February 24, 2012 - 10:00 pm
The voyage up from Agadir was in clear blue sky, but a Levanter was blowing out from the Straits of Gibraltar making it just a little cool on deck. With high pressure still to the north we had a starlit night and the sky, as we made our arrival into Lisbon, went from black to a gradually increasing golden colour as the sun crept up from below the eastern horizon. As we made our way up the River Tagus for the second time in two weeks, the timing was just right for sunrise to occur behind the great Statue of Christ the Redeemer. Completely stunning, and the shame is that only those of us on the bridge probably saw it.
The pilot boarded as we passed the Tower of Belem, not long before the berth at Alcantara. Here the ‘25th April’ suspension bridge across the Tagus is less than half a mile away and the noise of traffic going across its steel deck was with us throughout our call. I remained on board as the Staff Captain took the opportunity of showing his wife the city. The morning remained rather chilly for some, but those who went on tour down to the Arrabida Mountains or over to Cabo da Roca, Europe’s most westerly point, came back with warmer news. By the afternoon the sun really brought out the heat and the afterdeck became busy with relaxing souls trying to ensure a tan before arriving back to the UK in a few days time.
Our departing pilot came aboard in a confident manner, Captains shoulder stripes on his black leather jacket, scrambled egg and ‘Pilot’ embossed onto his base ball hat, looking more like part of an American SWAT team, but he was pleasant enough and was quite happy to see the Staff Captain practising his driving skills. He really wasn’t around that long, by the time we were passing the Monument to the Discoveries he was at the pilot door and ready to drop down into the launch. We continued on down river and towards the last leg of the cruise. If the forecasters are right a benign Bay of Biscay lies ahead.
February 22, 2012 - 10:00 pm
I have been many times to the port of Agadir, and we followed in one of my previous vessels from over twelve years ago, now being employed by a British tour operator. The harbour pilot was the same chap from those days, but somehow looked as though he’d had a tough time in the intervening years. ‘Getting older’ was the resigned reply when I asked how he was keeping.
I was invited by the local shore excursion agent to venture into the Souk al Had, so along with a couple of others we braved the local traffic in his locally built car and took the fifteen minute journey. The Souk is a very large walled enclosure with hundreds of small shops and stalls inside, all very colourful and selling just about everything. Apart from meat and fish there was a huge section dedicated just to fruit and vegetables. Great piles of spices, olives, nuts, etc were piled high and there were ladies grinding one type of nut into a paste, which was then turned into some sort of breakfast ‘cake’. It didn’t look particularly appetising I have to say. There were alleys completely full of clothing, old and new, shoes, and of course caftans. Small shops that sold bird cages, and the birds to go with them, plus baby tortoise in old boxes with some dried up lettuce. A tea seller tried to make us have a taste while, a little further along, a bread seller was having a heated discussion next to his stacked up battered barrow.
The shops I found most interesting were those selling heavily inlaid mirrors, chests and other brass ware. The workmanship in the Arabic style was very impressive, and of course the initial price was equally impressive, but this was a place where bartering was expected, and I think they would have been almost disappointed if the ‘game’ was not played out. I did not indulge, looking back perhaps I should have.
We left to take a drive up to the ancient ruined walls of the Kasbah before returning to the ship. The hill on which it is situated overlooks the new city and engraved in huge letters on the slopes are the Arabic words which translated mean ‘God, Country, King’.
February 21, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Leaving Las Palmas late in the evening, it was an easy run over to Lanzarote at a comfortable average of just under 14 knots. The local pilot smiled when he came onto the bridge and straight away reminded me of a Christmas Day over fifteen years ago when I brought a ship in with all the bridge crew wearing Father Christmas hats. Funny what sticks in people’s memory.
With a half day call it was a prompt departure for the passengers on their tours. Those who took the shuttle bus into town were not over impressed as it was a bank holiday following carnival and consequently most shops were shut. Our morning was taken up with an ‘In port manning drill’, one where we rehearse for a possible on board incident in port when some crew members may be ashore and others remaining have to take up their emergency duties. All went well and it ended up with all those crew members who weren’t actually on duty mustering on the quayside by department. Returning passengers must have been somewhat bemused by the spectacle.
