An interesting day in Holyhead. The run up the English Channel yesterday was brisk and rounding Land’s End at 1700 put the wind more astern and the evening become quite lovely as we set to transit Cardigan and Carmarthen Bays.
Trying not to do a 'Michael Fish', much time was spent pouring over weather charts and forecasts. The UK Met Office surface analysis that spans the Atlantic I always find useful. Being upfront and honest about the weather is always a good policy - after all it is the UK in August and we should be 'basking'!
Rounding the 'stacks' off Holyhead at 0530 this morning I arrived on the Bridge to survey the conditions. The wind freshened overnight and I had anticipated my 'port-side too' berthing plan may be compromised. Starboard-side too makes it a 'stern-in' approach to the berth which allows a 'get-out' plan if the weather deteriorates. The quandry in Holyhead for starboard side alongside is the choice of gangway doors as the lift of tide can be more than 4 meters in Holyhead.
Before embarking the Pilot the wind gusted to 30kts off the berth - making a stern-in approach the only option. It was a considered manoeuvre and delivered the result I desired, even though I was a tad wet..........
Holyhead is in an attractive part of Wales, within striking distance of Snowdonia and with a spectacular coastline, we had on offer some engaging shore excursions. However my morning broadcast opened with "welcome to sunny Wales", when it was in fact teaming with rain.
It was pretty damp until late afternoon when the skies cleared and the sun shone through....... Again we had a lovely sail-way as we set a 'long-way around' passage to Liverpool. After-all, you can drive from Holyhead to Liverpool in a few hours, but try doing that whilst quaffing a lovely wine, feasting on a six course exquisite dinner and watching a show! Cruising from Holyhead to Liverpool is the only way to do it - the Saga Way.
We came the long way around to Liverpool. It had been a while since I drove a ship up the Mersey.
What an improvement on the water-front since my last visit and much more development is planned. However, some things don’t change, as there is still brown water, but then it is the Mersey.
We embarked the pilot some 7 miles off shore for the 19 nautical mile pilot passage from sea, up the river and to the berth. Passing Wallasey to the west and Bootle to the east, we made our way 'down town'. The River Mersey can have a fair flood on her, meaning to say if you stopped engines the ship would carry on drifting upstream with the tide, and at some speed. We were due to berth starboard side alongside which required a 'swing' in the river. For this the Pilot Authority recommends the services of a Tug.... Whilst only a recommendation, it was a RECOMMENDATION, you know what I mean!
The weather, with a brisk westerly breeze overnight, decided to deliver a 'docking shower' just as we were manoeuvring off the berth. This meant that the berthing team, me, standing on the bridge got a cold August shower. We berthed on the pontoon off Princess Parade - right down town just after 0630. It was a faster than expected Pilotage.
The Cavern Club, Liver Building & Museums were but a short walk. You could not get a better place to park, never mind the NCP!
It was a busy day with meetings and Liverpool came and went! The feedback from our Guests was almost ecstatic - so much to do and see, be it on a Shore Excursion or doing their 'own' thing.
So it was 'off' just before 1800, having waited for the last of the Shore Excursions to come back and the Pilot to embark. Setting off under steely-grey cloud cover, the outward river passage was without issue - the Pilot finally jumping off at 2030.
With the horizon clearing, allowing the setting sun to be glimpsed between the sea and cloud base, it was nice end to a successful day as we set our meandering course towards the Isle of Man.
Saga cruisers, we listen to our guests..... we truly do!
Yesterday, before we sailed from Douglas, I meandered into the Britannia Lounge for the afternoon 'tea-dance', not that I can dance! I sat with a few ladies where upon I talked about 'hoping' to do some 'scenic cruising' on the sea-day between Douglas and Kirkwall. The retort was 'Are we going to see Fingal's Cave Captain?’. I looked blankly at this question as the navigation team had already planned our 'touring' of the West of Scotland shore and the Inner Hebrides.
