After my reasonably early Spanish siesta, having escaped the clutches of the Kiel Canal yesterday morning, we steamed through the Fermer Belt – the southern section of the Kattegat, I guess you could say, that which separates the Danish Island of Sjaelland and the German Island of Fermer.
The late afternoon saw us off the Polish coast before rounding into the Gulf of Gdansk in the early hours of this morning. It was our ‘Welcome’ cocktail party last evening and what a fabulous table I had for Dinner. The cuisine was outstanding too, great job George, you can come to mine anytime!
We embarked the pilot off the breakwaters at 0700 this morning, on the button, timewise before heading into the Port. It’s a bit of a ‘hand-brake’ stop in Gdynia so I took pleasure in advising Tom, Staffy, that it was his turn to park. “Thank you, Sir” he said with a wry smile.
The Guests were off ashore soon after 0800. It was a bit of an overcast & grey day with a chill on the edge of that wind, but it wasn’t raining all day! It was good to get feedback that, despite the weather, it was an enjoyable day in Gdynia.
We were scheduled to sail at 2000 but with all aboard just after 1900 we made preparations to get away and head off across the Baltic to Stockholm.
The wind was due to get up and I had a weather-eye on the forecasts. It’s surprising how varied ‘official’ forecasts can be – ok, it’s to be expected. That’s why I quite like my Met Office surface analysis. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s good to use your own grey matter.
By 1930 we were clear of Gdynia and heading up to Stockholm.
After a relaxed day at sea yesterday, actually for the senior team it was a day of ‘meetings, rounds and inspections’, we shaped up for the Stockholm Archipelago Pilot who embarked at 0500. Due to darkness rules [size of ship] we had to delay an hour, sunrise beginning at 0549. I had previously agreed a ‘deal’ with the Staff Captain, one of us has to be on the bridge for Pilotages, so he did this morning's pilotage ‘in’ and I have just done the Pilotage 'out'. I think I got the short straw…
It was a fresh breeze, 25 kts, but somewhat masked by the islands in the Archipelago. I was up on the bridge for 0700 to let the Staff get some admin done… Another lovely dawn to the day, my favourite time.
I had ordered a tug as I was required to berth port-side too, stern in and the wind blowing off the berth. I had planned to swing close off the knuckle of the berth, allowing the ship to set down on the wind and the tug to push-up the stern onto the berth. We were to be perched on the end of the berth. Got the picture?
Anyway after perfect positioning to swing in, stern first - once off the knuckle, we started to set up, rather than set down on the wind. This time a counter current created by the high winds the previous night - of which the pilot advised there was none but to be fair meteorological events have an unpredictable effect on tidal streams – required an adjustment of plan which saw me driving the ship astern towards the southern berth, before calling-in the tug to push up. Worked a dream.
The irony was that halfway through this tricky change of plan, the Authorities called the Pilot and advised the ship not to berth due to an administration ‘irregularity’ … well you can imagine my response to that, 'no way José'. So I took the consequences of berthing without Customs clearance rather than try to abort a manoeuvre at such a tricky point!
All done, gangway landed - we then waited our fate from Customs. Seemingly an error elsewhere, other than the ship’s due process. I could live with that. Another 30 minutes and the issue was resolved and we got on with our day in Stockholm…
The Excursions in Stockholm were superb, as well as it being a great city to do ‘your own thing’ in. Seemingly our guests had a great visit.
Departure was yet another debate with the Pilots. Our scheduled departure was at 1700, all onboard at 1630. However, the ‘darkness’ rules . . . . If we sailed at 1645 [all mooring ropes ‘let-go’] we required one pilot and one particular route out. If after 1645, we required two pilots and to go another route. It was all about that one second, who’s watch are we watching!
I invited Igor, the Chief Officer, to undertake the departure manoeuvre. It was an interesting one for him. The wind had shifted to the east and was gusting 30 knots, so it was a case of letting Saga Sapphire come off about one meter then coax her ahead on the ‘outboard’ [Starboard] engine. We could not give her a turn of power as we had to swing the stern into the wind to get into the main fairway without running out of water on the other side of the channel. A good job Igor.
Ahead lay a five hour pilotage then out into some fierce easterly winds. I had advised the Guests that our ‘open’ decks would be closed as we were expecting winds up to 45 kts. Dropping the Pilot at just after 2200, I remained on the bridge to assist the 2nd Officer of the Watch [OOW] as we negotiated the ‘traffic schemes’ between the Swedish and Finnish territorial waters, the traffic and the weather - it was howling.
Shortly before midnight we were set for Helsinki, but I had my doubts. Time for bed . . . good night readers.
