June 28, 2010 - 10:27 pm
Eidfjord, as always, was a delight. Passing east through the 120 miles of Hardanger fjord to its innermost point had been in perfect conditions. Blue sky and just a slight breeze brought the temperature up quickly as the passengers disembarked for their tours, or the others took a gentle stroll towards this most inviting of villages that just happens to be on the main road between Oslo and Bergen.
A few miles down the fjord a new bridge is being constructed to replace a ferry service. For the moment only the first stages of two great supports on either side are visible, but in this country of bridge builders and tunnel diggers I’m sure it won’t be too long before this crossing will have been spanned.
The forecast was for showers later and, in the space of what seemed to be just a few minutes around midday, the wind came up with great force pushing the ship onto the quay (fortunately). Threatening clouds built up in the north west and I thought we would be in for a good soaking, but the bluster in the wind died away as light rain descended. The clouds remained however, along with the expected showers, but our more hardy guests seemed unaffected and carried on ashore regardless. One of the tours reported that they had had lightening and massive hailstones in the mountains, fortunately only while in transit between stops. Amazing how Saga can organise that.
The all day tour returned and we sailed off just a little behind schedule. The Farewell Cocktail party was a great success I believe, and all the folks I spoke with said the weather hadn’t really affected their cruise. The crew show, staged the evening before, had been a highlight for many, which only goes to show what a great ship’s company we have. Dover on Wednesday, then it’s up to Greenland and yet more adventures I can presume.
June 27, 2010 - 10:42 pm
The rain capital of Europe wasn’t on this day, in fact is was sunshine throughout and very pleasantly warm. It was a Sunday, so the old town was fairly bustling with locals and tourists, and on the water there was an adequate sufficiency of leisure craft.
Our berth at Bontelabo, normally used as a fish quay, was sufficiently close for the folks to be able to walk through the park below the Bergenhus, along past the characterful wooden buildings of the Bryggen to the old fish market. From here it is just a few hundred yards away from the lower station of the funicular that runs up the one thousand feet to the top of Mount Floyen, which offers grand views across the whole of Bergen.
With such pleasant weather there weren’t many passengers left on board, even the off duty crew were back on the dock continuing with their basket ball ‘championships’. I had great intentions of going with the ‘Grieg Experience’ tour, however the pulling power of Formula 1 resulted in that being left for another day.
To ensure we didn’t loose the satellite TV reception before the end of the England v Germany match I elected to delay sailing just a few minutes. With hindsight I needn’t have bothered, I guess.
June 26, 2010 - 10:13 pm
There was a day at sea beforehand, a day off for many of the passengers, a day to recuperate after the many tours and excursions of the past few days. Geiranger is almost sixty miles from the sea, so it was an early and damp start, picking up another pilot as we passed Alesund. It seemed as we sailed deeper into Norway that the cloud came down further, leaving the towering peaks out of sight thousands of feet above and the ship sailing through some sort of virtual tunnel, enclosed on all sides.
Even so, it would be hard not to be impressed by the sheer magnificence of the rock face coming almost vertically out from the fjord on either side as we finally closed our destination. The overcast was sufficiently high above us so that we could see the great waterfalls as we slowly sailed by. The weather did not deter our dedicated travellers, who were soon to depart for the short tender ride to the quayside.
In the meantime two more ships arrived, one with that garish colour scheme around the bows and another, far more distinguished, not by size but by age. The Portuguese ‘Funchal’ is 49 years old and has never changed her name in her long career. Quite small by comparison these days, but still looks like a ship, although with no bow thruster and a single rudder, the pilots are not over keen to return on board as handling can turn out to be rather nightmarish in any sort of wind.
Again, just as we were making preparations to depart, the sun started to come out. With no wind and the heat rising, it was time to make life a little more interesting for the passengers. We slowly pulled out from the anchorage, sounding a courtesy three long blasts as we went, waved down at the little ‘Funchal’, and headed for the ‘Seven Sisters’ waterfall. As we crept pass the falling waters, glistening in the afternoon sun, it was possible to feel the spray and hear the force of tons of water hitting the rocks to our starboard side. A short and cautious stop off the ‘Veil’ allowed two members of our officer staff to get just a tad wet, much to the amusement of passengers looking on.
When the ‘fun’ was over, we continued, passing the ‘Funchal’ once more on the way.
