It was a very early start, being called at 0330 for pilot boarding at 0430. Add to that the clocks were advanced 1 hour at 0200 as well!!!
Anyway after a hot and then cold shower I was raring to go , particularly as the most amazing sunrise greeted us as we made our approach to Ijmuiden – the sea port for Amsterdam. Believe it or not that photo is real and has not been photo-shopped!!!
We passed through the Ijmuiden breakwater at 10 knots and the gradually reduced our speed as we approached the single lock. The Dutch pilot was excellent, and like most people from Holland was very relaxed which suited our bridge operation. Which I like to think is also relaxed but very professional.
The lock was 47m wide which gave us 10m either side if we were in the centre. Conditions were ideal with very little wind and we entered the lock at 3 knots with me now having the “con”. Once inside we manouvered alongside and used just 2 ropes each end for tying up. The lock aft gate was then closed and the level of water in the lock lowered. With the lock gates open we had 13.5M to go down the canal to the berth.
It was a delightful sail down in ideal conditions and as we arrived off the berth we then swung through 180’ with 45m clearance each end of the ship. We were all fast alongside by 0815 and had clearance shortly afterwards. This was going to be a great call with fine and sunny conditions forecast and 23 hours alongside.
Amsterdam is the capital and most populated city in the Netherlands, although The Hague is where the seat of government is held. The population is approx. 7 million and the city’s name derives from Amstelredamme, indicative of its origin around a dam in the River Amstel. In the late 12th century it was just a small fishing village but by the Dutch Golden age of the 17th century it became one of the most important ports in the world primarily due to its innovative developments in trade. It was the leading centre for diamonds and finance. Famous Amsterdam residents include the diarist Anne Frank, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent Van Gogh.
There were 3 daytime tours and 4 evening excursions on offer including: A Taste of Holland, Panoramic Tour and Canal Cruise, Van Gogh’s Museum & Highlights, Harlem Walk and Organ Concert, and a Twilight Canal Cruise.
I was planning to go cycling mid-afternoon as I know it is lovely and flat here!! Unfortunately I got delayed by work and eventually started pedalling at 1730 – yes it was rush hour on the streets of Amsterdam. “Exciting” is how I would describe it. There were bicycles seemingly everywhere and if that was not enough there were mopeds and golf carts on the same cycle paths!! Anyway I made it back in one piece and then had a quiet night watching the next 2 episodes of the “Night Manager” – one more to go and very exciting!!
This is a 4 night short cruise with 153 guests staying on board from our last cruise, and 292 Newcomers. Unfortunately I missed the Mersey Beatles last night who John Lennon said were the best Beatles tribute band. They were also the resident band for the Cavern Club from 2002-2012 and after a year touring the globe were asked to come back and they now play at the Cavern Club every Sunday.
After a good night’s sleep, I was awake at 0530 and at 0600 I decided to go for a jog. I love being out early in the morning when a city is awakening and this morning was no exception as shown by some of the photos. The Dutch love their bikes and one photo is of a bike rack by the canal.
At 0730 we slipped our moorings and started our outward bound canal transit. It was a fantastic departure with loads of guests on deck enjoying the views and activity on the water. We reached the lock at Ijmuiden by 0930 and back out to sea by 1045 with the pilot disembarked. We then set sail for Guernsey.
This morning’s approach to Guernsey finds us transiting the “Big Russel”between Herm and Sark Islands, and once again it’s a beautiful morning. As we pass Sark and the off lying island off Brecqhou we get a great view of the Barclay Brothers stately home –wow, amazing.
With the pilot on board at 0730 we proceed 3 miles towards our anchorage position 4 cables off the harbour entrance of St Peter Port. 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, historic gardens and a magical mix of French & English Culture, it is easy to see why St Peter port is considered one of Europe’s prettiest harbour towns. Guernsey is the 2nd largest of the Channel Islands and its capital St Peter Port has been a busy port since Roman times. The port lies on the east side, hugging the slopes that rise back from the sea so that the houses appear to be piled on top of one another.
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.
