Sunrise this morning saw us approaching Rijeka, the principal seaport and 3rd largest city in Croatia (after Zagreb and Split). It was a beautiful morning with a little chill in the air and a very gentle breeze. This looked like a fairly straight forward arrival with no big turns, or swinging the ship –this was head in straight towards the pier. Experience has taught me these are the manoeuvres that you need to take extra care with, as one could be too relaxed. My team was appropriately briefed to be extra alert and focused. The good news is everything went well.
Shortly after arrival at this new port for me I made my usual arrival broadcast, however I had a very important announcement to make which went something like this
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Please may I have your full attention for this important announcement.
I have been informed that we have just received the fuel report for the oil we loaded in Malta on the 27th March. This report has shown that this heavy fuel is contaminated, which means we may not have enough fuel to get to our next re-fuelling stop in Gibraltar. Having had lengthy discussions with our Chief Engineer and the Engine Manufacturers we have established that a bi-product of Sun Tan Oil can in fact be used temporarily in the Ship's Engines, so I am asking everyone for their help. We will of course be sending some of the crew ashore to purchase some sun tan oil, however if you can spare some as well then please take this to the Reception Desk. I really appreciate your help in this matter.”
As a result of my broadcast we had 4 bottles of sun cream delivered to reception and a call from the Shop to say they would carry out a stock take and see if they had any spare!!!
Happy April Fool’s Day.
I decided to have a short bike ride and look for a local restaurant that our Croatian Staff Captain had recommended. Here is a photo of my lunch of black risotto, fresh calamari, fish soup, salad, and a modest glass of wine –all for 19 Euros. The food was fantastic.
At 1930 we let go our lines and our Staff Captain “drove out”as we head towards Zadar.
Strong winds were forecast for our arrival into Zadar so a tug was ordered and we chose to arrive very early to avoid the stronger winds often associated with sunrise.
With the pilot on board at 0600 we discussed our mooring plan and where to secure the Tug. 15 mins later the Tug had broken down. Staying calm was the answer and ensuring the whole Bridge team was clear with our new plan!! The wind was not as strong as forecast and we were able to swing off the pier and then “back down”to our berth. A rather enjoyable manoeuvre, especially as it was a beautiful twilight period before sunrise. We were all fast alongside by 0715 , however I held off on the morning broadcast until closer to 8 o’clock.
Zadar is the historical centre of Dalmatia as well as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Zadar. With 4 shore excursions on offer today there was something for everyone, and of course the complimentary shuttle bus that Saga offers in most ports.
I often take breakfast and lunch with different Guests at the Verandah restaurant and I get to find out “what is really happening around the ship”. During today’s lunch the Guests were sharing their experience of Zadar with me, which left me in no doubt about taking a “whizz”round. So in the afternoon I took the opportunity to jump on my bike again and tour round the city centre.
Attached are a few photos from my cycle trip which show what a lovely place this is with cobbled narrow streets, impressive fortifications and plenty of cafes. Out by the coast there was a natural orchestra playing due to a number of pipes buried in the sea –difficult to explain but something worth visiting with any call to Zadar.
We departed shortly after 1800. Having completed an interesting manoeuvre where we pivoted around the fenders at the end of the pier, we headed off towards our final Croatian port, Hvar.
Our last Croatian port on this 26 night “Springtime in the Adriatic”is Hvar and what a delightful port this is. Although too small for us to go alongside, with Saga Sapphire we were able to anchor within ½mile of the pier. We were all ready to take our Guests ashore from 0800 and with all 4 tenders running throughout the day it was a very smooth operation. This was my first Tender port with Saga Cruises and I was very impressed with the ship and shore party organisation. Our Crew as always were brilliant with assisting Guests in and out of the boat.
In the afternoon it was very calm so I took the opportunity to go for a wander. I was last in Hvar in 1986 during a 4 week Inter-rail trip after finishing my apprenticeship. I just could not recognise anything as 30 years on from a Communist regime the drab buildings were replaced with very attractive houses, restaurants, bars and a delightful small harbour. After my walk round I joined a few of the ship's staff for a coffee whilst sitting outside and enjoying the views across the harbour.
With everyone back on board we “weighed”anchor and weaved through the off lying islands before setting a steady course back down the Adriatic Sea. With 4 ports in a row, our Guests and myself are ready for a few days at sea.
