Saga Pearl II Captain's blog

April 2014

Mystery Port 1

April 15, 2014 - 11:00 pm

Well hello Ladies and Gentlemen it’s delightful to be back onboard the ‘little gem’ that is Saga Pearl II for what is set to be a rather special cruise indeed. Having completed my handover with my colleague Captain Kees Spekman in Southampton it was back into the routine of preparing the ship for sailing, however the standard protocols are somewhat different this cruise.

Our departure marked the start of what is to be not only my first ever mystery cruise as Captain but also the first ever mystery cruise on board Saga Pearl II. The rules that had been set to me are as follows; over the next 20 days we must visit at least 10 ports of call, 5 of which are to be maiden visits for the Pearl II and at least 4 different countries. No easy task but I’m confident that I’ll be able to keep our passengers suitably mystified!

As we dropped our pilot off close to the Nab Tower on Friday evening we set our first course towards Mystery Port number 1. Flat calm sea conditions were enough to confuse our passengers for a while however there was no hiding the obvious increase in temperature! So by day 2 the majority had certainly guessed the general direction in which we were headed although the first port still proved elusive. At our welcome onboard cocktail party I invited those gathered to have a stab in the dark, the responses varied from Greece, the Canary Islands, the Azores and one charming lady even suggested we were heading back to Southampton!

Casablanca

As much as I do like the southern coast of the UK I’m happy to report we did venture further afield and by 7:00am on Tuesday morning I was guiding Saga Pearl II through the breakwaters and onto our berth at our first port of call.............Casablanca in Morocco. Even once alongside, prior to my morning announcement, there was still some mystery as to where we were-those who had never visited the port before still appeared a touch baffled, that’s the joy of these cruises!

I am happy to report the weather for our stay was perfect, just a few light clouds and temperatures of up to 20 degrees. Each port this cruise features an included half day ‘mystery’ tour. Today’s saw our passengers take a city tour visiting the main points of interest from the New Medina to the Royal Palace. The tour was concluded with a rather impressive performance by local belly dancers. I can only assume this was why so many gentlemen returned with smiles on their faces........

Shuttle buses ran throughout the day for those wishing to explore independently or to make a return journey to the city following lunch. By 4:00pm all were back onboard and we cast off towards Mystery Port number 2-leading to more stabs in the dark as to where that might be, needless to say my lips are well and truly sealed.

This evening’s entertainment commenced with a Classical Recital from the magnificent Corellian Quartet, the theme was ‘Romance’ perhaps a subtle clue as to our next destination? Who knows!

Main show time in Discovery Lounge this evening featured the ever popular funny man Dave Kristian, presenting his second show to a full house.

Then to carry the night on in style, the very talented Explosive Vocalist Michelle charmed the audience with her beautiful voice and a fabulous selection of some of her favourite songs. To finish the evening, our resident cocktail pianist Clive kept the passengers entertained into the wee small hours of the morning.

Captain Wesley Dunlop, Saga Pearl II

Vigo

April 9, 2014 - 11:00 pm

After breakfast during our day at sea between Gibraltar and Vigo, the speakers, instructors, Chaplin, dance hosts and cruise staff were busy organising and carrying out presentations, performances, lessons and activities during the morning and the afternoon.

The evening started with cocktails featuring a Latino Cocktail Bar, followed by dinner. After dinner the Discovery hosted ‘Strictly Cruise Dancing’ - a dance competition during which some of the passengers showed off their dancing abilities.

This was done in front of the expert jury consisting of the F&B manager, the dance captain and myself. A very enjoyable task! This was followed by the comedy and artistry of master marionette artists John Chrisholm and Joseff Probst presenting their ‘Stars on Strings’, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl II Quartet.

After this Shackleton’s bar hosted ‘Late Night Live’ with Clive Carrington at the piano until the small hours.

This morning we arrived at Vigo Pilot station at 7:00am and were berthed at 8:00am. Situated in northwest Spain, Vigo is a city in the province of Pontevedra and the Spanish autonomous community of Galicia and a neighbour of towns such as Tui in the Portuguese speaking part of the territory. A small village during the Middle Ages, Vigo suffered many Viking attacks and in the 16th century Sir Francis Drake raided the city twice – once in 1585 and one in 1589 – occupying it temporarily and leaving many buildings burnt.

