Spirit of Adventure - At sea
April 29, 2012 - 10:00 pm
After six consecutive port days it was good to have a day at sea again. During the early hours of the morning we sailed along the Bosporus. The pilot came on and a few hardy passengers came out on deck at 3am as we sailed through a still bustling Istanbul. The bridges were beautifully lit and it was worth staying up for those passengers who were standing out on the compass deck enjoying the view.
The regular morning began with a display of information on the Gallipoli Campaign outside the Sirocco Lounge. Passenger Alan Dowell is a member of the Gallipoli Association and he kindly displayed some maps, diagrams, books and pictures relating to the ill-fated World War I mission. The Sirocco Lounge foyer was busy as people made their way into the undoubted highlight of the day. Kevin Woodford returned to the stage to present a version of “Ready, Steady, Cook”. To his left was Executive Chef George, and to his right was Executive Sous Chef, Ross. The rivalry was intense, the competition was hard and fast, but both of them did a splendid job in creating dishes from random ingredients picked by the passengers. The clap-o-meter diplomatically suggested the result was a draw and everyone was happy.
The book club for this cruise had their first get-together in the Yacht Club to discuss, ‘The Abyssinian Proof’ by Jenny White. Finally, just before lunch, Cassie delivered her port briefing on Piraeus, our destination tomorrow.
After lunch, Jackie Devereux continued with the watercolour workshops while the cruise staff were busy with the deck sports triathlon. Angela held a Greek language class in the Briefing Room and the afternoon lecture was delivered by Dr Richard Thomas and titled, ‘The Ottoman Empire: 1300-1923”. This tied in rather nicely as just before Richard’s talk we passed the Turkish and British memorials to those that fell at Gallipoli. Neil came up to the Bridge and gave a tribute over the tannoy onto the outside decks, which concluded with a minute’s silence.
The Viennese Tea in the dining room included accompaniment from the Romanov Duo of Alexey and Eduoard, before I conducted the Sunday Service in the Sirocco Lounge. Neil played the piano as usual, and he ended with a melancholy version of ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ as he had remembered that was the first hymn we played at the opening church service on the inaugural cruise. The Romanovs were back to full strength as a trio when they played their pre-dinner set in the Yacht Club, and then I hosted my table in the dining room with Tina. The show tonight featured a welcome return to ‘Spirit of Adventure’ for West End Star ,Phillip Browne. His rendition of ‘Old Man River’ really has to be seen to be believed. A triumphant day, again bathed in glorious sunshine, and we look forward to Piraeus and Athens tomorrow.
Spirit of Adventure - Nessebar
April 28, 2012 - 11:00 pm
We have had perfect weather for the entire duration of our time in the Black Sea, until today. When it just got better! It really did feel like a warm summer day here in Nessebar. It is a marvellous destination for a ship of our size as we can tuck onto the berth and the entire historical town is laid out in front of us. Nessebar is one of the most prominent tourist destinations on the Black Sea, but has on several occasions found itself on the frontier of a threatened empire. The ancient part of the town is situated on a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow man-made isthmus, and it bears evidence of occupation by a variety of different civilisations over the course of its existence.
Two different shore excursions were on offer to the passengers, 'Nessebar Walking Tour' and 'Nessebar Highlights & Pomorie Wines'. Both were well received by the passengers who then went back into the town after lunch to enjoy a gentle stroll through the boutiques and antiques shops that are dotted around the town. During the morning I had completed the last crew drill and then I had a wander ashore.
All aboard was set for 5.30pm, and we had a couple of lectures around that time. Ernie Rea presented, ‘The Fourth Crusade: Venice and the Rape of Constantinople’. This was followed by Dr Dan Jones with, ‘Athens, Blood and Splendour’. We headed back out to sea at 6pm, with our course set south-easterly for the entrance to the Bosporus. Show time tonight saw quite a variety of options. In the Sirocco Lounge the Romanov Trio performed ‘Four Seasons’ by Antonio Vivaldi, and seeing as it was their last concert they performed two encores, including one with the Spirit Quartet. Up in the Yacht Club, Comedian John Evans and Neil hosted a half hour of comedy and songs, and then it was all out on the back deck for the Farewell Spirit Deck Party. As I write this we are edging towards the Bosporus and it will be the early hours of the morning when we head through.
Spirit of Adventure - Varna
April 27, 2012 - 10:30 pm
Three countries in three days. After the joys of the Ukraine and Romania it was now Bulgaria’s turn to welcome us. We arrived nice and early and were docked alongside the cruise terminal by 8am. Varna has had quite a mixed history, and was even called ‘Stalin’ from 1949 to 1956. Today, Varna is very much a thriving port of Bulgaria and the shore excursions headed off promptly to explore further. 'Highlights of Varna', 'The Fossil Forest and Aladia Monastery', and 'Sights of Varna & Balchik' were the shore excursions on offer to the passengers. A complimentary shuttlebus was also in operation to Cathedral Square in the centre of the town.
The weather was, again, delightful. The news reports we are receiving from the UK imply this is rather contrasting to what everyone at home is experiencing. Although we were staying until 11pm tonight, the majority of passengers were back on board by late afternoon. This allowed them the opportunity to listen to Dr Dan Jones’s talk about ‘Jason and the Golden Fleece’. Dr Richard Thomas hosted the pre-dinner lecture with, ‘Barbary Corsairs and other Pirates’.