This is my first ever call in Cagliari (pronounced Caliari), so I was rather excited to be arriving at yet another new port. It’s amazing that after 36 years at sea Saga could find 4 new ports for me in the space of one cruise.
Our 4th Officer Pete had the Con (control of the speed and direction) all the way up to embarking the harbour pilot. With myself in a coaching role and of course retaining the overall charge, he slowed the ship down to about 5 knots, ordered the full movement of the rudder and tested both engines astern. This is part of our normal arrival procedures and he did a very good job!!
Once the pilot was on board and we had our initial discussions, I then took the Con from Pete who headed to the forward mooring deck to take charge of the mooring operation. The pilot did not do a lot this morning, other than stand in the corner of the Bridge and use his phone!! There is a requirement in the vast majority of ports for ships to be under the guidance of pilots, who are considered local experts. With our Bridge Resource Management operation we typically only use the pilots for advice and keep the control ourselves. There are of course exceptions to this.
With us all fast alongside by 0740 we eventually got clearance from the Italian authorities and our Guests were free to proceed ashore. Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia and its Sardinian name Casteddu literally means castle. Our Guests had the delights of 4 tours today including a Scenic Sardinian Drive, Sardinian Culture and Regional fare which included lunch, and Cagliari and its Hidden Roman City. I spoke with a number of Guests at afternoon tea, and there were some great comments particularly in respect of Sardinian Culture and Regional Fare –they seemed to love the food and wine!!
With everyone on board by 5.30 pm we slipped our moorings and the Staff Captain “drove”us out to sea towards our next port of call, Gibraltar. With two days at sea, and continuing superb weather, our Guests are having a fabulous cruise.
Tonight I have been invited to a Diamond Dinner with 2 of our Guests who have cruised with Saga for more than 1000 nights, yes 1000 nights or 3 years at sea!! Our “Britannia Club”Loyalty scheme has some wonderful benefits and we do love to reward loyalty. Our Diamond Members, amongst many benefits, are entitled to one free cruise of 22 nights (selected cruises only) and an Exclusive private dining experience hosted by the Captain or one of his Senior Officers.
It was forecast to be a windy arrival and it certainly did not disappoint. When my team called me at 0600 for our arrival into Gibraltar I was rather pleased as the wind was only 15 knots from the north east. At that stage I was beginning to wonder why I had ordered a tug the afternoon before. Shortly after embarking the pilot at 0700 the wind started to freshen and started gusting to 30 knots directly off the berth. With some great Bridge Resource Management and team work, assisted by the pilot and with the use of a tug, we manouvered alongside on the stroke of 0800.
Gibraltar has long been known as the “key”to the Mediterranean and has been held by Britain since 1704. It’s always a spectacular arrival as the “Rock”rears out of the sea and can be seen for many miles prior to arrival. Gib has an area of 25 sq miles and lies on the eastern side of Algeciras Bay. Apart from its Military history it is also well known for its barbary apes, which are the only wild, tail-less monkeys in Europe.
The ship was cleared soon after our arrival and around 0830 the first of our Guests started to head ashore, many of whom were on tour to go to the top of the rock on the cable car. Other tours included the Dolphin Watch, Alameda Gardens & Cable Car Ride, and Europa Point & English Tea.
Shortly after everyone was onboard we let go our lines and the ship “sailed”off the berth with no help needed from our engines or thrusters. After clearing the berth we headed south in Gibraltar Bay, and turned east to exit the Mediterranean via the Gib Straits. Our next stop on this 26 night “Springtime in the Adriatic”is our return to Southampton.
This is the last Blog of this cruise and what a wonderful cruise it’s been with a terrific itinerary, marvellous weather, and of course outstanding Saga customer service.
Captain Julian Burgess
Captain Julian Burgess
Apr 15, 2017
As we leave Southampton on Good Friday, there is real excitement in the air as our guests sail off towards Cherbourg for the first port on our Easter Escape Cruise. With 660 Guests on board, of which almost half are new to Saga Cruises, we have the opportunity to show them the Saga Way!! Having been chauffeured down to Southampton they arrive relaxed and already in holiday mode. With a crew of 423 to look after them they soon experience Saga Cruises personal attention, excellent food, complimentary wine at lunch and dinner and the small, friendly ship feel.
It's Saturday morning and at 0715 we embark the local pilot for the 7 mile run into our berth. It’s a fresh morning with winds around 15-20 knots. Once we get in to the inner harbour the wind drops down to 15 knots and I am able to dock the ship without a tug. At 0845 we are all clear and our Guests are free to proceed ashore.