Around 0930 I decide to give a chance phone call to some friends I have not seen for 20 years, but always get a Christmas day card from. They answer the phone and it’s as though we talk all the time. At 1145 I am sitting in one of our tenders and heading ashore to meet them at 1200 –no time like the present!!! I don’t normally go ashore in Tender ports as I like to have lots of ropes made fast, however today the conditions were ideal for an anchorage and the sea bed was known as excellent holding ground. After some very big hugs we are off on an Island Tour with Bill & Val, and the highlight was stopping at the Little Chapel, which is embossed with thousands of pieces of china, pebbles and glass. They are such a wonderful couple and we last met in 1997 when I was safety Officer on the P&O Cruises ship m.v.Oriana. We arrive at their beautiful bungalow at 1300 and have a super lunch with local crabmeat and lobster. Bill built the house on Val’s parents land (see the attached pictures). After lots of catching up and with me talking up Saga Cruises Val says “I must see your ship”so 45 minutes later at 1515 we are on board and I give them the grand tour. With afternoon tea thrown in they leave the ship at 1630 and are completely “wowed”and a commitment to cruise with me as soon as they can. You know it’s great sometimes when you do things at a moment’s notice –spontaneity, you’ve got to love it.
With everyone back on board by 1730 and all tenders secured shortly afterwards, we “weigh”anchor at 1745 and leave St Peter Port. We then head NE towards the Alderney race and on towards our home port of Dover.
This evening saw the return of “The Mersey Beatles”and I was determined not to miss their set this time. I was not disappointed as they were a great act. I must say Saga do have some excellent entertainment
After a very calm transit of the North Sea yesterday and weaving in and out of multiple gas and oil rigs we made our final approach to the southern pilot station for Bergen. With 30 knot winds and moderate seas these soon eased down as we made our way into the Fjord and made it suitable to embark the pilot. With the pilot on board at 0715 and shortly after taking the “con”, we had 21 miles to our berth. Even though there was some light drizzle, Saga Sapphire has excellent viewing from our public rooms, bars and restaurants. We had 2 bridges to pass under en-route to our berth and in Dover we lowered our main mast to give us more clearance.
I took the con 4 miles from the berth, completed our stern and rudder tests, then manouvered towards the dock. The pier was only 130m long so with our length of 199m we had an “overhang”fwd and aft, so used a small line boat aft to run our lines. We were all fast by 0940 and gangways ready 10 mins later.
Surrounded by mountains and sparkling fjords, the waterside city of Bergen has a spectacular setting. There has been a settlement here since medieval times and the colourful waterfront buildings of the Hanseatic wharf, known as Bryggen, are testament to its fascinating history of trade. As Norway’s best known medieval settlement, the Bryggen is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Our comprehensive selection of excursions allows you to discover the many sites of Bergen, such as the fish market and narrow cobbled streets, as well as stunning views of the city from the summit of Mt Floyen.
With “All on Board”set at 1700 our guests were back in good time so shortly after 5.00pm we were ready to sail. Our latest Captain Stuart Horne is here for his 8 day handover as I go on leave on the 15th July. He conducted the manoeuver and it was soon very apparent that he had a lot of ship-handling experience. With 32 miles in Nordfjord and then it was very attractive sailaway especially as the sun came out.
This cruise is a 8 night Magic of the Fjords Cruise and is also a Soul Music Cruise , so tonight I am looking forward to ShowTime with “The Angelo Star Band”. The late great Edwin Starr’s brother, Angelo Starr, is the original musical director of the Team and has now taken over lead vocals performing all the fantastic Edwin Starr classics. Just back from the first show and it was fantastic –lots of guests dancing, everyone having a wonderful time. They are a “class”act and I can’t wait for the next performance
We entered the beautiful Nordfjord at 0300 this morning and then had 70 miles to run to our berth at Olden. With sunrise 30 mins later the whole transit was essentially in daylight.
From 0630 Guests were already on deck to watch our sail in through the fjords with stunning mountain views and cascading waterfalls. We made our approach to the berth around 0730 and by 8 o’clock we were all fast and gangways ready.
The early morning weather was cloudy but dry and forecasts were showing a pleasant day ahead. Olden is a great base for various excursions and soon our passengers were able to join one of them.
Most guests opted to explore the awesome natural wonders of the area on the “Lakes and Mountains” tour during where they could walk to the breath-taking Kjenndalen Glacier.
For our more active guests, the “Briksdal Glacier Hike“ to the foot of the Briksdal Glacier was the preferred option. A magnificent cascade of ice which hangs above the ice floes and the emerald blue waters of the glacier lake provide an unforgettable experience with numerous photographic opportunities.
Those guests not taking part in the tour programme this morning could explore the local area on their own getting on the local hop on/hop off bus or by simply walking around the town.