After dinner the passengers came into the Sirocco Lounge to enjoy the local show, ‘Devnya’. The show featured adults and children performing, as well as musicians with regional instruments. All were dressed in period costume and looked very smart. With the show complete I was able to raise the gangway and back away from the berth, turn around, and head into the Black Sea for our meander down the coast to Nessebar tomorrow. A delightful day in Varna, and we hope for more of the same in our second Bulgarian
April 26, 2012 - 10:00 pm
We entered the harbour here in Constanţa this morning, but still had four miles to run to the berth. During the communist rule of Nicolae Ceauşescu, he had decided that Romania should have the largest harbour in Europe, although only a small percentage of it has ever been used. The Romanian Navy is based here, and we moored opposite the former HMS Coventry which is now the flagship of the Romanian fleet. The cruise terminal is quite sizeable, but located a fair distance from the town, so a complimentary shuttlebus was laid on for the passengers.
After the glories of the Ukraine it was a bit overcast with patchy rain when we arrived, but pleasingly it had cleared by mid-morning. Once the ship had been cleared the all day tour to Bucharest or ‘Little Paris of the East’ headed out for their long drive across the country to the capital city. Staying closer to home were those passengers going to Ancient Histria to see the Roman mosaics. Many passengers relaxed onboard and then went on the afternoon tour of both of Constanţa’s highlights and then to witness a performance of a traditional Romanian wedding. The Constanţa part of the tour didn’t offer too much, but the wedding show was excellent and well put together.
We only have 80 nautical miles to run to Varna tonight, so we stayed alongside the berth until late evening with the crew taking advantage of the free wifi in the terminal. All the tours were back in good time and the Sirocco Lounge was full for a highly amusing version of ‘Call My Bluff’ hosted by Assistant Cruise Director Angela Cherry. The panel included Neil, Ernie Rea and Martin Sixsmith. Given two of the panel were experienced BBC journalists I hope the passengers still believe what they hear on the radio and see on television! Alternatively there was a music quiz in the Yacht Club with Clive, or the film ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy’ up on Top of the Yacht. One thing that I didn’t see today but some passengers mentioned to me was that we again had dolphins playing in the harbour. They were working as a team to surround a shoal of fish and then indulge in a feeding frenzy. Fortunately our Verandah buffet is much more civilised!
Spirit of Adventure - Odessa
April 25, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Welcome to Odessa. For many of my Ukrainian officers and crew this is their hometown so there was great excitement up on the Bridge as I brought the ship alongside the berth this morning. We were docked, as usual, within sight of the famous Potemkin Steps leading up to the main part of the city. The passengers were all soon out on their morning tours, visiting Odessa Sights, Odessa’s Grand Mansions, or Odessa’s Catacombs. The place really does have a cultural charm about it, from the grandeur of the Opera House to the high fashion shops and much more. The three Ukrainian ports we have visited have all offered something different. Yalta was very much the seaside resort, Sevastopol the military base, and Odessa the cultural capital.
Staying with culture, this afternoon we laid on our Farewell Cruise Gala Performance. Neil and Cassie had hired the Odessa Philharmonic Hall and having taken everyone to the magnificent venue, at 3pm a concert by the ensemble “Chaika” (translates somewhat bizarrely as “Seagull”) performed a non-stop hour long set of Ukrainian songs and dances. The cast was very large and took the full width of the stage to show off their fantastic dancing skills and musicality. It really was a triumph and a wonderful show to mark our Farewell Cruise. With that it was time to head back to the ship and for us to leave port. Our Director of Saga Shipping, James Duguid, disembarked shortly before we sailed and left by reassuring our passengers that ‘Quest for Adventure’ will continue in the same vein as their beloved ‘Spirit of Adventure’.
A couple of pre-dinner talks took place, with Cassie delivering a port briefing on Varna & Nessebar, before Ernie Rea gave a guide to the Orthodox Church. The show tonight featured a welcome return to ‘Spirit of Adventure’ for stand-up comedian John Evans. On his last trip with us we had an escort ship sailing with us all the way down the east coast of Africa. Fortunately things are a lot calmer now!
Spirit of Adventure - Sevastopol
April 24, 2012 - 10:30 pm
The perfect weather continued as we berthed in the famous naval citadel of Sevastopol this morning. Along with Kronstadt and Gibraltar, Sevastopol is one of those places whose name brings to mind naval fleets and wars. Indeed, during World War II Sevastopol withstood an Axis siege for 250 days before falling in 1942, although it was liberated by the Red Army in 1944. The main focus of military attention given to Sevastopol by historians is, naturally, the Crimean War. Our most popular shore excursion today took passengers to view the Crimea Chronicles & Cold War. The tour included a trip to the stunning panorama retelling the story of the war, and then a visit to a once-secret nuclear submarine base deep in the heart of Balaklava. The other morning tour took passengers round the highlights of Sevastopol. Two intrepid passengers ventured out in a jeep to visit the cave city of Eski-Kermen and the Cave Monastery.
According to the radar on the Bridge there were no other ships docked nearby, but from the window you could see both Russian and Ukrainian warships, clearly with their transmitters turned off. Neil did a bit of research and then told the passengers attending the afternoon lecture which ships belong to whom. The afternoon lecture was delivered by Martin Sixsmith and titled, ‘Russian Culture in War, Peace and Revolution’. This was followed by Cassie with a port briefing about Constanţa, Romania. With everyone aboard we set sail at 6pm and back out into the Black Sea. The passengers had various options tonight, including a film on Top of the Yacht; the Romanov Trio playing works by Glinka, Rachmaninoff and Sviridov; a Scattergories Quiz with Neil; or late night songs with Clive. All in all a good day in this most fascinating of Ukrainian ports.
Spirit of Adventure - Yalta
April 23, 2012 - 10:00 pm
The cloud was clinging to the hillside as we docked in Yalta on the eastern side of the Crimean peninsula of the Ukraine. Once we were safely alongside I greeted the passengers with my morning announcement and wished everyone a happy St George’s Day. Some of the crew were slightly confused and felt that I was honouring our Executive Chef, but the passengers kindly explained to them who the original St George was!