Unsurprisingly no-one other than those on tour are rushing ashore as with great entertainment last night and an hour forward on the clocks a “leisurely”start is the order of the day. The first of our Tours head off to Cap de la Hague, closely followed by a trip to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum & Cathedral. I decide to have lunch on board and then head off on my bike for a ride along the coast. After battling the head winds I look forward to the return ride. After an hour of exercise it's time to stop for a caféau lait and a small patisierre.
With everyone back on board we set sail. Captain Richard Lambert is “driving”out tonight as he's here to take over from me for 4 days from 18-22 April whilst I head home on compassionate leave. As an experienced seafarer he takes it in his stride and we weave our way out of the harbour.
After we are clear I head down to the Britannia Lounge to host the Captain's Cocktail Party. These are always a great event and I get the opportunity to introduce my Senior Officers. After the party it’s time to host my table, and again this is where Saga Cruises do this so well. After dinner our Guests are entertained with the production ”Walk Like a Man”–the ultimate tribute to rock'n roll legend Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
It’s a beautiful morning as we approach St Peter Port with the sunrise as we start to slow down to embark the pilot. From the pilot boarding positions it's 3 miles to our anchorage position. We have to anchor today as the harbour is too small for cruise ships, even for a little lady like Saga Sapphire. We are anchored shortly after 0800 and by 0830 we are ready to take our Guests ashore using the ship's tenders.
With its cobbled streets, picturesque seafront marina and historic gardens, it is easy to see why St Peter port is considered one of Europe’s prettiest harbour towns. Guernsey’s capital has been a busy port since Roman times.
There are 5 tours on offer today with an Island Panoramic trip, Vintage Guernsey, Occupied Guernsey and a leisurely trip to the Island of Sark. It’s a beautiful sunny day so perfect for exploring.
With everyone back on board by 1745 and all tenders secured shortly afterwards, we “weigh”anchor at 1815 and leave St Peter Port. We then head NE towards the Alderney race and on towards le Havre.
A slightly dull start to our arrival at the pilot station this morning, however I know our Guests are in high spirits –you only have to look at the bar takings!!
With the pilot on board at 0700 we speed up to 10kts for the 7 miles to the berth. They have very good leading lights here which marks the centre of the approach channel. If they are in line you are bang on track. If they are displaced you quickly know if you are to port or starboard of the intended track.
It’s quite windy with 20 kts up “our chuff”–a nautical term for our stern!! Captain Lambert is “driving”again and you can already see he is getting the feel of this lovely lady and is “caressing”her gently. With us all fast alongside by 0830 our Guests are ready to proceed ashore shortly thereafter. We are using a long shore gangway today as there is a 4.5 metre range of tide.
We offered 4 shore excursions today with trips to Beautiful Honfleur, Deauville & Calvados Tasting, and Giverney & Monet's Gardens. I love Honfleur, however the tour to Deauville with Calvados Tasting also sounds rather exciting!! –maybe with a long port call.
The weather improves in the afternoon and the sun is shining once again, and just in time for a lovely sailaway.
With everyone back earlier than the advertised 1900hrs, we set sail at 1845 and head further down the harbour before swinging the ship round 180’and then speeding up to 10 knots to exit the outer breakwater. With the pilot away by 1945 we set course to join the Traffic Separation Scheme towards the Dover Straits. Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) separate traffic flows in high traffic areas.
It’s the final night on board. There is a fantastic French menu from Executive Chef Gavin and his team before Showtime, with the return of the Quartet, Walk Like A Man.
After a comfortable passage from Dover to the entrance to the Elbe River, the Elbe Pilot boarded at 2300 on Thursday and we started our passage up river to the locks at the Southern end of the Kiel Canal in Brunsbuttel.
The Kiel Canal was finished in 1985 and is a 98KM (61 Miles) long canal through the German State of Schleswig-Holstein that links the North Sea at Brunsbuttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel Holtenau.
Due to the age of the Canal there is always some refurbishment works being carried out and just before our arrival we were notified that one of the main locks at the Kiel-Holtenau end was closed for works and there may be some delays. However when we arrived there was no waiting traffic and Saga Sapphire was “locked”straight in and entered the Canal at approximately 0400 on Thursday morning. The weather was calm and our passage was going to be very pleasant.