We had our emergency drills in the morning and simulated a fire in our main laundry. Safety is our No1 priority and we take our drills very seriously making sure we get the most out of the time.
At 1300 I met with our Executive Chef Gavin, my cabin Steward Dio and two of our 3rd Officers for a cycling trip along the edge of the fjord. What a fantastic ride it was as we headed towards Loen where there is a brand new cable car only opened in 2016. Some of our tour Guests went there as part of their tour and apparently it had the most spectacular views.
After Loen we headed to Lovatnet Lake where we stopped for a coffee and ice cream and loads of photos, including the hanging glacier.
With everyone on board by 1700 Captain Horne manouvered off the berth and started to re-trace our tracks from this morning. It was a beautiful evening with constant sunshine so prefect for viewing the steep sided fjords for the next 4-5 hours.
After a magnificent evening sail through Nordfjord we headed out to sea for approx. 5 hours before heading back into the shelter of Storfjord – which along with Geirangerfjorden is considered one of the most beautiful in Norway. We always increase our manning prior to entering any fjord from the open sea, and of course we are also under the guidance of some excellent Norwegian pilots.
Approx. 60 miles to our anchorage position at Geiranger, at 0640 we passed close to the famed “Seven Sisters” (De Syv Sostre) Waterfall, a fanciful name to go with the Friaren or Suitor) as this single waterfall looks as though it is proposing to the sisters opposite. 15 minutes later the beauty of Geiranger village opened before our eyes. Standing at the head of Geirangerfjorden the village has about 300 permanent residents and many more of course in the summer.
Geiranger is one of Norway’s most famous tourist resorts boasting five hotels and more than ten camping sites. It is encircled by majestic snow-capped mountains, some towering between 3,000 – 5,000 feet high and has been named by the Lonely Planet Guide as the best travel destination in Scandinavia.
Shortly after 7 o’clock we “let go” our starboard anchor and then moved astern towards the shore where we ran 4 lines from the aft mooring deck to a bollard on the shore – a local boat pinpoints the anchorage position and then moves aft to run the lines to the bollard. It’s a long winded operation but means you can hold position close to the shore and the distance for the tenders to run is nice and short. We were all secure by 0730 and tenders ready to take guests ashore by 0800.
We had 4 tours on offer today from an overland coach trip to a high octane Rib adventure. From our moored position we had a marvellous view up the valley and into the mountains as shown by the attached photos. This was “somewhat” altered with the arrival of an Italian “Block of Flats” – namely the MSC Fantasia. Having now been with Saga for 9 cruises and loving the whole experience I could not imagine being on a monster ship with 4-5 thousand passengers and 1500 crew – sounds awful!!
At 1400 we had everyone back from the morning tours, so slipped our stern-lines and “weighed” the stb’d anchor. 15 mins later with the anchor sighted and clear we left Geiranger and proceeded towards Hellesylt, passing the seven sisters en-route.
We arrived off of our berth at 1600 and were all fast by 1615, which was perfect as we had tours arriving back to the ship at 1630. We then stayed overnight and left the following morning at 0700 for a superb 7 hours cruising through the fjords.
I decided to host a table that night even though it was not a formal night. This gives me an opportunity with a smaller round table to meet more of our special Guests.
After dinner we headed to the Britannia Lounge for the 2nd performance by The Angelo Star Band – Angelo is the brother of the famous Motown and Soul singer Edwin Star and took over the lead for the band when his Brother died. Wow what a night – the dance floor was packed with our Guests (and a few Staff !!) dancing the night away, some ending up on stage playing maracas, and tambourine. The band went out into the audience and created a very special atmosphere. This has to be the best act I have ever seen at sea – Thank you Angelo, and all your band. (Resty’s selfie is taken back stage after the show).
After a superb day's cruising in the Norwegian fjords yesterday we entered Byfyorden at 0600 for our run into Stavanger. Our pilots returned to duty and helped guide us into the port. It was a beautiful morning and Captain Horne again conducted the manoeuver – it is clear he is a very experienced ship handler. After swinging in the inner harbour we “backed” down to our berth and were all fast alongside by 0730. We had the “premium” berth right in the centre of town which was fabulous for our guests to go ashore.