June 24, 2010 - 10:10 pm
When you’ve been to the top then the only way is down, or at least south in our case. We sailed back through the islands of Finnmark and to the promise of improving weather. The sky was still rather moody though, as we berthed alongside in Tromso the following morning. Although our berth was a little out of town, this place really is a city so there is plenty to see and our passengers were soon on their starting blocks for this half day call.
On board the morning was catered for by undergoing one of our regular drills with the crew, with a slight variance from the norm, just to keep the folks on their toes. Our two Norwegian pilots, who had been with us for three days already, were ensuring that their last day on board would be taken up by enjoying the slightly improved hospitality and accommodations compared to the regular cargo ships they have to work on.
The leaden skies started to lighten by midday and after we sailed the sun came through, causing the scenery to almost visually jump out in its magnificence. The afternoon sailing conditions were ideal, slight following wind in fjords where the life of the countryside could easily be seen from the taff rail. Sometimes wide, other times narrow, under low bridges connecting islands and past ferries where no bridge existed. Eventually, the pilots departed at Lodingen, where they had originally boarded and we continued our journey south through the Vestfjord.
Being our last day above the Arctic Circle, it was to be our last chance to see the midnight sun, and what an evening. In calm blue waters the jagged peaks of the Lofoten Islands lined the north western horizon to which the sun slowly crept. But the mountains were to far away to hide the sun at midnight, a sun which was still to bright to look at and which a great majority of our guest waited up to see.
Without doubt, a night to remember.
Honningsvag, North Cape
June 23, 2010 - 10:30 pm
Despite the less than summer like weather, we journeyed to the North Cape, aka ‘Nordkapp’, passing under the towering cliffs at midnight. And they are towering, from our near sea level vantage point we could just see the metal globe that stands at the very edge, and a few hardy tourists looking down at us, only visible when the flash of their cameras went off. They, looking ant size, were taking photos of us taking photos of them.
For the rest of the night we sheltered to the east, away from the still strong westerly winds. I made an attempt at berthing on the far to short jetty at Honningsvag the following morning, but the wind, still racing down the mountainside and across the harbour was just to much on our beam for me to ‘hold her up’. I opted for Plan B, up into the bay and anchoring about half a mile away from the town, using plenty of chain to hold her in place for our eight hours stay.
It worked fine, although the wind continued to race down the mountain from time to time, hit the shipside and add to the shaking that was coming from the cable from time to time. The passengers, as advised, dressed up warmly for the journey ashore and up to the Cape, but as the wind veered the cloud came down even further and all there was to see was a swirling fog. Fortunately the comprehensive visitors centre is well accustomed in having to amuse and educate any tourist who has been unable to see the lonely endless horizon to the north.
Back on board we prepared for departure as England commenced their crunch world cup football match with Slovenia, the satellite signal only just strong enough to get a picture. As we sailed out of the bay and up the western coast of Mageroya (translated – Meagre island), passing treeless tundra on either side I remarked to the pilot that there probably weren’t to many log burning stove salesmen up here. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone was living here, except the fishermen of course, as the fishing was apparently superb.
June 22, 2010 - 11:06 pm
The night passage up to Hammerfest was comfortable, and the journey took us up through yet more superb scenery, which of course was clearly visible throughout the night as there is no sunset now we have passed the Arctic Circle. A deep low was forecast to pass north of North Cape, and the forecast for our destination was for thirty-knot winds, enough to warrant my ordering a tug for our arrival. Murphy’s Law, I suppose, as the wind turned out to be negligible and the expensive tug floated around somewhat redundant.
Hammerfest has changed considerably since I last visited seven or eight years ago, no doubt because of a new natural gas reception plant that has been built nearby to import gas from offshore. New apartments have sprung up everywhere, even on the end of the short jetty where we were berthed. From the bridge wing we could look, apart from into various nearby lounges, straight down the main street of this small town, which the Norwegians (well at least our pilots) consider to be the most northern city in the world. It didn’t seem that big to me.
Our pilot also told me that it was also the first city to have street lights, probably when it became the first town to have a hydroelectric generating station when it was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the place in 1891. The Germans had another go in 1944, when they departed after blowing up various installations and forcibly evacuating the population.
Despite the overcast conditions and a chilly eight degrees, the passengers seemed to enjoy their tours or just wondering around, but as sailing time crept a little closer, the wind gradually increased to what had been promised. The flags were near horizontal as we manoeuvred off the berth, being assisted yet again by ‘Gods tug’. I exchanged a friendly wave of farewell with a lady in a top floor apartment who was watching our departure from just twenty yards away.
