It’s shaping up to be another beautiful day as we make our approach to Palma. Majorca. This will be day 13 of continuous sunshine, which is not bad for December and early January!! I am starting to get the nickname “Captain Sunshine”.
There is a very minor delay with embarking our pilot as we see from our electronic chart there is a ferry on our berth. After a discussion over the VHF with the Pilot Station we are advised of our new berth. However on checking the electronic chart again it does not look deep enough for us with an 8.6m draft!!! When we advise the Pilot Station of this there is much discussion in Spanish over the “airwaves”–10 minutes later we have another berth and this time it’s perfect for us. It is at the new passenger terminal, opposite the ferry that ”stole”our berth. The good news is our Guests can walk straight off the ship to the waiting Tour and Shuttle buses. The things we have to deal with!! Anyway this did not dampen our positive mood for what is going to be a marvellous day with temperature highs of 18’C.
There are 2 wonderful tours today, Scenic Palma & Valldemossa and Northern Delights & La Granja. Although not today, I have visited Valldemossa, high up in the hills, and it is a delightful town (photo attached).
My wife and children head back home today so they are the first off the ship as they have an 1100 flight –The Captain is lonely again!!! Well not for too long as I head off in the early afternoon with some of the Saga Sapphire Cycling Club (at least that’s what I am calling us) for a 30km ride along a fabulous cycle path following the coast to the east of Palma.
Gibraltar, a favourite for many cruisers, and has long been known as the gateway to the Mediterranean. Another whole day in port today, and in fact I increased the call time so we now won't sail until 8.00pm.
Gibraltar has been held by the British since 1704, covers an area of 2.5 sq miles and is home to the barbary apes as well as a myriad of caves and tunnels which were made during the Great Siege of 1779-1783.
Five tours were on offer today; Fortress Gibraltar, Dolphin Watch, The Rock, Alameda Gardens & Cable Car Ride, and Europa Point & English Tea. The Photographic team has very kindly sent me some photos from some of these tours. I know speaking with Guests they really enjoyed their shore excursions and particularly the Dolphin Watch where they saw lots of activity. Although not available in Gibraltar, swimming with Dolphins with my family is definitely on the “bucket list”!!
The 14th successive day of sunshine was absolutely perfect for the tour to the top of the rock especially via the cable car as can be seen from the attached photograph.
I managed a quick trip on my bike, primarily to get some new pedals and a chain. All changed and now I’m ready to go again –perhaps an hour in our next port of Leixoes might be on the cards.
Before sailing I hosted our Newcomers Cocktail Party which is a great time to formally meet those Guests who are new to Saga. It’s always wonderful to hear how much they are enjoying their cruise and in particular the personal service from our staff, the fantastic food and the small ship feel . Many already feel part of the Saga Family.
At 2030 we were on our way and heading out of Gibraltar Bay towards Leixoes. Once clear I popped down to the Britannia Lounge to see the Saga Sapphire Crew Show –Wow, what talent we have on board. With Solo’s, group singing, dance groups and even an illusionist the Guests gave them a standing ovation. As our Guests file out they all comment on how brilliant the crew were, and this just typifies the feeling of being part of the SAGA FAMILY.
It's the final port of our Cruise with a dawn arrival into Leixeos, the Cruise Port for Oporto. A rather tight manoeuvre with only 35 meters either side as we "back up" to our town berth in the inner harbour. As we make our final lines fast the sun makes another spectacular appearance and we are set for day 15 of continuous sunshine - what a cruise this has been!!!
With four Shore Excursions on offer, including Oporto Panoramic, Place of the Dukes at Guimares, Oporto Sights & Douro River Cruise, and Wine Lodge & Tasting there was something for everyone. With Saga Cruises we also provide complimentary shuttle buses - something you don't see with most other Cruise lines - and today's buses transported our Guests into the heart of Oporto. I had a busy morning "clearing" my desk and preparing my handover notes ready for Captain Rentell who returns on the 11th January. I did not get to Oporto today, however I have very fond memories from my last visit.
Oporto is Portugal's 2nd largest city and is located on the Douro river. It is of course famous for its port wine and one of our tours visited the Sandeman vineyard - which was very evident with the return of the Wine Lodge and tasting Tour!!! Hmmm that sounds just like my kind of tour!
As a very early riser (0500-0530), on most days I find I get a lot of my administrative work completed early which frees up an hour or two in port so I can "get on my bike". Yesterday was no exception as I headed along the beautiful coastline north of Leixoes, with a dedicated cycle path close to the beach that went on for miles and miles. Attached is a photo of Rico and me. Rico is a Quartermaster (QM for short). I have mentioned before that he is very fit, maintains all 8 crew bikes and completely overhauled my own.
With everyone back promptly we sailed at 6.30 pm and "squeezed" our way out through the inner harbour before heading back out into the Atlantic Ocean and our final return to Southampton. As this marvellous 21 night cruise draws to an end, I look back with very fond memories of everyone I have met, the exceptional ports we visited and the outstanding weather with all those days of continuous sunshine.
Our final 2 days at sea will give me the opportunity to pack my bags, top and tail the paperwork, and to participate in a cooking challenge against Trevor Walford our Maitre D'. Unfortunately Trevor did not follow the normal protocol of letting the Captain win, so tonight we will have a special keel hauling ceremony!!
This is my final blog for this tour of duty, as we sail into Southampton tomorrow morning. After my leave, including a couple of skiing trips, I shall be "tapping" away on my return to Saga Sapphire on 18th March.
Initial south westerly winds on our first morning at sea ended with a spectacular cold front racing over us bringing blue sky, showers and a north westerly gale. These winds actually started to subside by mid afternoon, but the swell continued to rise on our starboard side as we commenced our crossing of the Bay. The swell was several meters high during that night, but we rode it well and during the following daylight hours it eased.
And so we were able to hold the first of what will be many cocktail party occasions during this 66 night cruise to Central America and back. We have a considerable number of Britannia Club members on board and they were in good form, having taken the poor weather in their stride. The third day at sea, still cool and with the chilly wind still following, was far more comfortable, allowing me to reduce speed for our timely arrival in Funchal the following morning.
Sunrise was not until after eight and the south coast of Madeira was lit by the myriad of lights of the many hillside homes as we passed by. Only as we docked did the daylight take over and allow our passengers to see the magnificent sight that is one of my most favourite ports.
Perhaps it being a Sunday was the reason we were the only cruise ship alongside, and the town was far quieter that it might have been on a weekday, but by late morning there were plenty of people around. The tours went off as normal, but some of our regulars, who have been to the island before, decided to take the shuttle bus and take a stroll around.
The bus actually stopped close by the delightful Ritz Hotel with its wonderful blue and white tiled local scenes from many years ago mounted on the exterior. Across the main road is a charming park, and a shopping centre open on a Sunday just around the corner. One block down lay the sea front, much improved in recent years, with an esplanade where walkers could watch the water-borne activities of Sunday kayakers and young sailors in their dinghies battling against the fresh easterly breeze.
The passengers had a great day, perhaps made even better as the sun had come out during the morning. We stayed an extra hour to ensure one of joining entertainers, delayed in her flights, would not see the ship disappearing over the horizon as the taxi pulled up on the quayside. As we pulled out of the harbour the bow was swung into the direction of the setting sun, behind us the lights were beginning again to illuminate the hillside. Seven days and 2,667 miles to go before we will see our next landfall.