The Battle of Vigo Bay occurred in 1702 during the early years of the War of Spanish Succession. A Spanish fleet departed from Vigo in 1719 and attempted to invade Scotland in support of the Jacobites, resulting in the city being occupied by a British force for ten days.

During the 19th and 20th centuries the city grew rapidly, resulting in urban planning changes which have made Vigo less structured than other Galician cities such as Pontevedra and A Coruna.

As soon as the ship was cleared by the local authorities the passengers could go ashore. Today’s excursions were included:

Vigo

Vigo and Bayona. This was an easy going coach tour that discovered Vigo and the beautiful coastal town of Bayona. Virgin of the Rock (the Madonna holding a ship in her outstretched hand) on San Roque Hill, Bayona, one of the most important sea towns in Galicia thanks to its harbour and fishing fleet, were on the agenda (this was where Columbus landed following his voyage to the New World in 1493). There was time for a leisurely walk around before heading back to Vigo and seeing the bridge of La Ramallosa (one of the most beautiful medieval-style bridges still standing in Galicia).

Tui Cathedral and Wine Tasting. This tour visited Tui, a compact city with narrow streets and traditional Galician buildings, which is set on a hill close to the Portuguese border and alongside the River Mino. Apart from being a pretty town it has a 12th century cathedral, which after several invasions, was converted into a fortress, studded with battlements. There was also a visit to a Parador to taste local wines, accompanied by light traditional snacks.

For passengers who wished to explore independently we were berthed a short walking distance from the town centre and for those who remained onboard the cruise staff hosted activities and games.

All aboard was at 11:30am, after which we soon left the berth, the port and disembarked the pilot, before we set sail for Southampton.

This gave us an afternoon at sea during which the speakers, instructors, Chaplin, dance hosts and cruise staff were busy organising and carrying out presentations, performances, lessons and activities.

The evening started with the Farewell Cocktail Party, during which the passenger Choir gave a performance. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted ‘Show Time’ featuring pianist and entertainer Caroline Dennis, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl II Quartet.

After this Shackleton’s hosted the Late Night Shackleton’s Show ‘The Glitter Ball Girls’, featuring the Explosive vocalist and Cruise Director Kayleigh. Clive Carrington rounded off the night at the piano till the small hours.

The ship will now be at sea for another day before arriving in the last port of this cruise, Southampton. There I will hand over command to Captain Wesley Dunlop and go on leave.

In May I will be joining Saga Sapphire as Master and look forward to telling you all about my experiences and the cruises then.

Happy reading!

Captain Kees Spekman, Saga Pearl II

Gibraltar

April 7, 2014 - 11:30 pm

On our way to Gibraltar we experienced the two extremes of spring in the Mediterranean. After departure from Tunis we had a rather bumpy night with strong winds and high seas, but during the following day the wind and the seas decreased and by the evening.we were enjoying calm seas and much lighter winds. The next day was like being on a mill pond with light winds, blue skies and very pleasant temperatures.

During our two days at sea after breakfast, the Speakers, Instructors, Chaplin, Dance Hosts and Cruise Staff were busy organising and carrying out presentations, performances, lessons and activities during the morning and the afternoon. The first evening after cocktails, today was port and sherry bar, and dinner the Discovery lounge hosted show time featuring Pianist and Entertainer Caroline Dennis with “Swing Out”, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl Quartet. The second evening started with a Captain’s Cocktail Party. It had been a while since we had the last big party so we felt it was time for one. During the party I took the opportunity recognize our hard working crew by introducing e the Employee of the Month and seven other nominees. One of my favourite duties. After dinner the Discovery lounge hosted Show Time featuring Comedian Jeff Stevenson with “More Laughs from London”, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl Quartet. After this on both evenings the Shackleton’s bar hosted “Late Night Live” with Clive Carrington at the piano till the small hours.