It was a beautiful crisp morning and the passengers were all soon heading out on their respective shore excursions. Options included 'Sights of Yalta', 'Voronstov’s Palace & St Mikhael Church', and 'Highlights of Yalta Conference'. Those of my officers and crew who are Ukrainian were particularly delighted to be back in Yalta and there were scenes of families being reunited on the quayside which were quite touching. Those of you reading this blog who have been to Yalta before may remember us docking literally on the promenade. Well, rather bizarrely a cargo ship was over there today, so we were on the other side of the harbour where there are many pleasure boats resting on the quayside before they are used for trips in the upcoming summer season. I took a stroll along the promenade deck at lunchtime and was pointed out to some passengers that there were dolphins or harbour porpoises playing in the water by the ship. I wish we had the ORCA team onboard and then they could have identified them. I gather they will be with us on ‘Quest for Adventure’ during the ex-UK sailings this summer.
Although we were staying in port until 11pm, many passengers were back on board for 5.30pm to hear Cassie’s port briefing on Odessa. Dinner was then enjoyed by all before a St George’s Day Quiz was hosted by Cruise Staff Nicky. The show was slightly delayed this evening as we were delighted to welcome the ‘Black Sea Fleet Navy Ensemble’ onboard. They normally perform for us in Sevastopol but there will not be the chance for the tomorrow, so they kindly agreed to drive across the Crimea in order to perform for us tonight. Sadly their vehicle broke down en route, but being very practical folk they were back on the road in no time and the show began only 15 minutes behind schedule. It was well worth the wait as they performed superbly in the relatively small confines of our Sirocco Lounge. The energy was outstanding and the musicianship truly superb. The crowd shouted for more, but we had to sail so with a heavy heart we said goodbye to Yalta and headed off round to Sevastopol. The CD of the local show was played on the back deck as passengers enjoyed a hot chocolate whilst watching the bright lights of Yalta as I backed the ship out of the harbour. A perfect way to start the Ukrainian segment of this Farewell Cruise.
Spirit - of Adventure - At sea
April 22, 2012 - 10:00 pm
After waking up to torrential rain yesterday it was a delight to see flat calm seas and sunny skies this morning. We made steady and stately progress across the Black Sea and there was plenty going on to entertain the masses. The main highlight of the morning was undoubtedly a version of “Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook” with Celebrity Chef Kevin Woodford. The format was similar to the television show whereby Kevin cooked a dish whilst two guests stood either side and tried to copy him to produce the same result. On Kevin’s left stood Cruise Director Neil, and to the delight of the passengers, on Kevin’s right stood Baroness Betty Boothroyd. Betty is sailing with us as a passenger and Neil had somehow persuaded her to don an apron and take part in this culinary high jinks. The results were both tasty and hilarious as Neil set fire to most things and produced black rice, whilst Betty told Kevin off more times than anyone can remember. It was great fun for all and the passengers were invited to taste the results at the end, with Betty clearly winning the vote.
Elsewhere during the morning there were Bridge visits, beauty seminars, deck sports, exercise classes and a port briefing on our Crimean destinations of Yalta and Sevastopol. A hearty sunday roast was then enjoyed by all.
The afternoon saw a watercolour workshop, a merengue dance class and a lecture from Dr Dan Jones on ‘The Crimean War’. I then conducted the Sunday Service at 5pm before heading back to my cabin to change for the Free Spirited formal night. Almost the entire ship appeared to be in attendance and both James Duguid and I addressed the audience. Then it was time for Tina and I to host my table in the dining room and make sure we were finished in time to catch the second show from the excellent instrumentalist and vocalist, Jon Barker. His first show was before a very small audience as it was on the rocky night, so he was delighted to see nearly a full house for his second show before he disembarks tomorrow.
Spirit of Adventure - Istanbul
April 21, 2012 - 9:30 pm
Welcome to Istanbul. In terms of ports in the Mediterranean, surely only Venice can rival Istanbul for historical nature of the surroundings where we dock. We were allocated the berth at the Salipazari New Terminal, on the edge between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Whilst it was a stunning location, one thing had turned against us. The rain was pouring down as the passengers prepared to go ashore on their shore excursions. It really was something of a Turkish bath for everyone! The majority of the tours operated in the morning, taking passengers on foot around Old Istanbul, to discover Ottoman Istanbul, or on a panoramic tour around Istanbul. The afternoon excursion consisted of a boat trip up the Bosphorus looking at the historical buildings that line the banks in close detail.
Neil had been busy again and during the afternoon he welcomed on three representatives from the British Consulate-General here in Istanbul. The Consulate-General is housed in an impressive building, as it was originally designed to be the British Embassy until the capital of Turkey was moved to Ankara. Nicole, Dilara and Sayed were the three members of the Consulate-General team who came on board and Neil showed them round and offered them afternoon tea, at which they were joined by Saga Shipping Director James Duguid who has embarked today. When afternoon tea was finished they went up to the Sirocco Lounge and the passengers enjoyed a talk given by Sayed Zubair Alam Shah, who is the Deputy Consul General and Head of UK Trade & Investment. He originates from South Wales and delivered a candid talk about living in Istanbul and about the role of the Consulate-General. Questions were then taken from the passengers, including queries about North Cyprus and Turkey’s possible future membership of the European Union. It was very kind of Sayed, Nicole and Dilara to join us on their weekend and we very much appreciate them taking the time to visit us.
All aboard was set for 5.30pm and then at 6pm we let go the lines and headed up the narrow channel that separates Asia and Europe. Neil came up to the Bridge to offer a commentary to the passengers on the outside decks and then it was time for dinner. The show tonight consisted of the Romanov Trio playing works by Strauss, Piazzola and Elgar among others, and then the deck party went on into the early hours. A great night for all as we are now sailing across the calm Black Sea and on to the Crimea.