What had started as quite a warm morning became rather cool as a band of cloud spread over the island, and the wind freshened by lunchtime so that by the time we came to leave, the ship just about blew itself of the quay. We turned off the breakwater and set course for the north east, right into the wind, but the cloud soon disappeared as we pulled away from the land and, in the shelter of the after deck, the sun loungers soon started to fill.
February 20, 2012 - 10:40 am
The rather brisk and unseasonably cool northerly breeze continued to blow overnight, and first thing the next morning it was definitely ‘wooly-pully’ weather on the bridge for arrival. A great German ‘monster’ was already alongside opposite our berth, of the family that choose to paint rather incongruous cartoon lips around their bows. (Some trademark)
When the morning’s work was done I took the opportunity to take some exercise, walking ashore and over towards the Playa de Las Canteras - the beach area that is literally a few hundred yards across the neck of the peninsula. There is a very long esplanade in front of numerous hotels where folks go to walk, jog, cycle, or just sit in cafes and watch everyone else. On the way there I passed a small area totally taken over by men sitting around tables playing chess, draughts or cards, with other men crowding around watching, and not a lady in sight.
On the long sandy beach there were a few hardy sun worshippers laid out behind wind breaks, looking as though they were on a different planet from those at tables above dressed up in winter apparel. There must have been some sort of competition for ‘sand castles’ on recently as I noticed a three-metre-high structure that looked similar to a typical Spanish cathedral and a full scale replica of an open top car, complete with Laurel and Hardy sat inside.
Back at the ship the deck crew had mastered the art of driving two hired cherry pickers and were busy working on the starboard side, cleaning, scraping and painting. We stayed until ten in the evening, departing into a developing traffic situation at the harbour entrance, which was not at all unusual for this, the busiest port in the Canary Islands.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
February 19, 2012 - 7:00 am
We departed Funchal on schedule, and by 1800 hours the mountains were receding astern as speed was increased to cover the 258 miles down to Tenerife in sufficient time to be alongside before lunchtime the next day. In fact we picked up a healthy push from the south going Canary current and arrived off the pilot station before eleven. Formalities are pleasantly ‘civilised’ in this part of the world and with the minimum of fuss the clearance was issued.
The pilot, and then the agent told me that we were in time to see the Carnival, and that it was ‘the place to be’, a statement that would normally make me somewhat suspicious. In fact I was probably right to be so, as the noise wasn’t long in coming. Some two or three miles away could be seen all the usual fairground paraphernalia, including the big wheel and that anti-gravity machine that is almost guaranteed to make me nauseous. Much closer however, towards the centre of town, large speakers started their ‘one, two’, (in Spanish) sound checks.
By mid-afternoon I was told that it was wall-to-wall people and the noise was so loud that normal speech was not an option. Most of our independent passengers returned and had their afternoon tea in peace behind closed doors. Even our shore going crew members found the whole thing just a little daunting. When sunset came the lights of the fair could be seen flashing away like some Star Wars movie. The noise, however, died away and the more genteel dances of a local folkloric entertained within our hallowed chambers.
Our departure pilot came aboard and chatted away about his particular ‘baby’, an old Canary Island coastal steamer called La Palma, built in the UK exactly 100 years ago, and which is slowly being renovated by volunteers. I think he would have been happy to chat all the way over to Las Palmas, but he was eventually ushered down the ladder just as we passed the focus of his enthusiasm.
February 18, 2012 - 9:00 am
The lights of Porto Santo stood out from the blackness of the night like jewels as we passed by two hours before sunrise. Our passage from Southampton had been quite remarkable, with a strong following northerly wind being driven by a large high pressure system north and west of the British Isles. The result was a large following, but comfortable swell that gradually decreased as we passed the Iberian Peninsular.
As the sun rose, so we entered into the sheltered waters south of Madeira, passing the small cargo port of Canical, the extended runway of the airport and the headland of Ponta Do Garajau before making our final approach to Funchal.
