry the sort of characters who sported ‘selfie sticks’and were intent on photographing everything possible without actually appreciating what it was they were taking pictures of. They also appeared particularly fond of the local McDonald’s restaurant not far from where myself and Mark were seated. I think you know the sort I am speaking about...
aplenty in the general direction of our ship. However, there was one more delight which had to be enjoyed in this sort of weather: an ice cream, of course. After the ice cream, we made positive, firm tracks back towards Saga Pearl only to be distracted one more time by what was now that all too familiar smell of a grill originating from a sausage stall. What harm would one more Wurst do, eh? Jolly nice it was, too.
Once again I found myself witnessing a beautiful sunrise whilst brewing some tea on the Bridge, awaiting our pilot to board for our return transit through Kiel Canal. There were even some passengers around –cameras slung beneath their necks –witnessing the entrance into the Kiel lock too.
Once in the canal, at around 06:00, the sun shone brightly above the horizon providing an almost muggy sort of heat, promising a warm day for our passage. Excellent news for our F&B and Entertainment team, for they were planning a special Oktoberfest style beer and sausage festival on deck for lunchtime, with even an “Oompa”style band to accompany. I couldn’t wait –more sausages to enjoy!! In the meantime, we sailed past the famous Luursen shipyard, responsible for designing and building some of the world’s biggest super-yachts. I always find myself dreaming about lottery wins and elaborate unrealistic Christmas presents when passing this place...
After surveying the scene on deck at lunch time (and enjoying a sausage, or four) it was time to clear the canal by negotiating the narrow lock chamber and entering some strong river currents. I thus made my way back up to the Bridge, my ship-handler’s guide at the ready.... Our pilot informed us that heavy thunderstorms had doused nearby Hamburg with rain, but luckily for us it remained dry and sunny throughout our Kiel Canal transit, with temperatures peaking at 24 degrees. Who would have thought that one week earlier we had been dodging snow showers!
Entering the Elbe river in the late afternoon marked the next change in our weather (it had, after all, been consistently sunny for almost 2 days now..!) as a thick bank of fog enveloped Saga Pearl II. Luckily, it was time for passengers to get ready for yet another cocktail party, so nobody seemed to mind about this minor inconvenience except for myself and the Bridge team.
After another enormous feast supplied by our expert galley team, there was a show in the Discovery Lounge called “I got Rhythm”(no –not “I’ve Got Rhythm.”I shall be having words with the producer..). It featured all sorts of lively dancing and fun sing-along songs, and dancing girls appearing at the finale dressed with significantly more feathers than most chickens possess.
Now, in line with the running theme, of course the weather had to surprise us again before we arrived in Ijmuiden. Indeed we awoke to gale force winds greeting those who were brave enough to stand outside this morning. However, luckily breakfast is also served inside, and this meant that fortunately the muesli stayed in the bowls.
We were safely inside Ijmuiden’s port entrance shortly after 10am, and then manoeuvred alongside with the assistance of tugs due to the very strong winds.
Once we were alongside, off everybody went on their various trips of the day –some on the shuttle bus into the town of Ijmuiden, some on tours to windmills (which I was reassured would be functioning extremely efficiently today, given the wind strength), others on tours to Amsterdam through the canals or to Anne Frank’s museum. Luckily, despite the strong winds and overcast weather, the rain held out and everyone seemed very happy indeed. What would you expect –we’re British!
Well, at 6pm and with everyone’s stomachs starting to rumble, it was time to return to the ship for the daily evening meal. The ship would be nipping across the English Channel and back in Dover the following day, and so it was time to make the most of this final supper...a task which I do not consider a burden at all.
Captain Spekman will be taking over command in Dover as it’s holiday time for me now, So, until next time, enjoy your cruising and blog-perusing!
This time I had joined the ship a bit earlier to enjoy the Spring Baltic Cruise with my wife Tina, as a passenger. This was very much enjoyed as I had lots of time to take part in all the activities and spend time ashore visiting the sights with Tina.
This morning I took over command from Captain Kim Tanner. Today there was the six monthly senior officers conference, which involved all the four stripers from the ships, whether on board or on leave, the directors and key personnel from Saga Cruises and key third party consultants, which the company uses to enhance the operation of the ships.
Also in port today was Saga Sapphire, preparing for her 20 year Anniversary Cruise and all the senior officers attended the pre-sail cocktail party on her. She departed just before us, so that we could greet each other by blowing our horns.
Soon after we also left the port and took up position for a spectacular fireworks display. As there was just the last of daylight left in the sky we had the unique and exciting opportunity to see the different patterns of fireworks and the same patterns in smoke. I have attached a few photos which show this. After this amazing show Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II set course for the first port of call on our respective cruises. What a way to begin a cruise.
At this point I always take the opportunity to tell you who the senior officers and the members of the Entertainment Department are. This cruise we have Staff Captain Richard Lambert, Chief Engineer Mark Cameron, Hotel Director Ivar Drageseth and Cruise Director Jemma Thomas.
Jemma Thomas is supported by Assistant Cruise Director Andrew Galler, Social Hostess Maja Struc, Cruise Staff Robert Urcia, Fitness Instructor Danielle Beattie, Stage Managers Bernard Mendoza and IT Support Ian Te. Dance Hosts are Martin P. Lee and Andre Czopor. Our Chaplain is Reverend Cortland Fransella.
Our Guest Entertainers are the 11 piece Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Comedian Mike Doyle, Classical Ensemble the Aderyn Quartet. Guest Speakers are: Destinations Martin P. Lee and Norwegian Military History Stuart Usher. Resident Troop on board are the Explosive Singers and Dancers. The Resident Musicians are The Saga Orchestra and Cocktail Pianist Brad Moodie. The Bridge Instructor is Rachel Hardie. All tasked to entertain and fill the days of our passengers.