I awoke this morning to the wind whistling around the structure of the mighty Saga Sapphire. Yesterday in Stockholm I had been in constant dialogue with the Helsinki Port Authority and Pilots. We exchanged schematics of how and where to swing the ship, where and how to operate with up to three tugs as the forecast was for an easterly 40-45kts blow. We even had a look at two berthing options.
So the forecast came to be, it was a howler - but, save for a few bumps in the night, the ole heavy lady worked comfortably in the rough seas. Today at 11.00 was my deadline to go/no-go. The Pilot was due at 1030, but I was already an hour late. My deadline, that’s because I would have to turn beam-on to the seas to approach the station and embark the Pilot. It was now clear this was just not safe to do. And to consider, if I did get in to Helsinki there was no certainty I would get out - for sure I would not be popular if I sacrificed two days in St Petersburg!
So at 11.00 today I broadcast to my Guests that Helsinki was off the agenda. Now I’m at reduced speed, nice and comfy, and my fabulous team is putting on that little bit ‘extra’ for our Guests this afternoon. How great are our Saga Guests, really understanding that, however disappointing not going to Helsinki is, safety and passenger comfort comes first. So refreshing….
Just need to think about squeezing in to St Pete’s early tomorrow - more on that later…..
I’m going to pop down and have steam bath now in the Spa. I find it sharpens the mind and reinvigorates the energy levels. Great little sanctuary is the Saga Sapphire Spa, down on deck two. You should come and try it ….
This morning the Russian Pilot embarked some 25 nautical miles out. The route inward to St Petersburg is a very narrow and shallow channel - and we do it in convoy. There were 5 cruises ships in the convoy this morning, but we were in pole position.
The Pilot came across as very reasonable, listened, and communicated in a constructive manner. Part of the ‘process’ is what we call an MPX, Master Pilot Exchange. This is where we declare the status of the ship and the Pilot declares the status of navigation, in basic terms.
The passage inwards, through the outer limits of St Petersburg, demonstrated that the Pilot was good at what he did. Nicely done, Vladislav.
I recalled the first time I was here. Then it was called Leningrad, so I was expectant of a drab, grey, impoverished city….. but the spectacular sunrise, just before 0500, aroused my suspicions that things had changed. A new cruise facility, and some contemporary buildings under construction, it was all shiny.
After a chilly hour on the bridge wing we were all tied up by 0600 ………. time for some breakfast.
Our passengers, too, would soon be up and tucking-in to their breakfasts, before getting ready to go ashore to enjoy the highlights of this magnificent city of St Petersburg.
It was a great stay in St Petersburg, everyone was brimming with adulation about their stay, the Excursions and the quality of the Guides. Indeed, one could argue, why don’t we stay for two nights . . . Just a suggestion Saga planning team. The Hermitage evening visit, open only to Saga Sapphire guests, along with a fabulous concert was, so I am told, absolutely spectacular. Six cruise ships in that evening and only Saga Sapphire guests got to go into the ‘closed’ Hermitage for their own private experience . . . of a life time. What can I say!
I had heard that the road traffic was somewhat mad in St Petersburg. When I asked “is it worse than the M25 on a bad day”, the retort was, “oh-yes”. Travelling by ship is a much a nicer pace of life!
So we set off last night, Staff Captain Tom drove out, nice little manoeuvre and I left him to the final bit of the Pilotage as I was hosting my table evening. It’s great to have such a skilled team around me.
This morning was a sensible arrival timewise into Tallinn. No need for me to get out of bed at some unearthly hour - 6 am is a significant lie-in! Tom drove in to the berth and I had 2nd Officer, Gwyn, lined up for the departure.
The Pilot embarked at 0700 for the straight forward Pilotage to the berth - super calm conditions this morning. We were ‘all-fast’ [term for being ‘fully moored’, don’t even ask!], in ample time.
My regular morning broadcast to my Guests is a balance of facts, important information and chit chat. This morning I pronounced Tallinn as ‘Tarrlynn’, giving it a posh edge – it created popular conversation and seemed to stick!
What a city, Tallinn seemed bigger than when I was last here… and the local people are so lovely. Highly recommend a visit if you’ve not been here.
Gwyn, the 2nd Officer, was duly briefed and he took the ship out of Tallinn. A first manoeuvre for him and a nice job too Gwyn. Debarking the Pilot an hour later we were off around to Saaremaa, Estonia - a first call for me.
Sareema, the largest Estonian Island, came over the horizon early morning and sunrise was at 0645, just before the scheduled Pilot embark time. The Pilot was super chap, very relaxed. I berthed alongside and was ‘all-fast’ [you know that term now, yes?] before 8am. We were parked, the gangway was rigged, the Pilot left the ship and the linesmen were gone. A few minutes later two chaps hurried along the quay and ‘cleared’ the ship.