All tours were in the afternoon, but there was a minor rush for the shuttle bus as soon as we had been cleared by the local authorities, and I joined the second one in order to take a browse around the old local market, Mercado Dos Lavradores.
Just as I always like coming back to Madeira, I never get tired of this characterful market that, on its two floors, seems to sell everything that is grown on the island. Another big hall, which one can look down into, has everything that is caught from the sea, including the ugly ‘black fish’ Espada that comes from the depths and has bulging sightless eyes. On one table a skilful fishmonger was using a great cleaver to chop up what appeared to be a tuna that had a girth bigger than my waistband.
In the main hall fruit and veg was laid out in the centre, while to the sides other shops were selling local wine, wicker and a colourful variety of tropical cut flowers and plants. I paid out ten Euros for a small plant ‘in a bag’, an orchid I had not seen before, Cattleya Rosa Claro, to add to the collection we have at home, although the only colour at present is on the label.
Before leaving, I took a few photographs of the wonderful hand painted tile displays that are positioned near the various entrances, illustrations of an older Madeira that depict scenes such as fishermen bringing their catch to market and the ladies in traditional dress preparing flowers into great bunches and with a basket on their head. A time gone by, but somehow not so very distant from the scenes in the market today.
February 11, 2012 - 10:00 pm
Sea conditions towards Lisbon were very pleasant, although the temperature was creeping ever lower, so by the time we arrived at the entrance to the Tagus it was hovering around 4 degrees. The sun rose in a great orange orb and with it came a gentle warmth, only tempered by a light, but chilly, north easterly breeze.
Lisbon is always pretty busy, but today being a Saturday I anticipated the streets would be a little less so, I was going to be considerably mistaken. The call started well though and all the tours were of in good time, passengers dressed up in some very non Caribbean looking clothing. I took the shuttle bus at lunch time in order to join my wife for a stroll around the very walkable city centre, with its trams, fascinating buildings and elegant shops off Rua Augusta, the lively pedestrian street that leads back from the Palace’s Square, Terreiro do Paco. We peered into the small ‘Ginjinha’ bars, where locals just pop in to take a small glass of the local cherry liquor, and continued on until we found a street of only cafe’s, or so it seemed. Outside waiters were trying to encourage passersby, but the only one that seemed to succeed was the cafe where the sun shone directly onto the tables outside.
We took some refreshment and then carried on, I wanted to see the amazing facade of Rossio Station, where trains leave every ten minutes for Sintra. The front looks more like a theatre or elaborate palace. A little further and we approached the Santa Justa Elevator, built at the turn off the last century by an apprentice of Eiffel. It connects downtown to Bairro Alto, the lowest and highest points of the old part of the city.
We returned on one of the last shuttle buses, apparently entry for vehicles into the city had been stopped as a public demonstration was to commence at three. As we headed back the road side was full of parked coaches, demonstrators were gathering outside the front of Santa Apolonia Station, directly in front of the wharf where Saga Pearl II was docked. Our departure was scheduled for four, and at that time three passengers were still missing. Fortunately they managed to arrive shortly after and we sailed just a little behind schedule. As we passed the Palace’s Square some twenty minutes later we could see the waving banners and hear the speeches from across the water, the pilot said over 200,000 were expected to be demonstrating against the government’s austerity measures.
They were all left behind as the ship was navigated back down the Tagus, and by the time dinner was served our final port for the cruise was just another memory, to go with all the others the passengers have experienced in the last five weeks. A chilly England beckons.
Praia Da Vitoria, Azores
February 9, 2012 - 8:00 pm
Saga Pearl II travelled overnight to the island of Terceira. The port of Praia Da Vitoria is on the east coast of the island, sheltered from the westerly swell, but a fairly stiff southerly breeze was blowing straight down the dock on our arrival.
Joining the morning tour, we set off for the high ground to take in the views of Vitoria and the Lajes air base, a strategic refuelling station for the American military. Cloud was down to around a thousand feet, so not too much could be seen, which I presume our US cousins wouldn’t have been too worried about.