Due to her size and draft Saga Sapphire requires a tug assist all the way through the canal. The canal has many passing places called “sidings”where large ships can safely pass and we had to stop a few times to wait for a ship transiting in the other direction. This is where the tug is really useful to steady the ship and hold position while waiting.
When the sun came up the temperature rapidly rose, and many of our passengers where outside enjoying the views over the surrounding countryside.
There are many small ferries that cross the canal linking roads on both sides. These ferries are free to use for foot and car passengers with the cost covered by the canal transit charge to ships.
The Saga Sapphire arrived at the Kiel locks at 1330 and we finally dropped the Pilot outside at 1530. We then started our passage up the Great Belt (Danish: Storebælt), which is the strait between the major islands of Zealand (Sjælland) and Funen (Fyn) in Denmark on our way to Copenhagen. Our itinerary has had to be changed slightly with the ports of Aalborg and Copenhagen swapping dates due to the forecast giving very strong winds in Aalborg for the Friday.
We passed under the Great Belt Bridge at around 2030. It could be seen clearly by all our passengers from the dining room while enjoying their Dinner.
It was an early start this morning with pilot at 0530 due to the 27 mile run in to the berth. We had experienced strong beam winds, overnight gusting to 60 knots, but Saga Sapphire took it in her stride and leaned over only gently to about 1'. I am realising more and more she is a good "sea ship". By the time we got to the pilot station the wind had eased to a "mere" 30 knots!!!
As we approached our pier a tug was made fast as the wind was blowing us on to the berth. With us all fast by 0830, we got clearance shortly thereafter and our guests were free to proceed ashore. This was my first call to Aalborg.
Its location by the Limfjord made it an important harbour during the middle ages and later an industrial centre. Today the city is in transition from a working class industrial centre to a knowledge based one. Aalborg is twinned with many cities around the world, including Edinburgh and Lancaster.
There were 4 tours on offer today with something for everyone; from the energetic Aalborg Walking Tour to the more sedate City Tour. The Danes are of course famous for their beer so we offered the Aalborg Beer Walk - missed that one didn't I!!
Sailing was scheduled for 1800hrs and with everyone on board by 1740 we made our final preparations for departure. The wind had freshened to 30 knots so with 1 small tug we had to be inventive. We let go all our lines except two "springs" aft and with the tug pulling the stern off, and the thruster bringing the bow out, we gently came astern on 1 engine to "spring" the bow off. This was a slow but measured manoeuvre which worked really well. We then had to sail 1 mile in the wrong direction to the "swinging ground" where the fjord was wide enough to turn the ship through 180'. With the swing complete we retraced our tracks from this morning.
On the way out we were greeted by a "unique" local who has set up 3 mini cannons on the edge of the fjord. As we passed he gave us a 3 gun salute, as shown in the photo.
With the pilot away at 2030 we set sail for our next port, Oslo in Norway.
After a rather wet morning at sea - best suited to indulging in ship's activities - we embarked our Norwegian pilot at 1330. We then had a very scenic 54 mile run up through Olsofjorden, with some very narrow sections and the occasional reduction in speed as we passed various yacht harbours.
Around 1600 we passed the spot where the German warship Blucher sunk in April 1940 during the “Nazi Invasion of Norway”. You can still see the 28cm coastal guns which caused the initial fire damage before 2 shore based torpedoes finished things off. On a very calm day you can see the oil bubbles rising to the surface.
It was a windy arrival through the fjord, but fortunately just as the pilot advised the berth was well sheltered and we eased gently alongside for our evening 6 o’clock arrival. The ship was quickly cleared and everyone free to proceed ashore.
Oslo is the capital and most populous city in Norway and a hub of Norwegian trade, banking and shipping. A survey from 2011 placed Oslo as the 2nd most expensive city in the world for living expenses after Tokyo, whereas by 2013 it tied with the Australian city of Melbourne as the 4th most expensive city in the world. Oslo is very compact with few high rise buildings and, like the rest of Norway, very clean and prosperous. Home to some 50 museums it is full of galleries, cafes, a sculpture park and the Royal Palace so a great place to browse if proceeding ashore independently.
With a 24 hour stay there was a lovely calm around the ship and for a change I enjoyed the thought of going to bed and waking up in the same place. Tonight I am hosting a private Diamond Dinner for 8 –one of the exclusive benefits of our Guests upon reaching the Diamond Tier (1000+ nights) with our Britannia Club.