Our Guests had a fabulous time here. I was bowled over with surprise at the rich enjoyment the call had received - contrary to my initial thoughts of ‘why are we here’. How wrong one can be!
All our Guests were back on board for 17.00 and it was Charlotte’s turn to drive tonight, our young 3rd Officer. From Last Rope to being ’Full Away’ [a term used to put the ship into a non-manoeuvring but sea-going mode of operation] was a mere 11 minutes.
What a splendid day. We are now off to Riga, in Latvia.
A new day and a new port, but I guess that’s why we enjoy cruising! It was a quiet run around to Riga. It was a shallow run up the river and in pitch black, but with a capable Pilot I was relaxed.
Tom, Staff Captain was berthing this morning - straight forward, but with a brisk 25 knots wind, fortunately up and down the quay, it still took a focussed mind.
I’ve not mentioned the weather much recently but there's a reason for that - it’s not been the best - but I had an ace card this morning. The forecast was telling a gloomy story but my Pilot, a local of many years, said it would improve at 10.00am because of this and that. I relayed this to my flock during my morning announcement. Low and behold shortly after 10.00 the clouds rolled back-ish, and the sun shone through-ish. Was I the hero!
Despite the dull start all the feedback from our Guests was super - what a place to park a ship, right down town.
The day ended and it was time to get underway. The Chief Officer was driving out - another ‘tug’ experience for him.
Clear of the berth at 1930 - the Pilot set about driving back down the river. I held the Pilotage this evening as Tom had put in some long hours today. Debarking the Pilot at 2100 we set course for Wismar. Once clear of navigational hazards I left my OOW to his duties and turned-in.
Wismar is an interesting port, both the port and its approaches. The Pilotage distance is 15nm but we allow 3 hours to get to the berth. Why? Because it’s narrow and shallow. Tug services were required this morning, as it was a tight swinging circle and a stiff wind. Having swung through the wind and crept the bow and stern 50 meters past the obstructions at each end I was able to go astern to the berth – utilising the power of the tug to keep the stern up against the wind.
Parked for 0730, those Guests on the all-day tour to Berlin were eagerly debarking shortly after 8am. That’s those guys gone for the whole day.
Thinking of tomorrow, and the run to the Kiel Canal from Wismar, I pondered how to make the most of the Kiel Canal experience for my Guests. I think the Eastern part is so much nicer than the Western end from a ‘spectacle’ point of view so getting to Kiel later would give more daylight hours in the Eastern end. I therefore delayed our Wismar departure until 2200, allowing for a nice leisurely evening in Wismar - such a lovely town.
That decided and communicated, true to form, the engineers being engineers took advantage of the long in-port time to do some routine maintenance on the engines. The team that did a straight 12 hours to get the job done. Thanks guys. I was even happier when the engine started on the first button!
With the engine back together (and no ‘bits’ left lying about, always a good sign), and all onboard, we ‘let-go’ and left the berth. Clear of the narrows at midnight, we debarked the Pilot shortly thereafter and course was set for Kiel, 71 miles away. Time for a short nap!
Good Morning Blog Readers, We are safely tucked up in Southampton today so let’s recap the past two days….
I was into the first locks at Holtenau at 0630 on Tuesday, later than originally planned so that my Guests could enjoy the eastern section for the Canal … not the best of weather though. It was blowing anything between 25kts to 35kts, which made for not only interesting entry and exits into and out of the locks, but also for the Kiel Canal transit. However, many guests commented on the lovely experience of the transit which, given the conditions, was nice to hear.
So, out into the Elbe River for our transit into German Bight, North Sea. The forecast was not a pretty picture. Dropping the Pilot at 2130 we set course westwards. The ship started to move a bit then. Rounding the NW tip of Germany early doors yesterday and heading towards the Dover Straits we started to feel the force of the weather, but by mid-afternoon the weather was abating and the seas were easing back.
Embarking the Pilot at 0400 we made our way up to the Port of Southampton. More happy-hunting grounds for me as I used to work a cross-channel ferry out of Southampton many moons ago. My final manoeuvre was onto berth 38, QEII Terminal, and I was parked before 0700. Again, more memories. I used to sail out of this berth when I worked for P&O on the old Oriana, the ship built for the Orient Line before they joined forces and became P&O, back in the day.
So, dear readers, Captain Julian Burgess takes command today and I am off home on leave. I will be back in December.
I do hope you have enjoyed my blogs - a bit hit & miss at times, but over to Captain Julian now. This is Captain Stuart Horne signing out.