This morning we approached Gibraltar pilot station under a blue sky and a flat sea due to no wind. But we could see that the fog was not far away. Sure enough we were in rather thick fog when we arrived at the pilot station at 7:00am. In this soup we made our approach to the berth. Just before the berth, about 200 feet out it cleared enough for us to berth safely, which was completed at 8:00am. Gibraltar, The Rock, is a strategic British overseas territory overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. It has an almost completely internal self-government, the Governor retaining responsibilities for external affairs, internal security and the public service. Because of its location it has been a highly desirable stepping stone for invasion from Africa and a control point to regulate the movement between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. For this reason it has historically been an important base for the British Armed forces and is the site of a British Naval Base.

As soon as the ship was cleared by the local authorities the passengers could go ashore. Today’s excursions were.

Gibraltar

Fortress Gibraltar. This tour gave one an opportunity to learn about Gibraltar’s fascinating and unique history. Driving by the British/Spanish Land Frontier, stopping at Europa point, The Nature Reserve (home of the Northern Defences Sector, where the Barbary monkeys roam), Hays Level (which offers a guided tour and the exhibition, which displays a collection of photographs illustrating the history of the World War II tunnels) and Jock’s Balcony offering outstanding views of the east side of the Rock and an insight of soldiers live inside the tunnels during WWII.

The Rock. This tour showed iconic Gibraltar visiting and passing by the unique runway (built using stones dug from the Rock itself by the British Army during the two World Wars), the frontier with Spain, American War Memorial, British Naval Base, Trafalgar Cemetery, Europa point, Trinity Lighthouse, upper Rock area, St Michael’s Cave and King Charles V Wall (where one may see the Barbary Apes).

Dolphin Watch. This was the perfect tour for those passengers interested in marine life. The bay is home to three species of dolphin and seven species of whale, as well as sunfish, flying fish and turtles. All three species of dolphin were observed and all enjoyed the informative talk by the guide. Europa Point and English Tea. This was a couch tour passing by many of the sights mentioned above on the way to Europa point to enjoy unrivalled views across the Straits, before heading to the Rock Hotel for Tea.

For passengers who wished to explore independently there was a choice of a good walk, a group bus or a taxi.

For the passengers on board the cruise staff had organised and were hosting activities and games. All aboard was at 4:30 pm, after which we soon left the berth, the port and disembarked the pilot, before we set sail for Vigo. After cocktails, today it was Martini Cocktail Bar, and dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted first a Classical Concert by the Covent Garden Consort performing a farewell Concert, followed by Show Time featuring Explosive Singers and Dancers presenting their interpretation of “West End to Broadway”, followed by CD music for dancing (Pearl II Quartet were setting up for a later performance). After this the Shackleton’s bar hosted The Pearl II Jazz Club, with the Pearl II Quartet performing another late night jazz session, featuring special guests, until the small hours.

Captain Kees Spekman, Saga Pearl II

Tunis

April 4, 2014 - 11:00 pm

Yesterday was a relaxing day at sea, which was well deserved after six consecutive ports. During the day at sea after breakfast, the Speakers, Instructors, Chaplin, Dance Hosts and Cruise Staff are busy organising and carrying out presentations, performances, lessons and activities during the morning and the afternoon. Before dinner one had a choice between the Shackleton’s, offering a sparkling cocktail bar, and the Discovery Lounge which hosted a Classical Concert performed by The Covent Garden Consort. After dinner the Discovery lounge hosted Show Time featuring Comedian Jeff Stevenson presenting “Laughs from London”, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl Quartet. After this the Shackleton’s bar hosted Late Night Live with Clive Carrington at the piano till the small hours.

This morning we arrived at La Goulette, the port for Tunis, pilot station at 7:00am and were berthed by 8:00am.

Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, is located on the lake of Tunis and connected to the Gulf of Tunis by a canal, which terminates at the port of La Goulette. Just north of Tunis is the ancient city of Carthage. The centre is of more modern development (colonial era and after) and the old medina. Today it is the centre of commercial, activity and political and administrative life. In Roman times, as Carthage emphasises, the area was of political and economic importance in Africa.

As soon as the local authorities had cleared the ship the passengers could go ashore. Today’s tours were.

