Jamaica, a very different island in the Caribbean, and yet so close to Cuba. Ocho Rios, on the north coast, must have been a tourist destination for many years as it is a very pleasant little bay sheltered from the trade winds. On this day there were three cruise ships alongside, one (not us thankfully) alongside the bauxite berth. It was this berth that I believe was ‘blown up’in the first Bond film, Dr. No.
For around fifty of our passengers it was their day to leave us, having been on board for exactly four weeks and having absolutely superb weather throughout. For those staying there were two tours available, the longest was over to Dunn’s River Falls, a 600 foot waterfall that can be climbed with the help of experienced guides. A number of our more adventurous Saganauts actually completed the challenge apparently. The other tour was a more placid experience on a 30 foot bamboo raft gliding down the Maltibereon River while a skilled local ‘poler’talked about local flora and fauna, in that delightful Jamaican accent of course.
Some of the folks took a stroll into town, passing the many traders who had stalls just inside the security gate. I had a quick look and despite my uniform and obvious age, they still tried their luck, but in a humorous way. I found myself having to explain that no, I did not need a carved wooden head of a Rastafarian, a ‘Respect’fist that could be used to hold a bottle of local rum, or a garish tropical shirt that looked like it might light up even the darkest of nights. Nor did I want a small packet surreptitiously drawn from a side pocket and which I thought was probably something that might cause a UK Customs officer to raise an eyebrow.
We stayed alongside until 10.30 pm so that a local steel band could come and perform on the back deck. But this was no ordinary steel band, the singer also introduced the limbo dancing and a fire eater who seemed to want to burn every part of his skin off. We had taken precautions of course, and he would have been promptly doused by a powerful jet from a sea water hose if our watchful Safety Officer Dan had the slightest inkling that things were going to far.
Sailing back past the Windward Passage, Haiti was on the left, then the Dom Rep, both part of what used to be known as Hispaniola. Santo Domingo is the busy capital and our berth was separated from the walls of the old Spanish fortress by a very busy road where the traffic, even at 7.30 in the morning, was nose to tail.
The first tour out was ours, billed as a truck safari, the initial ride was on a comfortable air conditioned coach into the country side. Here we transferred to a ‘conditioned air’open sided truck with hard seats and unforgiving suspension, a little different you might think, but a great way to get a real feel for what life is like away from the big city.
After a few miles we stopped off in a small town to check out the fresh produce on sale by the side of the road. A small dilapidated pick-up truck with a corrugated tin ‘roof’was completely full with pineapples, a couple of which were expertly chopped by the driver using a serious looking machete so we could have a taste.
Ten minutes later we pulled up outside a small farm and went down a track, colourful bougainvillea growing both side and sugar cane in an adjacent field. A few long sticks were chopped down, the black skin removed and small pieces offered to taste, chewy but sweet. There were a few small wooden shacks that made up the home for this rural family, seemingly poor, but we were told that they might not be cash rich, but they owned all the land and managed to make a small living from what they harvested and the animals they kept. Nothing was thrown away it seemed, even the few cattle were taking their feed from an old tractor tyre with one side cut off.
We moved another mile or so down the road, to another small farmstead, and here we met a smiling 92 year old lady named Mercedes. She and her family grew, amongst other things, coffee and cocoa, and were heating hot water in an old saucepan over a small wood fire when we arrived. The water was eventually added to some of their home grown crop and offered to us for tasting. In addition there were small bottles that had once held rum now filled with vanilla and cocoa powder along with ones filled with what looked like leaves, herbs and other ‘stuff’. Apparently grape juice, honey and water had to be added to make some sort of ‘cure all’. I tried a little, which reminded me of a certain cough mixture I had as a child. Well, I haven’t got a cough, so I resisted the urge to drink any more.
It was a delightful insight into rural life in the Dominican Republic, poor but certainly not in poverty. The government provides free compulsory education in every village, no matter how small, and free medical care. The people seemed happy with their lot in life and when we left the family came out smiling and waved us all goodbye. Perhaps we have something to learn.
With a long and fast run over from Santo Domingo it was always going to be tight at the pilot station for Bridgetown, but in actual fact we were alongside 30 minutes before schedule. There were just a few intrepid Saganauts who were on their starting blocks for a prompt escape to maximise their time ashore prior to our six sea day jaunt over to the Azores.
The remainder took the slightly more sedate pace of taking one of the scheduled tours, and there was plenty to choose from. Snorkelers went off for a turtle encounter, plane enthusiasts could go and take a look at Concorde G-BOAE, now a museum. A drive around the island, a descent into Harrison’s Cave, or an amble around the delightful gardens built into a sinkhole by Anthony Hunt were also available.
With friends just arrived, Mrs R and I went over for a bite to eat at the Sunbury Plantation House in the county of St. Philip. Here, among the cane fields, is an old house originating from the 1600’s that has passed through various families over the intervening years. In 1981 the house was separated from the sugar plantation and bought by the Melville family who opened it to the public in 1984.
Despite a disastrous fire in 1995, the house was restored and is now a wonderful example of how life must have been. The carriage museum in the cellars, where once yams and other root vegetables were strung up, now houses the largest collection of antique carriages in the Caribbean. Upstairs the various rooms have some magnificent artefacts and old furniture, including a huge polished antique 18 seat dining table, several four poster beds, old maps of the island and photographs of the people who lived there, trunks, wardrobes and rattan cane chairs. A children’s room had many dolls, some rather grumpy looking I have to say, and also an unusual looking ‘punishment’chair. I can just imagine that thirty minutes sat on that hard seat with straight back, trying not to fidget, would have been punishment enough.