With a quick stride to the bridge I summoned the troops to locate Fingal’s Cave. There followed a flurry of Smart phone activity! Finally tracking down its location and transcripts about Staffa Island, where the cave lies on its southwest face, I reviewed the passage plan. If the weather was on our side it was do-able!
On the Saturday, after slow steaming around Staffa Island with a close look at Fingal’s Cave, we cruised passed the island called 'Dutchman's Cap' on Saturday morning and then resumed the original plan of scenic cruising round the Inner Hebrides finishing off with a close cruise of the Isle of Skye.
Early afternoon the eagled-eyed OOW spotted the Tall-ship 'Belem' on the western horizon. After a conversation in Anglo-French [she is French flagged and manned] we intercepted her off Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull and passed close on her port-side.
The weather had held out. A sharp cool rain shower passed over as we had a look into the mouth of Loch Bracadale before we finally moved out to the west to navigate the Minches, the water between west Scotland and the Outer Hebrides. What a fabulous day.
After our fab day cruising off the west close of Scotland yesterday, I awoke to a lovely morning. The sun, having risen at 0509, beat me getting up this morning to reveal a calm, sunny and warm day....
To the south east of Shapinsay we embarked the Kirkwall Pilot at 0630, as scheduled. I enquired of the Pilot about the warmth of the day, amongst other navigational important information. His humorous response was "yes, it could be 19 degrees today, they'll be fainting in the streets of Kirkwall”!
All fast on the berth just before 0800, my passengers were off ashore by 0830 on some very interesting Shore Excursions. Scapa Flow, and the Italian Chapel to name two of the really great places to visit. For our independent wanderers I was advised the Kirkwall would be busy on this Sunday, because Saga Sapphire was in town.
A couple of light showers occurred early afternoon before it was 'all-aboard' for our passage to Peterhead. A brisk, but bright, sea-passage through the evening.
With all the planning in the world, you do need the local knowledge of the Pilot!
The previous night my bridge team and I had worked through the best options to get into Peterhead.. It’s a small harbour with a narrow breakwater entrance.
The tidal stream was concurrent with the SW'ly breeze so what does that mean? It means we have to shoot through the entrance with some speed otherwise we'd be set down onto the northern breakwater - but how to stop this 37,000 tons of steel when inside the entrance?
We could dredge the anchor, using it as a brake, that's a real seafaring thing to do, or we could go stern in, bow to the weather and tide. The latter was likely the best option on the assumption the Peterhead harbour master would not want Saga Sapphire's anchor cable stretched out across his harbour.
It was 0500 when I got on the bridge and we shaped up for the pilot station - allowing an additional slow speed 'chat-time' once the Pilot was onboard. The pilot embarked early at 0545 and we discussed our plan. "That's very good Captain" he said, "the only problem is that there is less water than charted". So I used the time to amend the plan.
Further discussions aboard and ashore indicated we had some potential slack close-in on the break water. By adopting a 'Dover' type of approach we could go in with less speed, albeit Peterhead has a fraction of the space in every sense, than of Dover. Using the Voith equipped tug as a 'brake' against our engines we entered at 4 knots, slightly askew, and brought up in timely manner.
Backing down onto the berth for 0700 gave us a comfortable hour to settle down before inviting our Guests ashore on their excursions.
Our passage from Peterhead to Dundee saw Saga Sapphire pick up the Dundee Pilot at the mouth of the River Tay at 0230 in the morning. Oops, it was dark - not used to this!
There was not a lot to see for the 12 mile river passage up to the berth, that might have had something to do with the darkness! The Pilot was quite chatty and gave me chapter and verse on the Dundee three 'J s' of Jam, Jute and Journalism. The 'J' of journalism includes the 'Beano'. I remember reading that as a lad, Roger the Dodger, Billy Whizz, Minnie the Minx.
However, I was intrigued to hear that Dundee is a 'quiet' shipping town, and there are only three pilots working the river. Some of the 'offshore' industry has made a small entry into the area. A couple of 'jack-ups' and offshore support vessels were moored on the north bank - where Saga Sapphire was berthed.
