Good day everyone, Captain Mclundie back in the chair. I joined in Dover having enjoyed a good leave, during which I was seconded as usual to Spirit of Adventure for 3 weeks to take command of the National Trust for Scotland Cruises. I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend onboard as we get to sail around my “back garden” and someone else is paying for the petrol!!
I also took my Wife jenny and Scott with me and it was a very proud moment with my son on board. Takes me back to when I sailed with my father.
Anyway it was great to see Captain Wesley Dunlop who had finished his first tour in command and all had gone well which I had expected anyway as he is a very competent chap, so I was very pleased that he was due to go on leave. The reason being, he had been away from his wife and newly born son for 2 ½ months so I knew he was raring to get home, and I wish him a relaxing and enjoyable leave. It’s a great advantage when you sail alongside a fellow Captain who has the same ideas and standards as yourself as we both run the ship the same way, so handing over is a straight forward affair. So I unpacked, got my feet under the table and prepared for a busy cruise ahead.
The day at sea, I hosted my captains Welcome party which allowed me to meet our 47 Britannia members, and 347 newcomers to Saga Cruising. I explained that this cruise they would not see much of me as I would be on the bridge most of the time under pilotage around the Fjords.
The day at sea also allowed our passengers the opportunity to get to know the ship and their new surroundings we arrived at our first port of call on our ‘Fjordland Wonders’ cruise, Stavanger in Norway. Having collected our pilot at around 06:00 we arrived at the berth shortly before 08:00 and were all fast and secured alongside just after. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t really playing ball with us and although the temperature wasn’t too bad, we did arrive to grey skies and drizzle. Although not ideal weather the great thing about this part of the world, and Norway in particular, is that even if the weather is not the best, it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the surroundings. Indeed, in many cases a bit of mist and cloud actually makes the scenery even more stunning and spectacular, it’s just the getting wet bit that sometimes dampens the spirits.
Stavanger is a town that has always prospered from the riches of the sea and during the 19th century huge harvests of brisling and herring established it as the sardine capital of the world. Obviously times have moved on and for the last two and a half decades a different product from the sea has been Stavanger’s lifeblood - oil. Since its discovery in the late 1960’s, North Sea oil has transformed both the economy and the lifestyle of the city. In the early days of drilling expertise was bought in from foreign shores although nowadays the Norwegians themselves have taken over most of the projects. Despite this, almost a tenth of the inhabitants in this town are foreigners, people who have remained in the area having come over for the early days of the drilling program. Stavanger remains a charming little town and in the heart of old Stavanger you can stroll down narrow cobblestone streets past small houses and craft shops as you admire the paned windows and terracotta roof tiles.
There were four tours on offer for our passengers to enjoy today, three which left us in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first to go ashore was the ‘Lysefjord Cruise’. Beginning at Stavanger pier, our passengers sailed across to Lysefjord, which is a beautiful area surrounded by steep mountains and waterfalls. An overhanging cliff which was used as a shelter to the people that fished and hunted this area is located on the southern side of the fjord at Helleren, and our guests were given the chance to view this before continuing along the northern side of the fjord past the pulpit rock, a flat and protruding rock formation which towers more than 1,800 feet above sea level. After enjoying coffee, waffles and some free time at the Lysefjord Centre to learn about the history of the area, our passengers made their way back to the quayside to rejoin the Saga Pearl II.
The next tour to go ashore was the ‘Pulpit Rock Hike’, a new tour on offer for our passengers this season and one of the most strenuous excursions that we offer. The tour started with a 20 minute walk to Fiskepiren, from where a ferry took our passengers on a 35 minute crossing to Tau. Thirty minutes on a public bus allowed our passengers to enjoy beautiful landscapes before arriving at Preikestolhytta, where the hike started. In order to reach the Pulpit Rock there is a two hour hike, through a variety of different landscapes including mountains, forest and marsh. The last 600 yards is perhaps the most difficult, walking along a narrow path with steep cliffs on one side and the Lysefjord far below on the other - and although hard work, the scenery and sights that can be enjoyed are simply stunning and one of our passengers who had been lucky enough to take part in the hike described the sights to me as a ‘once in a lifetime experience’. Having arrived at the summit of Pulpit Rock our guests were able to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and their packed lunches whilst sat on the cliffs edge, with their feet dangling over the Lysefjord, over 1500 ft below. Having taken some time to relax and refuel themselves they then did the whole thing again but in reverse in order to return to the ship - those passengers will sleep well tonight, of that I am in absolutely no doubt.
The final tour to leave us in the morning was the visit to the ‘Flor & Fjaere Gardens’. ‘Flor and Fjaere’ is a unique botanical garden located on the small fjord island of Sor Hidle and bursting with exotic flora, palm trees, lemon groves and a variety of plants that you would not expect to find as far north as we are. After a scenic boat ride to reach the island our passengers had the chance to explore the gardens at their own pace and there were members of the gardening staff on hand to answer any questions that our passengers may have had as well as tea and coffee, served in a pavilion that provided stunning sea views.
With a full day in port there was also the opportunity for our passengers to enjoy an afternoon tour and it was an ‘Introduction to Stavanger’, a very popular tour indeed with over a quarter of the ship taking the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful town, and thankfully by the time the afternoon had rolled around some of the clouds had lifted and there was even some occasional glimpses of a bit of sunshine. This panoramic excursion first began by crossing the bridge to the small islands where nearly all the houses are built from wood. From here our passengers were able to enjoy wonderful views of the fjord and town. There was the chance to take photos and admire the Stavanger Cathedral, Ledaal Manor – the King’s residence when he is in town – and Eiganes Cemetery, home to the graves of 45 British war casualties of the Allied-Norwegian campaign in 1940. From here our passengers made their way to Hafrsfjord and Sola for a chance to see the little church that dates back to 1150. After refreshments our guests made their way back to the Saga Pearl II passing the Petroleum Museum building and Old Stavanger, northern Europe’s best preserved wooden village dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Once all of our passengers were back onboard they were able to look forward to an evening of entertainment. The night started with a ‘Newcomers Party’, a chance for us to welcome our first time Saga cruisers into the family. As I mentioned we had 347 new passengers sailing with us and this goes to show the way in which the company is expanding and breaking down the barriers of what many consider a cruise for the over 50’s to be like. Following the party our passengers enjoyed another culinary experience in the dining rooms before Charlotte of the Cruise Staff posed the questions during the team trivia challenge in the Shackleton’s Bar. From here it was onto the Discovery Lounge where international comedian and all round funny man Gerry Graham provided the laughs. Once the show was over some passengers chose to enjoy the sounds of our resident piano entertainer Guy Stoker in Shackleton’s Bar while others chose to enjoy the light evening on the open decks with a nightcap.