A final Caribbean steel band played on the after deck in the cooling trade wind before we departed, sailed up past the inviting lights of the west coast and eventually turned to the north east. We have had the most remarkable run of excellent weather, hot and steamy at times, but just a delight. Two months of sunshine, but now, less than two weeks left to go before we return to Southampton, the sea temperature will gradually reduce and our bodies must gradually acclimatise to much cooler climes. The fun though, is not quite over.
The first few days at sea after Barbados were mainly in north easterly winds coming from a high pressure system to the north of us, so those wishing to complete their seven laps (to the mile) on the top deck had to battle the elements somewhat. Gradually the high pressure overtook us and we found ourselves in calmer seas.
The island of Faial was clearly visible in the early morning twilight and, despite it being a Sunday, the Horta pilot was out on station in good time to meet us. The weather was ideal, little wind and the sun dawning over the peak of the magnificent dormant volcano of Pico to the east. There are few cruise ships that can actually berth in Horta, in fact at 200 meters in length we are probably the largest and even then our stern was level with the end of the breakwater (great shame they originally built it with a kink in the middle). The enthusiastic pilot was adamant I should borrow his car so that I could take my wife for a drive around the island. Very kind I thought, but perhaps less than wise as I had visions of trying to explain to my lords and masters the reason for either getting totally lost or ‘bending’ a local official’s vehicle.
Instead we took a stroll after crew drill, along the promenade that skirts the small bay, the town looking quite charming in the morning sunlight, white painted buildings and terracotta roofs gradually rising up towards the green slopes above. All the streets are cobbled and the pavements have that typical Portuguese black stone inlaid with geometric patterns, except on the promenade where the patterns are of lighthouses and anchors. Everywhere was so clean and tidy, even in the public gardens where every leaf seemed to be in place, all very charming.
There were tours of the island that included gardens, the lava flows near the Capelinhos Volcano and the small interior villages of Ribeira Funda and Norte Pequeno. The fittest of the Saganauts went for a trek around the Caldeira do Faial, the island’s huge volcanic crater that is a mile wide and half a mile deep. One tour went off by ferry to the island of Pico four miles away, those folks weren’t back until well after six, our original scheduled sailing time. Needless to say we waited of course, but I did make a hasty getaway once they were back, just ten minutes between last line to full away on the penultimate leg of what has been a fantastic cruise.
We come towards the end of our very successful ‘Central American Discovery’, one final port, El Ferrol in Galicia. Arriving in the late morning, the almost cloudless sky allowed bright sunlight to reflect from the traditional old buildings above what is now the yacht harbour. It is a most interesting port, protected from the sea by a three mile narrow channel, but opening up into a large bay where the Spanish have always had one of their main naval bases. Fishing of course, and a modicum of commercial ship activity still exists, but it also has one of the main shipyards for the building and repair of large gas carriers.
Tours to the pilgrimage city Santiago de Compostela were soon on their way and wouldn’t return until dinner time, while a scenic tour around the beautiful coastline of Galicia left after lunch. For the great majority though, it was a gentle stroll into town, a town apparently modelled on the Portuguese city of Lisbon. Once past the old quarter close to the harbour, with the naval arsenal on the right, six parallel streets form a rectangle with a square at either end. There are many interesting buildings, including the old fish market, the Town Hall and, of particular note, the Exponav Museum that displays a considerable amount of artefacts relating to Spanish Naval history. In the nearby arsenal there were a number of active warships and also the only Spanish aircraft carrier built to take the Harrier Jump Jet, now decommissioned and waiting for the inevitable.
I took the decision to sail the following morning, having been given a certain amount of ‘wriggle room’in case of bad weather. This allowed quite a few of the Saganauts to take a stroll in the evening and some to dine ashore. A small restaurant, recommended by the pilot, was given a recce by Mrs R earlier in the afternoon and turned out to be quite exceptional gastro wise. A most pleasurable memory for our last call, and I can thoroughly recommend the Albarino.
The same pilot boarded just before 0800hrs, the weather chilly, but bright and clear as we departed the berth and headed out into the Biscay. A good crossing is forecast yet again, another bonus for what has been a wonderful voyage. Great memories for all the Saganauts and, somewhat poignantly, for Mrs R and me. All things being even however, we shall return for the final three week swansong at the end of April.
Greetings to Everyone. This is my first Blog since returning to Saga Sapphire on 18th March after a most enjoyable 2 months leave. With 2 skiing holidays one is always pleased to come home in one piece!!
On boarding Saga Sapphire in Southampton it was very evident the ship had just completed a very successful 66 night cruise to Central America. Not to be completely outdone we set off on a 26 night “Springtime in the Adriatic” cruise with a fabulous itinerary, including 4 calls in Croatia.
With a very comfortable passage across the Bay of Biscay we arrived at the Lisbon Pilot Station at the area known as Belem. I always enjoy sailing up the Tagus river to Lisbon as it is such an attractive arrival. The highlight is passing under the April 25th suspension bridge and sounding the ship's whistle just at the right time. Many of our guests were on deck for our spectacular arrival which saw us dock at the Apolonia Cruise Terminal, a stone’s throw from Black Horse Square.
A wonderful time was had by all. At 6.45 pm we slipped our moorings, swung off the berth and headed back down river to the open sea en route for Malaga.