Tunis
Treasures of Tunisia. This was a full day tour starting in the Bardo Museum, the former Bardo Place, which houses one of the finest collection of Roman mosaics and other sections that cover the Carthaginian, early Christian and Arab-Islamic eras, before driving to the small village of Tebersouk for a light lunch. Next stop were the Roman ruins of Dougga, said to be the most spectacular and best preserved in the country. It is home to a 3500 seat theatre, built into the hillside in 188 AD, the frieze has an unusually un-weathered carving depicting the Emperor Antonius Pius being carried off in an eagle’s claws. Inside was an enormous statue of Jupiter, fragments of which are now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the temple of Saturn, which was built on the site of an earlier Temple Baal Hammoun, the Square of Winds, where paving is laid out like an enormous compass and lists the names of the 12 winds.

Museums of Tunis. This tour gave an insight into the Roman Treasures of Tunis. It started with a guided tour of the Bardo Museum, before driving to Byrsa Hill, for a visit to the Carthage museum, the panoramic view of Tunis, saw the La Malga Cistern, which is fed by an aqua duct that carried mountain spring water from Zaqhouan, 34 miles away, before a drive to the Punic Ports for a stop at the Trophet, a cemetery for small children sacrificed to the deities Baal Hammon and Tanit. The tour concluded with a visit to the Antoinine Baths, built in the 2nd century they are the 3rd largest in the Roman Empire.

Scenic Tunis. This was a panoramic tour which revealed both the old and new parts of the city. Accompanied by a guide the coach travelled down the famous boulevard of Avenue Habib Bourguiba, passing 19th century St Vincent’s Cathedral and the art-nouveau style theatre, before going through the heart of the modern French-influenced city, arriving at the medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and to Carthage, where the Antonine Baths with its magnificent columns and onto Byrsa Hill, home of the National Museum of Carthage were visited. This was followed by refreshments and a pause for a photo-stop at 19th century St Louis Cathedral before returning to the ship.

For passengers who wished to explore independently it’s a 10minute walk to the tourist village in La Goulette or a 15 minute shuttle bus ride into Tunis.

For the passengers on board the cruise staff had organised and were hosting activities and games. All aboard was at 5:30pm, after which we soon left the berth, the port and disembarked the pilot, before we set sail for Gibraltar. After cocktails, today it was 60s and 70s themed cocktail, and dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted Show Time featuring The Comedy and Artistry of Stars on Strings by John Chrisholm and Josef Probst, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl II Quartet. After this the Shackleton’s bar hosted Star in the Spotlight featuring Jessica Poole performing “ The Music That Made Us”, followed by Late Night Live with Clive Carrington at the piano till the small hours.

Captain Kees Spekman, Saga Pearl II

Valleta

April 2, 2014 - 10:30 pm

Today was a very special day. We arrived at the pilot station at 7:00am and were soon on our way to the port. On entering the early morning sun was shining on the many restored sand stone historical buildings. Once inside the harbour we were greeted by a canon salute and soon after that the ship was swung and berthed at 8:00am. I think that this is one of the nicest harbours to sail into in the Mediterranean. Valletta, the capital of Malta, contains buildings from the 16th century onwards. From this period Malta has been ruled by the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the French and the British. The city has been a World Heritage Site since 1980 and is named European City Of Culture for 2018.

As soon as the authorities had cleared the ship the passengers could go ashore. Today’s excursions were.

Valletta
Medieval Mdina & Mosta. After a scenic drive through the pretty town and villages of Malts arrived at one of the finest ancient walled cities in the world, Mdina, also known as the “Silent City”. Here one walked through part of it to see handsome buildings, narrow streets, palaces and museums, the cathedral and the bastions, before stopping for refreshments. Next stop was Mosta square, the site Assumption Church, which during WWII was penetrated by a shell, which landed unexploded on the church floor, before returning to the ship.

A day trip to Gozo. This tour went, by local ferry, to the island of olive and orange groves, rugged cliffs, breath taking landscapes and historic remains, whose history is closely tied to that of neighbouring Malta. This tour offered a drive through this magical countryside and visited the capital Victoria, the location of the magnificent Citadel, the Azur Window, St. Georges Basilica and Gozo Cathedral, before returning by ferry to the ship.