Stavanger has always prospered from the riches of the sea. During the 19th century huge harvests of brisling and herring established it as the sardine capital of the world. A resident is still called a Siddis – the S from Stavanger and the Iddis which means “sardine label”. The city’s symbol is the key of a sardine can. While other towns in Norway have suffered with the decline of the fishing industry, Stavanger has kept its economy booming by diversifying, first into shipbuilding and then into oil. These contrasting industries have created a city of two halves – a modern area of high-rise buildings and a historic centre with cobbled streets and old wooden houses.
With lots of choice from our shore excursions including A Slice of Paradise, Stavanger City and Highlights, Lysefjord Boat Trip, The Occupation of Stavanger, and a Helicopter Flightseeing over Pulpit Rock, I gave myself an early birthday present of a helicopter trip. At 1255, along with 4 Guests, we were whisked away to the airport and 30 minutes later we were airborne and what a flight it was. A full 30 minutes in the air over-flying the city, the beautiful off-lying fjords and a 360’ around Pulpit Rock – what a great start to my birthday!! (photos attached). Arriving back on board at 1445 I was still on a “high” from this tremendous flight.
With everyone on board by 1630 we slipped our lines shortly thereafter and then headed back out through the fjords. The pilot was away at 1830 and we set course for Dover. I hosted my Farewell Cocktail party, which was a great event with everyone in such great spirits.
Well this is my last Blog for a few months as I go on leave on 15th July and return 14th September ready for the 21 night cruise to Canada. Have a great summer.
Welcome to Gothenburg, the first port of call on our Tall Ships in the Baltic cruise. This is my first Command onboard our beautiful ship Saga Sapphire having taken over from Captain Julian in Dover on 15th July.
It has been a few years since I drove a ship around the Baltic so I am looking forward to the opportunity on so many levels - getting to know the Saga Passengers, working with an outstanding crew to deliver a holiday of a lifetime, visiting the ports and the highlight of this cruise the Turku call with the Tall Ships Race.
It was a lovely lazy two days passage up the North Sea toward Gothenburg, a great time to settle in and relax, get to know fellow travellers and plan Excursions ashore. Saga offers a fantastic array of these with something for everyone. We were blessed with following seas and breeze, making the open decks a great place to relax and after the first day, blue skies all the way.
I had flash-backs of my past, having previously been a Deep Sea Pilot with Trinity House plying these cargo routes, northern Europe to the Baltic through the Skagerrak and the Kattegat. For a reason that I cannot explain, there are often outstanding sunsets and sunrises as you navigate the eastern seaboards of the North Sea.
We rounded north Demark overnight on Monday and made ready for our first port of call. The run into Gothenburg from Pilot to berth is around 1h 30 and what a lovely navigation it was. With the Pilot at 0600, it was good to see our ‘early-risers’ out and about on the open decks enjoying the spectacle. There was a sharp breeze coming in from the North West, the skies were blue and the inland waters with just a ripple. It was one of those ‘great to be alive’ mornings.
The run-in brought back memories of when I was deployed to a Stena Line ferry for three months, working the route from Gothenburg to Frederikshavn in Denmark in the days of pre-EU.
Our berth in Gothenburg was to the west of the City, a new berth for me and a bit of a squeeze with a large ferry occupying a large part of the port. With the wind fresh I opted to use a tug to push the stern up against the wind. We were ‘all-fast’ by 0800 with our first tour heading down the gangway a little after 0830.
The forecast for the day was for a high of 27 celcius, of which I was sceptical. How wrong was I. It was a great weather day, 24 Celsius in the shade and when out of the refreshing breeze, it was a more than a warm day with blue skies to boot. The locals do make you welcome here in Scandinavia.
I heard a band playing, but could not see anything. So whilst taking my usual ‘check-the-ship’ quayside stroll, I investigated the source of the music emanating from the small terminal on the quay. I was delighted to come across the local Jazz band “The Board Band” whose style was a mix of Blues and Traditional Jazz. Quite delightful indeed.
For those of you who have not visited Gothenburg - what a fabulous city with much to see and do in and around the region; all catered for through the Saga Cruises shore excursion program. Sadly I have decided that for my first few cruises I will not be popping ashore as I need to get into the routine of the administration of Saga Sapphire. However, my Staff Captain Franco is delighted with this idea as it allows him to stretch his legs.
Next port is Kalundborg, a new port for me. Departure from Gothenburg was a considered affair, with limited navigable water around, perhaps a meter of water under the keel - it had to be slow departure! We ‘let-go’ our final lines shortly after 1800 and proceed out of the port through the off-lying islands debarking the Pilot at 1930 before heading into the Skagerrak once again.