Spirit of Adventure - Dikili
April 20, 2012 - 9:30 pm
The weather forecast for Dikili on the western coast of Turkey had not looked promising and I originally had fears that we would not be able to come alongside the berth. However, I was delighted that my fears proved unfounded and we awoke to a beautiful morning. Dikili itself does not have too much to offer the tourist, but what it does have is good access to the ancient city of Pergamon and other historical sites. We were only in Dikili for the morning and the shore excursions were therefore soon heading off to visit 'Delightful Dikili', 'Acropolis & Asclepeion', and 'Red Basilica & Pergamon Museum'. A splendid morning was had by all, and everyone returned in time for a good lunch and for us to sail away at 2pm.
The afternoon at sea was perfectly calm as we headed up towards the Dardanelles. Jackie Devereux continued with her watercolour workshops, cruise staff David hosted a salsa class, and Dr Dan Jones presented, ‘Byzantium and her Empire’. Executive Chef George then open the doors of the galley to invite passengers to see inside whilst Maître d’hôtel Kirsten hosted the Fruit Tea in the dining room. The cruise staff then challenged the passengers to a game of table tennis whilst Cassie delivered her port briefing on Istanbul. The pre-dinner lecture was conducted by Dr Richard Thomas and titled, ‘The Emperor Hadrian and the Limits of Empire’.
Towards the end of dinner we picked up the Dardanelles pilot and made our way through the narrows and into the Sea of Marmara. After dinner, Neil presented his entertaining Bumper Quiz in the Sirocco Lounge with all-new questions due to the high number of repeat passengers we have on this cruise. Tomorrow morning we will be berthed in the stunning city of Istanbul for what promises to be a marvellous day.
Spirit of Adventure - Kos
April 19, 2012 - 10:30 pm
Not for a while has land been such a welcoming sight on ‘Spirit of Adventure’! By the time the morning broke, the sea was calm and the sky was blue. We docked in Kos just by the castle of the Knights of St John that guards the harbour entrance. The town of Kos, or “Kós” to be exact, spreads out in all directions from the harbour, with most of its charm residing in scattered ancient and medieval antiquities. We were the first ship of the summer season to visit and the tourist guides were keen to welcome us. Three different tours were on offer to the passengers: Island of Kos, Kos Highlights, and Kos Panoramic. All the tours were very well received by the passengers who spoke of the enthusiasm of the Greek guides.
With the passengers ashore I put the crew through their paces with the weekly emergency drill and then had a wander around the town with Tina. The tours were all complete by lunchtime and passengers then had the afternoon to explore the town at their own pace. Dr Richard Thomas presented a lecture titled, ‘Cleopatra VII: The End of an Era’ before afternoon tea, and after we’d sailed at 5pm, Cassie delivered a port briefing on Dikili. With it being a much calmer night there was a surge in the attendance at dinner and the shows. The Romanov Trio performed works by Handel, Lechler and Saccini, while Nicky hosted a busy quiz up in the Yacht Club. The Top of the Yacht cinema was also busy, if not a bit chilly, with a screening of ‘The King’s Speech’. Tomorrow is our third port and third country on this cruise as we reach Turkey.
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea
April 18, 2012 - 11:00 pm
Today started a little bumpy out there on the ocean waves, and then got bumpier as the day progressed. During the morning though it was calm enough for everyone to be up and about and there was much to do around the ship. Neil introduced our team of guest speakers on this cruise, who include Martin Sixsmith (History, Culture, Journalism & Politics), Dr Richard Thomas (History & Geopolitics), Ernie Rea (Comparative Religion & History), Dr Dan Jones (Archaeology & History), and Kevin Woodford (Celebrity Chef). Dan then conducted the first lecture, ‘Kos and the Aegean’, which was followed by Ernie’s ‘What Muslims Believe’ before lunch. Other morning activities included Bridge visits, beauty seminars, deck sports, Greek lessons and table tennis.
The afternoon began with Jackie Devereux presenting her first watercolour workshop which was followed by her popular sketch club. Cruise staff Nicky kept everyone fit with line dancing before former BBC Moscow correspondent Martin Sixsmith looked back on his time working for the government after the Labour landslide victory of 1997. Tours & Travel Manager Cassie Edmondson presented an introductory talk to how the shore excursions work on the ship and gave details of tomorrow’s port of call, Kos. I then welcomed a few of the passengers to the cocktail party in the Sirocco Lounge. I say a few, because around 5.30pm the roughness of the sea markedly increased and many decided to retire very early for the night. I still enjoyed hosting my table with my wife, Tina, who embarked yesterday. The show had to go on, and so it did with instrumentalist & vocalist Jon Barker performing superbly to an understandably light audience. Tomorrow sees us arrive in Kos and no doubt the passengers will welcome the chance to go ashore on dry land!
Spirit of Adventure - Limassol
April 17, 2012 - 10:00 pm
And for the last time… Welcome Aboard! Yes, the end is near, but before we face the final curtain we have the matter of our Farewell Cruise to look forward to. We are going to be visiting many interesting places, including the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and much more before we finish in Civitavecchia on Friday 4th May. Those passengers who were leaving us today did not head off until the afternoon, so a couple of morning quizzes and a shuttlebus service ran to keep them occupied. During the afternoon we bid them farewell and then from around 6pm we welcomed onboard our newly embarking passengers. There are so many familiar faces, who have come to join us at this time, to make sure that this lovely little ship receives the send-off she deserves.