Scenic Malta. This tour was mainly a scenic tour with little walking, that took one through rural agricultural areas past Mdina, passed through Xemxija Bay, visited fishing village of Marsaxlokk, famous for its quaint harbour with colourful “Luzzu” boats, where the tour stopped at a 19th century house with spacious interiors and gardens for refreshments, before heading to Zurrieq to view the Blue Grotto from a belvedere and admire the tiny rock island of Filfla, home to migrating birds, followed by the return journey to the ship.

Jeep Safari. This tour offered off the beaten track scenic island sights. Visited were Mellieha, home to the Red Tower, built by the knights, Popeye Village, where the original film was shot, Golden Bay, made famous by Brat Pitt in the shooting of the film Troy and Fommir-Rih and Dingli Cliffs, where sloping terrain, dotted with tiny cultivated plots, ends sharply on the edge of steep cliffs that drop straight into the sea.

For passengers who wished to explore independently it was only a walk, shuttle bus ride or walk and lift to town. My wife and I decided to walk in and have lunch overlooking this spectacular harbour, before walking back.

For the passengers on board the cruise staff had organised and were hosting activities and games. All aboard was at 10:30pm, so time for a leisurely cocktail, today offered a Gin Cocktail Bar, and dinner, after which the Discovery lounge hosted Show Time, featuring the local Folk Group “ Paul Curmi Dancers” performing in 18th century peasant type costumes, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl II Quartet. Next was “Our Big Greek Party” on the Verandah deck with performances the Pearl II Quartet and the Explosive Singers and of course dancing to popular Greek music till the small hours. While all this took place I took the ship out of the port, which was beautifully lit and a perfect backdrop for the deck party. Soon were in open sea and on our way to Tunis.

Captain Kees Spekman, Saga Pearl II

Crotone

April 1, 2014 - 11:30 pm

After the Greek calls it was an Italian port today. At 7:00am we arrived at the pilot station for Crotone and were berthed in the small port at 8:00am. Crotone, which was founded by Myscellus in 710 BC, was one of the most flourishing cities of Magna Graecia. In more modern times it has gone through industrial development, due to its proximity to hydroelectric power and its location between the ports of Taranto and Messina.

As soon as the authorities had cleared the ship the passengers could go ashore. Today’s excursions were.

Crotone
La Castella & Capo Colonna. First stop on this tour was the old fishing village of La Castella, from where one could see the one of the seven castles, which were believed to have been built by the Aragonese, that once stood along the gulf. From here it was off to Capo Colonna, which has taken its name from the single Doric column that survives from a temple dedicated to the Goddess Hera, which dates back to the sixth century BC. This included a visit to the Capo Colonna Archaeological Park and the superb modern underground museum that preserves votive objects, underwater finds and structural ruins from the temple.

Santa Severina. This tour visits Santa Severina, one of Italy’s prettiest small towns, nicknamed “the Stone Ship”, which clings to a Cliffside overlooking the river Neto. Visited was the Carrafa fortress, which has an interesting archaeological museum, the Cathedral, the 11th century Church of Santa Fikmena, which home to a crypt that was formerly part of another church and the Diocesan Museum, before enjoying some snacks and tasting of local wines.

Walking tour of Croton. This tour took the passengers through one of the wealthiest cities in Magna Graecia, noted for its physicians and the school founded by the mathematician Pythagoras in ancient Greek times. This walk took one to the magnificent cathedral, the Baroque style Chiesa Dell’Immacolata, the medieval castle and the museum housing relics uncovered during local excavations.

For passengers who wished to explore independently it was only a short walk into town.

For the passengers on board the cruise staff had organised and were hosting activities and games. All aboard was at 2:30pm and shortly after the ship left the berth, the port, disembarked the pilot, and en route to the next port of call Valletta. After a nice afternoon at sea enjoying a presentation by speaker Dan Jones, historian an archaeologist, activities by the cruise staff and a classical tea, with the Covent Garden Consort, the evening started with cocktails, featuring a Martini cocktail bar, and dinner. After dinner the Discovery lounge hosted Show Time, featuring The Explosive Production Cast and Tenor Ryan Morgan, followed by music for dancing from the Pearl II Quartet. After this the Shackleton’s bar hosted Late Night Live with Clive Carrington at the piano till the small hours.

Captain Kees Spekman, Saga Pearl II

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