The journey continued through delightful farming countryside, apparently there are twice as many cows as people inhabiting the island. The small fields were separated by low volcanic stonewalls built without cement, and the cattle are moved around the grass fields to ensure proper rotation.
Our guide said the animals knew their own way and on two occasions the coach was stopped while they proved just that (the farmer busy some distance away).
We went on to the picturesque city of Angra Do Heroismo, founded in the 15th century and a major commercial outpost for the Spanish and the Portuguese. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is still plenty of 17th and 18th century architecture remaining within the narrow streets of the old city, above which delightful public gardens look down.
We spent an hour wandering around, gazing at the churches, the balconied red-tiled houses and took an extremely reasonably priced coffee in a street cafe. Most of the shops seemed to have signs displaying 20%, 30% or 50% off, which was somewhat of a pull for my other half, fortunately time did not permit such retail therapy.
The coach returned along the winding coast road, passing villages and fields shielded by high hedges planted with a variety of fruit, including bananas. The little older homes had their own few fields, growing produce or complete with a few cattle, but some had obviously sold land as there were modern homes springing up where fields must have been.
We eventually returned, passing the more industrialised surrounds to the port. We had an excellent morning tour. Highly recommended.
February 8, 2012 - 8:00 am
By 20:00 hours Saga Pearl II was secure alongside, and in sufficient time for some of our folks to take a late evening stroll along the waterfront, no doubt in an attempt to regain their land legs and to ascertain whether after a week long sea voyage it was possible to walk on dry land without the sailors gait.
After a peaceful night, those passengers going off on tour seemed to go off with a spring in their step. On board we had crew emergency drill, but after I took a quick stroll around the central part of town, and then joined two port officials to go and take a look at a unique piece of industrial British history.
For some time now, I’ve had a little ambition… tucked away in one of the harbour workshops are two broad gauge locomotives dating from the time of Brunel in the 19th century and exported to the Azores in order to assist in constructing the massive breakwater that protects the port today. Once they had finally been made redundant they had been left outside in a quiet corner to rot.
It took a well-known British railway photographer in the 80’s to make the Portuguese realise the value of what they had in their possession. Even so, funds to build a museum of the port have not been forthcoming and the rotting engines look rusty and very sad, but at least now under cover in what was once their original shed.
The officials were enthusiastic and most obliging, partly removing filthy black plastic sheeting so I could take my photos. They would like to see one of the engines returned to a working condition with a new length of the seven-foot and a quarter inch broad gauge line laid along the breakwater. A fine suggestion, but with the best will in the world, I think it is unlikely in the near future.
Any ideas steam buffs?
Whatever happens, I have suggested that they should at least make their relics more accessible to visiting tourists. Even two of our male passengers managed to go and take a look before we sailed.
February 6, 2012 - 8:43 am
The trade wind continued to blow for several days as we reduced our longitude, and for the first few days the heat of the Caribbean stayed with us. Inevitably though, the mercury began to fall, a cloudy day and we thought it was all over, but then the clouds disappeared, the wind changed to south and we were blessed, as though it was an Indian summer, all be it for just another day.
A long way to the north west the Atlantic weather systems were lining up to head across and up towards the Greenland Iceland gap, being forced northwards by high pressure over Europe. The Azores lay on the boundary between the pressure systems, and that meant only one thing…wind.
It started to build two days before, fortunately from the south west, and even when it reached force 7 we sailed along with the swells in relative comfort. On the westerly island of Faial lay Horta, our first landfall. Unfortunately, however, it was here where the wind and rains were the strongest, being funnelled into an even greater strength by the straight that separates Faial from Pico, its near neighbour to the east.
We came within two miles of the port and, with the wind starting to howl through the rigging on our signal mast, I spoke with the pilot who only confirmed my own opinion. To attempt an entry would have been at best, foolish, so we bade farewell and turned back to the north, following the coast of Pico for as long as possible. A few emails and phone calls later confirmed what was at first just a possibility, and we headed directly for Ponta Delgada, 150 miles further east. Here the forecast was slightly more clement and, more to the point, the berth was less exposed and available for an overnight stay. Comfort beckoned.