Neil mentioned on the tannoy that there was a certain amount of symmetry about today. It was from this very spot here in Limassol on 22nd March 2006 that the inaugural cruise of Spirit of Adventure began. It seemed fitting to begin the Farewell Cruise from here as well. On that occasion the Senior Officers were Captain Alistair McLundie, Staff Captain Maxim Melnikov, Chief Engineer Phillip Jeavons, Hotel Director Dawn Cartwright and Cruise Director Roy Parkinson. Captain McLundie is currently Master of Saga Sapphire, whilst Dawn is on Saga Pearl II, getting her ready for when she becomes Quest for Adventure on 6th May. For this farewell cruise I am joined by Staff Captain Vitaliy Goncharov, Chief Engineer Kostyantyn Rybnikov, Hotel Director Eddy Denaeghel and Cruise Director Neil Horrocks.
With the passengers embarked and dinner complete I held the passenger lifeboat drill after dinner and then we let go of the lines to head out to sea en route to the Greek island of Kos. Everyone has had quite a long day getting to the ship so most have settled for an early night. Fortunately we have a day at sea tomorrow for everyone to settle in and refresh themselves with their surroundings.
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea
April 16, 2012 - 9:30 pm
Our last day of the cruise has been a full day at sea meandering slowly up from Egypt to Cyprus. Dr Piers Bursill-Hall presented, ‘Faith and Knowledge: Early Islam and Science’ and then Dr Dan Jones concluded the lecture programme with ‘The Magic of the Levant’. Elsewhere everything was in full swing with Bridge visits, a beauty seminar, an art class, deck sports, line dancing, a Greek lesson, a dance class and more. One of the most popular activities on this cruise has, somewhat strangely, been the jigsaw in the library. Two sisters, known throughout the ship as “the jigsaw sisters” have been hard at work completing many of the puzzles during the cruise.
A special event this afternoon saw artist David Lewry auction two paintings of Spirit of Adventure. I had signed the frames of both of them and David had kindly said that half the raised amount would go to benefit the Crew Welfare Fund. Neil did his best as auctioneer and we’d like to thank Mrs Kelly and Mr Aukland for their generosity which saw nearly £300 raised. At lunchtime I had met those passengers who are staying on with us for the next cruise, and then before dinner I had the opportunity to bid farewell to all those who will be leaving us tomorrow.
The show tonight featured the music of Mozart with the Romanov Trio, whilst there was a Variety Night upstairs with questions from cruise staff Nicky and David, and music and comedy from Neil, David Lewry and Rob Hendy. A marvellous way to end what has been a delightful, if not rather busy cruise!
Spirit of Adventure - Suez Canal
April 15, 2012 - 11:30 pm
It is not often that a Captain lies on his blog, but I unintentionally told an untruth yesterday. I said we’d be position number one in the convoy, but as with many things in this area you can never count your chickens until they hatch. The pilot was indeed onboard at 4.30am but he told me that we would now be position number two. The reason was because Cunard’s “Queen Elizabeth” had arrived slightly earlier than expected and would require the assistance of two tug boats through the canal, and would therefore be leading the convoy. So it was that we spent the majority of the day with a ten minutes gap between us and the 90,901 tonnes ship ahead of us. (In case you are wondering, we are 9,570 tonnes).
Before the champagne and caviar breakfast had finished we were already through the Great Bitter Lakes and heading towards Ismaïlia. Neil came up to the Bridge and gave a commentary, with help from the pilots, as we headed past monuments and points of interest. Staff Captain Vitaliy took over for a while so that I could conduct the Sunday Worship. The service included mention that it was the orthodox Easter today, and with many Ukrainians onboard who follow that calendar it seemed appropriate to highlight it. We also mentioned that today was the 100th anniversary of the loss of the Titanic and the church hymns included Nearer, My God, To Thee and Eternal Father, Strong to Save. The collection appropriately went to The Mission to Seafarers. The morning lecture was hosted by Dr Piers Bursill-Hall and titled, ‘Health Care in Ancient Egypt’.
At 12 noon a minute’s silence was observed throughout the ship as mark of respect to the 1,514 who lost their lives 100 years ago today, and Neil read Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Convergence of the Twain’ over the public address system.
During the afternoon we continued northbound through the Suez Canal, passing under the Suez Canal Bridge and then we forked to starboard as we approached Port Said to take the exit which runs close by the relatively new container terminal. We were almost out of the canal by the time Dr Dan Jones’ lecture took place. Dan managed to do ‘Egypt: 4,000 years in 45 minutes’ as promised! And so we are now back in European waters and heading for Limassol, Cyprus. The show tonight featured West End Vocalist Martyn Lucas with the Spirit Quartet, which was followed by a surprisingly busy 'Deck Party' up on the Verandah with DJ Neil and the 'Dining Room Waiters'. As I write this the party is still going on, even though there is an hour forward on the clock tonight. I think there’ll be a few bleary eyes in the morning!
Spirit of Adventure - Port Suez
April 14, 2012 - 11:30 pm
I am fairly used to early starts on the Bridge, but today was rather exceptional. Under the regulations governing the Port of Suez, all ships visiting the port must be tied up alongside prior to the movement of Suez Canal traffic. If you are not there in time then it is tough, and a potential two hours tender ride for the passengers. Obviously I was keen to avoid this, and so at 3.30am we came alongside the pier. Yes, 3.30am!
We stayed all day here in Port Suez as the passengers made the long but highly worthwhile day trip to Cairo. There had been protests in Tahrir Square yesterday, but fortunately these were over by this morning and the passengers had no trouble at all visiting the Pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum. There were more problems in the city of Suez itself, as a large explosion and huge fireball shook the city. Fortunately we were moored well away from the area, but news filtered through of fatalities and walking wounded. Our thoughts are naturally with those affected. The passengers returned via a roundabout route caused by the explosion at about 7.30pm and made their way into dinner. For those passengers that chose not to go to Cairo, a complimentary shuttlebus had been laid on throughout the day.