Svolvaer, Lofoten Islands
June 21, 2010 - 11:01 pm
Leaving Trondheim late in the evening, we had a few hours before being outside the fjords and back into a now more gentle Norwegian Sea. As the passengers emerged from their slumbers the following morning Rorvik was coming into view ahead, a sea eagle flew low across the bows, and a road bridge passed just a few meters above the mast as we proceeded back into over two hundred miles of waters sheltered from the worst of any weather coming in from the west.
In fact the weather was ideal for scenic cruising, mainly sunny and clear, with sufficient cloud to give shine and shadow contrast over the impressive and sometimes imposing mountain scenery. We passed thousands of islands small and large, hundreds of small settlements and larger towns.
Passengers, alerted to a natural geological feature, waited with eyes glued to see the hole through the mountain called Torghatten, visible just for a minute or so as we passed. Legend says an arrow, fired by the Troll Hestmannen to kill the maiden Lekamoya, caused the hole. Troll king Somna threw his hat to deflect the arrow thus saving the girl, the hat then turned into the mountain with the hole.
We carried on inside all the way passed Bodo and then crossed over the ‘Vestfjorden’ to anchor off Svolvaer the following morning. The Lofoten Islands are the real Troll country, towering great sharp and jagged mountains, dark and threatening in stormy weather. This day however started bright calm and clear, with just a few showers blowing their way through the mountains from the west, giving a certain misty uncertainty to the valleys in between.
The forecast had suggested the wind would increase and back to the southwest, it did just that, causing problems with our pontoon as the ship yawed to the freshening breeze. I opted to cut the call short and once all were back on board for lunch the anchor was heaved home and Saga Ruby sailed. We proceeded towards the head of the West Fjord, picking up another pilot as we passed by Lodingen and into Tjeldsundet on our continuing journey to the north.
June 19, 2010 - 10:59 pm
Another pilot joined as we headed up towards the Sognefjord, but in the meantime I had been considering the weather conditions ahead. Much of the west coast of Norway is covered by inshore routes that shelter passing traffic from the worst of any rough seas coming in from the west, and I wanted to choose our time for being outside. Although there were one or two showers while we were in Sognefjord, our day’s journey was for the most part sunny and clear, giving magnificent views of the coastal scenery. We passed hundreds of islands, large and small, some inhabited by seemingly just a few houses, others with larger communities.
Coming outside as we passed Maloy we encountered some heavy seas for a few hours, consequently our Norwegian pilots took us back into the sheltered waters just south of Alesund just as dinner was about to be served. Perfect timing. There were a few hours during the middle of the night when our path was exposed to the elements again, but then the ship was in sheltered waters for the last six hours up to Trondheim. We berthed on schedule, in a fresh breeze, and steady rain.
It was not the best of days, but our hardy stalwarts just carried on regardless, fully kitted out in suitable gear for a north Norwegian summer. For those remaining on board the most interesting view was of the huge glass enclosed municipal swimming pool that was located immediately at the head of the gangway. With at least three different water activity areas, plus a gym and café, there was plenty of activity right from our arrival. We were advised it was £14 for a session, consequently, apart from the Safety Officer and the two cadets, there were few takers to my knowledge.
We sailed at 11pm, in full daylight, as this was the first of seven nights when the sun will not set. (If we could have seen it, that is).
June 17, 2010 - 10:44 pm
Dover came and went, a windy day which required two tugs to help us off the berth after a hectic day alongside. Fortunately the run up the North Sea proved to be quite sunny and without the chill of the day before. Stavanger was the first port of a cruise that shall take us all the way to the North Cape, the very top of Europe.
Our arrival was delayed slightly while we waited for another ‘big boy’ to turn and berth, bringing over 3,000 passengers to clog the narrow streets and smother a few of the tourist attractions. Ten years ago it was rare to see a huge vessel up here, now it seems the norm... economies of scale perhaps, but at a price.
The tours were soon away and it looked like we on board would have a chance to catch up on the routines that had been somewhat hampered by inspections and audits of the previous cruise. That wasn’t to be however as the local Port State Control Officer boarded and stated that he would want to see a crew fire and boat drill, plus other assorted safety equipment. Lunch came and went before he was satisfied and went on his way, leaving a suitable amount of paperwork in his wake.
Our folks returned from their tours and either relaxed or went off for a stroll into the nearby town. The opposition finally left, no doubt having had to wait for a few stragglers, and our view opened up considerably. A Norwegian pilot who will stay with us until Trondheim joined, a colleague will join north of Bergen tomorrow when we re-enter the fjords.