The river is shallow at Low Water, too shallow by far to navigate. Hence our arrival and departure times were dictated by High Water times. The berth was dredged to suit the Saga Sapphire hull form - so at low water we were 'boxed'. That means we were floating in a dug-out 'box' and all around was shallow water, too shallow for Saga Sapphire to leave.
We were berthed for 0430 - it was time for bed! When I rose I was delighted to see, yet again, a lovely day - knowing further south the country was suffering heavy rain and stormy conditions. As I remind my Guests frequently, 'what a good choice of cruise they have made'!
It was also great to see the 'bagpiper' on the quay to welcome our Guests on and off the ship.
For departure I arranged a tug with the Harbour Master, as there was an onshore breeze and we were sailing on the Ebb, i.e. the water level reduces as we navigate out, so no time for hanging about.
The run down the River Tay out to sea was lovely, brisk, but the sun was shining. The wind gave rise to short white sea and, as a bonus, Dolphins playing on the bow!
We were in and out of Dover in no time, or so it seemed. Sailing promptly in somewhat blustery conditions, we slipped out of the Western Entrance and made for the Channel Islands. By late afternoon it was blowing a good Force 8, if not tipping into a Force 9. The great thing about this ‘ole girl’ of the sea, is Saga Sapphire is built like a battle ship so she never murmured.
Early evening saw the weather ease off as we approached the mid-point of the traffic lanes and crossed over to the ‘French-side’ - after all this is the ‘French Interlude! Shortly after 0400 this morning we rounded Cap de la Hague on the North West tip of Normandy and transited the tidal race running at 6 knots off Alderney.
I had been put under pressure by my table guests of the previous evening, who noted that sometimes the weather had interfered with the call to Guernsey. Hmm, I had wondered about the ‘swell’ having had our brisk-blow in the English Channel yesterday. Fortunately, or is it me [!] the weather was on our side, a gentle breeze from the shore line and a slight swell running up from the south was in evidence. We managed to anchor well west of the advice initially given, a little bit of negotiation required there. We finally anchored by 0800, well in the lee of the land and out of the swell.
And the sun shone too!
It was so idyllic sitting off St Peter Port, watching life go by, but I had to earn my living and drive to Cherbourg! So after a successful day we weighed anchor and set course back on ourselves from our arrival passage, just around the corner really. Another great Saga day.
After the overnight saunter from the Channel Islands we shaped up for the Cherbourg pilot grounds and what a fantastic sunrise. It seemed the sun was ’late’ today as we has put our clocks forward one hour overnight making 6am sunrise 7 am. I do like the early sunrises - such a crisp, clean feel to the air and when at sea it's even more special.
I had brought the Pilot embarkation time forward 30 minutes to ensure we were all tied up and ready for guests to go ashore a soon as possible.
The Pilot strolled onto the bridge and I recognised the deportment: “ah Pierre, Mon vieil ami, comment vas-tu?” It was my old friend from back in the day of my Piloting. I used to spend some memorable moments in Cherbourg whilst waiting for deep draft tankers to go up the English Channel. The photograph of the Café de Paris and its neighbouring ‘eateries’ are located just to the west side of the port. Regular haunts of mine some ten years ago.
A simple manoeuvre in the inner harbour, Petite Rade, had us alongside . It takes a while to get ‘things’ done in Cherbourg. The shore gangway was put in place and ultimately we were given clearance for our Guests to go ashore. The first tours were away a tad late so I put back our departure by 30 minutes, just to ensure we delivered what it says on the tin.
With the sun shining pretty much most of our stay the locals turned-out to see us off. It had that hint of ‘Atlantic Crossing’ nostalgia. After all this berth is from where the great Ocean Liners set sail, including the Titanic, for the North Atlantic passages and it still proudly carries its name ‘Darese Transatlantiqiue’.
Blowing the ship's ‘typhoon’ [whistle], it’s a bit of a bellowing beast, we waved interested spectators ‘a la prochaine’….