Dinner was something of a special occasion tonight as George had prepared a few of the dishes that were served 100 years ago to the day on the last fateful evening of the Titanic. During dinner I manoeuvred the ship to our anchorage position in the northbound convoy ready for an early start tomorrow. The pilot will be coming onboard at 4.30am and I have been told we are at position one in the convoy. After dinner the passengers could enjoy a quiz in the Yacht Club, followed by a selection of works by Weber and Mendelssohn performed by the Romanov Trio in the Sirocco Lounge.
As I write this it is approaching midnight and the flames from the explosion are still billowing into the sky. I am hopeful that it will not affect our transit tomorrow, and that the authorities manage to gain control of the fire sooner rather than later.
Spirit of Adventure - Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt
April 13, 2012 - 9:30 pm
Sharm el-Sheikh is a city situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, on the coastal strip between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai with a population of roughly 35,000. The port can be quite tricky to get into as there are no tugboats available and occasional high winds. Indeed, high winds had initially been forecast for today, but fortunately these did not appear so we were able to come alongside with relative ease.
The city itself is very much built around tourism with many resorts lining the Red Sea coast. From speaking with the pilot on arrival, the resorts are still suffering from the ongoing political upheaval in Egypt, with many having less than 50% occupancy. The local authorities are keen to point out that this part of Egypt is quite remote from the Nile delta and has not experienced any protest or disruption since the uprising.
The shore excursions left throughout the morning, as the groups visiting 'Sharm’s Underwater Secrets' needed to be staggered because of the capacity of the boat they were using. The alternative excursion also featured the wonders of the Red Sea as the passengers went snorkelling at Ras Mohammed. With the passengers ashore I conducted the weekly crew drill, and soon afterwards we were welcoming the passengers back onboard. All aboard was at 1.30pm as we prepared to sail for Port Suez.
An afternoon at sea finally gave the passengers the chance to enjoy the facilities of the ship and to relax. Activities on offer included deck sports, line dancing, beauty seminars, a drawing workshop and trips to see the Bridge. Three talks took place during the afternoon, beginning with Dr Piers Bursill-Hall investigating how the pyramids were built. This was followed by Cassie looking ahead to our visit to Cairo, and then Dr Dan Jones discussed, ‘Pyramids & Stars: The Search for Heaven on Earth’.
The show tonight featured the comedy magic of Rob Hendy in the Sirocco Lounge, while some passengers enjoyed the film ‘The King’s Speech’ up on Top of the Yacht. Elsewhere there was a fun music quiz with Clive in the Yacht Club, before many had an early night ahead of the long day trip to Cairo tomorrow.
Spirit of Adventure - Safaga, Egypt
April 12, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Welcome to Africa! Our last visit to Africa was on 20th September last year, and the port was also Safaga here in Egypt. Without wishing to sound negative about Safaga itself, the main reason for coming here is to offer the opportunity for our passengers to venture further afield. It was therefore another early start as those passengers on the Karnak and Valley of the Kings tour assembled at 6.30am in the Sirocco Lounge. The reason for the early start is that it is approximately three hours each way to reach Luxor, but well worth the journey. The temples at Karnak are truly awe-inspiring, and the tombs within the Valley of the Kings really do have to be seen to be believed. I feel it is better to do this cruise the way we are doing it now, in that the passengers have now visited the tombs, and on Saturday they will have the opportunity to visit the museum in Cairo which houses much of what was stored inside these incredible structures.
For those who had been to Luxor before or didn’t fancy the long drive there was an alternative shore excursion on the semi-submersible Seascope Adventure, taking a look at some of the coral reefs that dot the coastline of the Red Sea. The all day tour returned at 9pm and dinner had been kept open for them, which was much appreciated by all.
The show this evening had an unsurprisingly low attendance, but that did not diminish the quality as the Romanov Trio performed ‘Three Viennese Trios’ with works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Tomorrow we are in Sharm el-Sheikh for a morning visit and then a welcome relaxing afternoon at sea.
Spirit of Adventure - Aqaba
April 11, 2012 - 9:30 pm
The early wake-up calls sounded and the passengers were indeed up and about so that they were ready to head off to Petra. The Rose Red City of Petra really is one of the truly stunning archaeological sites and no visit, for this reason is complete without viewing this magnificent site. The passengers on the tour were out all day, with lunch ashore, and returned to the ship tired but very happy at about 4.30pm. The other two excursions on offer included a trip to Wadi Rum, evoking memories of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and a city tour of Aqaba.
All aboard was set for 4.30pm and shortly afterwards we conducted the lifeboat drill for passengers before sailing from Aqaba at 5.00pm. This gave everyone the chance to shower and prepare for my Welcome Cocktail Party in the Sirocco Lounge this evening. It was good to see many familiar faces, nearly thirty of whom are staying on for the Farewell Cruise from Limassol to Civitavecchia. My wife, Tina, is currently at home and will be joining us in Limassol, so I recruited a more than able replacement in the form of Chief Engineer Kostyantyn Rybnikov to help host my table in the dining room.
The after dinner entertainment saw Dr Dan Jones present a talk titled, ‘Life and Death in Luxor'. This was followed at 10.00pm by West End Vocalist Martyn Lucas and the Spirit Quartet performing a half hour show. Tomorrow is a very early start again for everyone, with a 14 hours shore excursion to Karnak and the Valley of the Kings on offer. There was much relief all round when it was announced that Egypt has decided not to adopt daylight saving time and therefore everyone can enjoy an extra hour in bed tonight. It promises to be another long, but very enjoyable day tomorrow!