Just after six we sailed off into a stiff breeze that disappeared less than an hour later and left us in fog for a few hours.
June 12, 2010 - 10:13 pm
The wind remained overnight as we steamed up through the Danish ‘Belts’, but in the relatively sheltered waters the motion was nothing more than a gentle rock now and again. We came round the top of Sjaelland and headed down into Oresund, the Sound, leaving the famous castle, of Hamlet fame at Helsingor, to starboard. Copenhagen was dry enough, even though the sky was somewhat overcast and threatening, but it did not deter our intrepid independents.
As soon as the gangway was down just after ten they were off, and being at the city end of Langelinje Pier, within minutes they would have been up to the famous Little Mermaid. If it had been there that is - apparently it has been sent off to some Expo in China and I’m not sure if anything had been left in its place.
The organised tours went off after lunch, Copenhagen by foot, City tour and harbour cruise, and the Seaside town of Dragoer. They came back later looking a little windswept and Staff Captain Steve and I had an interesting discussion with the pilot as to how we would take the ship of the berth and back into the Sound. With the strong wind blowing off the berth and not much more than a ship’s length of deep water to turn her in, it wasn’t the time to get the manoeuvre ‘slightly’ wrong. Steve did it our way and got it right. The pilot wasn’t really worried and eventually dropped down into his pilot boat and gave us a jaunty wave without even looking up. All of this took place under the beady eyes of a Lloyds Register auditor, on board to conduct a Safety Management System audit.
Ven, a small Swedish Island in the Sound was left to port and by seven we were back out into the Kattegat. Norway and Oslo on the morrow.
June 11, 2010 - 10:30 pm
The fog returned in the early morning, and with our route taking us into the busy waters of the western Baltic, it meant a long night of staring at radars and avoiding crossing traffic we couldn’t see. We followed one of the great Costa jobs into the pilot boarding ground, and then took the lead, when they had to wait a while for the visibility in the port to increase with the rising sun. In fact they followed shortly after and we both pirouetted together, just a few hundred metres apart, so that we were both pointed seawards on our berths, ready for departure.
The fog cleared fairly rapidly and then the heavens opened and we lay under a great deluge. This became the pattern for the day, sunshine and showers, but the tour departures went off regardless. The first, to Berlin, was away before I’d had time to have breakfast, three hours in the coach each way and not back until the evening. The other tours included a glimpse of Schwerin and the fairy tale castle built on a lake in a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles, Rostock with its KGB connections. I would have enjoyed the tour that included a thirty-minute ride on the Molli, a narrow gauge steam hauled vintage train that takes passengers down to the beachside resort Kuhlungsborn.
Unfortunately the return of the Berlin tour was delayed by traffic and our local pilot had to stretch the truth to with the port control to ensure we didn’t get delayed for several hours while ferries took priority. With wind on and a tug attached to the stern it was a nippy departure, and even then we were soon closing the stern of the Costa who was similarly delayed. We both passed four ferries that were queuing up outside, no doubt frustrated by our prolonged port stay.
June 10, 2010 - 10:02 pm
With only a half-day call we had to make sure that the docking took place without delay in order for the tours to disembark on time. There does not appear to be any passenger terminal as such, so we went alongside a dock where a cargo of fishmeal must have been discharged quite recently. The half-full dockside crane tracks emanated with a slight odour that I recognised from my very first trip to sea back in 1970.
Despite that touch of nostalgia, we were most impressed by the marching band that came out to greet us, along with their very own cheerleaders, suitably dressed in the colours of the Polish national flag. One or two of our gentlemen became quite sprightly when suitable photographic vantage spots had to be attained.
The day was the warmest we had had all cruise, with plenty of sunshine. I heard some great comments about the tours, which included the city of Gdansk where the Solidarity movement workers of Lech Walensa created the first cracks in the Communist regime in the 80’s. Here also is the largest brick built church in the world, St. Mary’s, which has thirty decorated chapels and a 15th-century astronomical clock. This medieval church can accommodate 25,000 worshippers.
We left on time, in bright sunshine, but were soon back in the advection fog that had plagued our journey from Helsinki. Not the ship Master’s friend, fortunately it gave some respite within the hour, which allowed the enjoyable social duties to continue uninterrupted.
June 8, 2010 - 10:46 pm
The forecast was not exactly accurate, and it certainly wasn’t summer when we arrived. Blowing quite strong from the north east and distinctly damp, consequently there appeared to be a certain lack of enthusiasm from our guests as they all filed out onto their tour coaches. I probably wasn’t in the greatest mood either, having had occasion a little earlier to briefly explain over the VHF to one of the big boys that ‘might’ is not necessarily ‘right’ when it comes to navigational rule of the road.