This morning I awoke to find a light dusting of snow on the hills – a late winter wonderland!! I like to wake early and start the day with a visit to the gym, a quick swim and 10 minutes in the steam room, although a port day arrival normally disrupts this routine.
At 1730 everyone was back on board, and with the sun making a few isolated appearances we slipped our mooring lines and retraced our tracks from the previous evening. As we headed out of Olsofjorden the sun appeared in all its beauty and made for a delightful sail away. We weaved our way through the myriad of rocky outcrops, with numerous summer houses scattering the Islands. It seems as though most Norwegians have a home to escape to in the summer. We finally exited the fjord and disembarked our pilot at 2215, setting course for Skagen in Denmark
After the snow in Oslo, this morning’s arrival into Skagen greeted us with a sunny and calm start. This is my first ever call to Skagen (pronounced skaine) and we embark our pilot at 0700 on our approach to the harbour. It’s a relatively small marina so our swing through 180’has to be very precise before we move astern towards the berth. We are all fast alongside at 0800 as scheduled and with clearance shortly thereafter our Guests are free to proceed ashore.
Skagen is Denmark’s northern most town and in the far corner of Jutland. It is a real gem, and the feedback from our Guests has been very positive. Warm, friendly people who speak excellent English, they are only too willing to help. This was exemplified by our tourist guides on the quayside who were there to offer guidance and answer any questions.
I took the opportunity to sample the delights of Skagen by joining Joey, one of our Quartermasters (QM’s) for a bike ride. We headed through the town centre and passed many traditional yellow houses framed by white picket fences and red-filled roofs. Everywhere was so neat and tidy. An excellent cycle path took us out to an 16th century replica Basule Lighthouse, as shown in the attached picture. This was primarily used to prevent ships being shipwrecked on the off lying reefs.
We then cycled against the wind across the sand dunes towards Grenen . After parking our bikes up we walked approx. ½mile to the tip of Grenen where you can stand with one foot in the Kattegat and one foot in the Skagerrak. It is a beautiful long white beach and on arrival we were greeted by an exceptionally friendly sea-lion (see attached picture) . Whilst at this delightful spot we met many of our Guests who were on a ship's tour. A tractor and trailer were provided to transport our Guests to this magical spot.
A swift pedal back to the ship and we were back on board by 1400. I then decided to sample some Fish'n Chips from the Beach Club. Everyone loves it as the batter and fish are so light and the chips perfectly cooked.
With everyone back on board we made our preparations to sail. We got a terrific send off from the local Sea Scouts Orchestra on the quayside. With lots of whistle salutes we let go our lines and headed out to sea, around the Northern tip of Denmark, and back to our home port of Dover.
I will be going home for 3 weeks once we arrive in Dover and will hand over to Captain Rentell who is completing his final 3 weeks with Saga before retiring. I’ll be back on the 19th May and ready to pick up again on the adventures of Saga Sapphire.
So, I return for just three weeks, my final swansong before retirement when the garden and many other ‘chores’back in Cornwall will beckon. In the meantime there are still seas to cross and our first passage on this itinerary to Spain and Portugal was a quick jaunt from Dover down the Channel to Guernsey.
Seas were calm and there was blue sky the following morning as we negotiated the Roads off St. Peter Port. A fresh breeze made the tender run into the harbour just a little ‘interesting’until the tide changed, but our experienced Saganauts took everything in their stride. In fact, because local conditions can be somewhat inclement at this time of the year, there was a great deal of the ‘We’ve done it’mentality when they all came back.
Just as the noon day gun sounded from the castle ramparts Mrs R and I ventured ashore for a few hours, only my second time as it happens, so it was a pleasure to stroll around the cobbled streets of the ‘capital’. They were busy with locals and tourists on this Bank Holiday weekend so we took some refreshment in the Old Government Hotel before strolling around the Candie Gardens, then back to Market Street and the old quarter.
The morning tours had all returned by the time we returned and the chilly breeze had eased, ensuring that those who wished to sit on deck did so with considerable comfort. The pilot clambered back up the ladder at five and we chatted amiably as the anchor was brought home, a certain degree of reminiscing of course, as we are unlikely to meet again.
The strong northerly tide was racing as the channels were navigated and once in open waters he hopped back onto his boat. Speed was increased for the Bay where the forecast is less than ideal, adjustment to schedule is likely I feel. But first, my penultimate welcome on board cocktail party.