Spirit of Adventure - Aqaba
April 10, 2012 - 10:00 pm
“Land Ahoy!” That was the cry this morning as after eight consecutive days at sea we found ourselves in one of the rarest geographical locations in the world. I say rare, because there are not many places you can be on a ship and within sight of four different countries. As we headed up the Gulf of Aqaba we had Saudi Arabia on our starboard side, Jordan ahead of us to the right, Israel ahead of us to the left, and Egypt on the port side. It was Jordan that we were aiming for and soon the huge flag of the Arab League appeared over the horizon. By 2.30pm we were docked alongside and a few of the crew headed down the gangway to kiss the tarmac!
The first passengers arrived at 7pm to be greeted by a line-up on the quayside of the dining room waiters and the cooks from the galley. The sun had just begun to set and the hills overlooking the port were glowing in that red colour that is quite spectacular. All the passengers had embarked by 8pm and I greeted them over the tannoy. After dinner Neil introduced some of the key personnel onboard and then Dr Piers Bursill-Hall presented a lecture titled, ‘Petra: Between Empires and Trade Routes’. With that it was an early night for everyone with many passengers facing a dawn wake-up call for the trips to Petra and Wadi Rum in the morning.
Spirit of Adventure - The Red Sea - Transit to Aqaba
April 9, 2012 - 9:30 pm
Nearly there now! This time tomorrow we will have made landfall in Aqaba and be accepting passengers back on board. As you can imagine today was a day of making sure everywhere was ready for our forthcoming guests. I began by chairing a meeting of the ship’s management and then embarking on my usual rounds and routines to ensure everything is literally shipshape. The inside of the ship looks great, the outside less so, but then it is hard to paint a ship on the outside when you are going along at a rate of knots!
The entire crossing from Mumbai has been a flat calm without a drop of rain. The crew have worked hard, and the added security team have put everyone at ease. We very much look forward to getting back into the old routine tomorrow, for what promises to be an interesting cruise visiting some of the greatest historical sites the world has to offer.
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea - The Red Sea
April 8, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Happy Easter everyone! We may not have any passengers onboard, but that didn’t stop the Easter festivities. The day began with me conducting a church service at the request of the crew. The turnout in the Sirocco Lounge was quite high, and the crew sang with gusto. A special Easter lunch had been prepared by George and Ross, and this took the form of a large buffet up on the Verandah. The outside decks are all open again, with the greatest threat now being exposure to the sun. It was scorching outside, and with a gentle breeze blowing across the decks it is amazing how quickly you can become quite red. One day Staff Captain Vitaliy will discover that sunblock is the way forward!
In between the festivities the crew continued about their work. We are now in the phase of gearing up for the passengers return on Tuesday afternoon. Everyone is looking forward to the ship becoming alive again, although I’ve no doubt some crew will miss being able to eat in the dining room every night!
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea - The Red Sea
April 7, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Our northwesterly passage up the Red Sea continued today. As one expects in this area the seas are calm, the sky is blue, and there’s not a cloud to spoil the view. The occasional blip you tend to have weather-wise in this area is a passing sandstorm, which some of you reading this may remember led to an extended stay in Aqaba on a previous visit!
All the jobs around the ship continued throughout the day. The public rooms are all looking immaculate and I often see the likes of Cruise Director Neil, Chef George, Maître d’hôtel Kirsten and others discussing ideas for the last couple of cruises. To entertain themselves the officers held a quiz in the Yacht Club tonight. Angela, Nicky and Neil each delivered ten questions and the teams were compiled at random. The winning team included Chief Purser Joanna and Assistant Tours & Travel Manager Grazia. The conclusion reached was that the officers are a much tougher crowd than the passengers! Tonight we go another hour back on the clocks as we match Jordanian Summer Time. This means we will only be two hours ahead of the UK.
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea - The Gulf of Aden
April 6, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Although I have titled this blog “The Gulf of Aden” we are in fact now safely into the Red Sea. At 9 o’clock this evening we rounded the cape and are now heading in a northwesterly direction up the Red Sea towards Aqaba. The weather has continued to be glorious with smooth seas and I am delighted that we have not experienced any trouble at all on our crossing. We are still being very vigilant and the deck patrols will continue until the morning of Easter Sunday, when we will be past the area of most risk.
The day started well, with hot cross buns being dished up by the galley. As with the other days the cleaning has continued apace. Each day a different public room becomes out of bounds as the crew shampoo and dry carpets, or apply wax to vinyl floors and such things. I should give a mention to Chief Engineer Kosta and his team below decks who are keeping us going at full speed for all these days. According to my navigational planner, we will have covered 2,922 nautical miles non-stop by the time we reach Aqaba. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent of sailing from Land’s End to New York!
It was a quiet night onboard this evening. After dinner with the Doctor, Chief Engineer and our visiting Naval Officer I retired to my cabin to look ahead to the upcoming cruises
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea - The Gulf of Aden
April 5, 2012 - 8:00 pm
In the early hours of this morning we entered the Safety Transit Corridor which runs through the Gulf of Aden. We heightened our onboard security level to the maximum possible, and this included closing and locking all access to the outside decks. A few warships were spotted on the horizon. These could only be identified by their silhouette, as they do not operate their Automatic Identification System. The warships do not state which country they belong to, but from listening to the radio you can soon hazard a guess at where the particular accents come from. We are part of a convoy transiting the 500 nautical mile long Corridor. We are not escorted as such, but patrolling warships and their response equipment are never for away. A very comforting thought.
I walked through the ship again and saw that carpets are being shampooed, hoovered and cleaned in the cabins and public areas. The interior of the ship will look spick and span for our embarking passengers in Aquaba and of course when we hand the ship over in one month's time! There is not too much else to report really, other than we continue apace to Aqaba. Tonight the crew held a karaoke evening in the Sirocco Lounge. The singing was beautiful until Neil and Nicky of the cruise department decided to have a go. I’ve never seen a room cleared so quickly. Perhaps I should make them sing out on deck and then we’d be guaranteed that no-one would come anywhere near us!
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea - Crossing the Arabian Sea
April 4, 2012 - 9:00 pm
I normally enjoy writing my blog, but it is very difficult to try and think of new things to tell you now! We are indeed still heading westwards, although it is more west-southwest to be precise. The seas are still calm, the weather is perfect, it’s just a shame there are no passengers to enjoy it! The crew continue to be busy hoovering, polishing, cleaning, painting, wiping, washing, sanitising, etc. Our chaps on patrol are up on the Compass Deck and Prom Deck Aft keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. Tonight we fully blacked-out the ship. I walked through the Verandah after dark and I could not see my hand in front of my face. Fortunately I know the ship well enough to be able to find my way round in the dark. I then went on the outside deck and the ship was fully illuminated by an extremely bright moon. So much for trying to be invisible!
Tomorrow morning we will enter the “safety corridor” which is the area of the Gulf of Aden that is patrolled by coalition forces. However, we will not drop our guard until we are safely moored in Aqaba so there is still some way to go. One amusing incident today was that the crew were treated to a Chinese Evening in the Mess, prepared by Chef George. Chinese food is considered quite a treat and luxury item in the Philippines. The mess opens at 5pm for dinner, and by 4.30pm there was already a queue. It might have been wise to employ the security personnel down in the crew mess rather than up on the outside decks! It is great that we have the chance to treat the crew, as they are just as determined as I am to ensure that this ship gets the send-off she deserves.
Spirit of Adventure - At Sea - Crossing the Arabian Sea
April 3, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Our westward crossing of the Arabian Sea continued apace today. The day began with an exercise for the crew in what to do in case of any eventuality. This was followed by a talk for all crew in the Sirocco Lounge delivered by the security consultancy firm that we have sailing with us to Aqaba. With that complete everyone returned to their duties around the ship. I had a wander to the galley where it has been all but completely stripped with every component being taken apart and cleaned before being reassembled later.
As well as cleaning and general maintenance the crew have come up with a few creative ideas to keep themselves occupied. This evening the Sirocco Lounge has seen a ladies kick-boxing class, men’s kung-fu class, and an evening movie.
Tonight I dined with the ship’s doctor, chief engineer, cruise director and visiting naval officer as we discussed anything and everything. The dinner concluded with us raising a glass to our new sister ship, ‘Saga Sapphire’ who entered service today from Southampton. We wish her, the passengers and all crew the best for a successful launch. The Captain is my colleague, Alistair McLundie, who also launched this ship as ‘Spirit of Adventure’ so they are in very capable hands.
Spirit of Adventure - Crossing the Arabian Sea
April 2, 2012 - 9:00 pm
We continued on our merry way across the Arabian Sea today. I’ve been busy catching up on all the paperwork and doing my rounds of the ship. It is always interesting and impressive to see how the crew immediately turn their hands to other duties once we are without passengers. Everywhere within the ship appears to be being taken apart, cleaned, polished, and then put back together again. I say “within” the ship because the outer decks are being constantly patrolled by both trained professionals and members of our crew. I should give a special mention to the musicians of both the Spirit Quartet and the Romanov Trio who between them are keeping a constant 24-hour watch running on the aft deck.
I saw the cruise team in the library going through all the books and making sure they’re in the right order. The stage manager had dismantled and was cleaning the drum kits in both the Yacht Club and Sirocco Lounge, all manner of jobs taking place. Some of you may wonder what we do about feeding everyone when there are no passengers. Well the answer is that the crew mess continues as usual, whilst the officers’ mess has been closed and we are utilising one corner of the main dining room. As well as our own officers we have a couple of representatives of the company taking over the Spirit of Adventure in a little over a month’s time sailing with us. I am sure it will be a smooth transition when they take over.
The sun has now set and it is smooth seas and a moonlit sky with good visibility out on deck. All of our outside lights have been extinguished so we must look a little like a ghost ship as we head westwards towards the Gulf of Aden. With that I’ll say goodnight.
Spirit of Adventure - Aqaba
April 1, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Good evening everyone, Captain Spekman here. It is good to be back for the farewell cruises of the Spirit of Adventure. I arrived yesterday into Mumbai and stayed overnight before completing my handover with Captain Krzysztof Majdzinski this morning. I hear that the last cruise went well and the passengers disembarked swiftly this morning. Normally I would now tell you that embarkation of our new passengers had gone smoothly, but we did not have any! The ship is going to sail without passengers, non-stop from Mumbai to Aqaba, Jordan as this will take us through the more risky areas of the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden. We are due to berth in Aqaba at about 4 PM on Tuesday 10th April. A few extra security personnel have joined us for these few days, and we are taking the usual precautions.
Evidence of the patrols taking place in the area was given by the presence of HMS Echo (H87) with us in Mumbai harbour. She is one of two hydrographic survey ships of the Royal Navy and is currently in the final year of a five-year mission to the Far East conducting ocean surveys and diplomatic visits.
Other than me, the only other senior officer to change position today was the Cruise Director. Jonathan Neal has gone home on leave and Neil Horrocks has come back. You may ask why we need a Cruise Director with no passengers on board, but there is plenty of planning and preparation for Neil to do ahead of the farewell cruises of the ship. At 2pm we set sail from Mumbai and the crew had a rare treat this evening as a barbecue was held for them on the Verandah. It was a marvellous atmosphere and I was delighted to see Executive Chef George Streeter and Maître d’hôtel Kirsten Oettli looking after our hard-working crew.
With that I’ll say goodnight and look forward to updating you tomorrow.