In addition to the normal ferry traffic, Tallinn port was more than just a little busy as there were five cruise vessels alongside. Our temporary home was on the end of the breakwater, not making it any easier for a large Italian job to back in past us. Quite rightly taking his time, I could just picture the almost 3000 passengers all chomping at the bit waiting to disembark. The price you pay, I would suggest.
By lunchtime the weather had cleared, although the wind persisted. All the tours had returned by lunchtime, consequently there were quite a few folks who opted, after lunch, to take the free shuttle bus back into the old town. Always a favourite, the winding cobbled streets, punctuated here and there with graceful spires and turreted towers, are a pure delight and it takes little imagination to picture the turbulent medieval past of this city, once a powerful member of the Hanseatic League.
We left on time and without drama, the wind assisting as ‘God’s tug’.
St Petersburg, Russia
June 7, 2010 - 10:27 pm
At long last we were to make our first visit to the new passenger terminal in St. Petersburg. The old cargo ship docks, miles from the city, had hardly been the best advert, unless one takes certain pleasure at observing the coming and goings of the worlds merchant navies and their sometimes shabby cargoes at this major Russian port.
The new berths, although not yet completely finished, are a testament to what can be achieved in a relatively short time. When complete they will be able to take at least five of the mega ships at the same time, and the whole complex has been built on reclaimed land on the western side of Vasilyevsky Island about two miles from the city centre. Millions of tons of dredged material must have been taken out to deepen the approach channel and provide the ground for a shore side infrastructure. The brand new terminal building with it’s comfortable working environment has apparently done little to ‘lighten up’ the immigration ladies, who still refuse to smile when offered a little ‘Spiceba’, the Russian word for ‘thank you’ that I had managed to teach to some of our passengers.
With good weather on both days we had touring satisfaction guaranteed and those that stayed on board for some of the time could be seen outside sunbathing or relaxing with their books. On the other side of the security fence there were dozens of workers laying roads, grading soil and finishing off another of the several terminal buildings that are part of the great plan. As we prepared to sail, having to wait a while for the last tour, it was quite obvious by looking at the long boarding queue for the ship behind, that there are certain disadvantages to these big high passenger number ships. Our pilot seemed unconcerned with the delay, but was less than talkative, probably because, as he later told the Staff Captain, he was waiting for a new set of teeth.
June 5, 2010 - 9:48 pm
We ended up in what was an old ferry berth, exposed to a very cool north westerly wind, partly shielded by one of the Carnival Groups leviathans. So not a lot to look at from the boat deck, but passengers were not really affected as the excursion buses came right up to the gangway. Those that wanted to walk were encouraged to take the shuttle bus, as we couldn’t even see the dock gate from where we were. That didn’t deter an energetic few from trying to walk back from the city, and finding themselves on the wrong side of the fence in the ferry terminal.
Fortunately, despite the cold wind, the sun remained shining, so the city tour and the tour to Porvoo were fine. The new tour of ‘Nordic Walking’ around Seurasaari Island was obviously the ‘green’ alternative. It seems this new craze for British folk appears to be catching on, but any health benefits were probably eroded by the refreshment stop half way round. The Sibelius tour was, as always, very popular, no doubt because we do have a classical theme for this cruise.
We left just a little early, nipping out ahead of a ‘Something of the Seas’ that had a delayed departure, then hadn’t and tried to push his weight around by pressing to go first. To late, we were backing out already. Off we went, deeper into the Gulf of Finland heading on towards the land of the ‘White Nights’.
June 4, 2010 - 10:05 pm
The route up through the North Sea was covered in excellent time, and there was only a relatively minimal delay at Brunsbuttel waiting for the first lock into the Kiel Canal. So, in sunny warm weather we made the nine hour transit, accompanied by a local Fire Brigade brass band who were set to work on the after deck during the dinner barbecue. A touch of ‘Om-Pah’ perhaps, but enjoyed never the less.
By the early hours we had made Kiel and were into the shallower waters of the Baltic. Bornholm passed by in sunshine the following morning and, with a day at sea, there was time to relax for the passengers, but not so much for us as we have survey work taking place. Stockholm was, as per usual, a very early start as the archipelago pilot joined at 4am and with 50 odd miles of island dodging we arrived in the ‘Free Harbour’ on schedule 4 hours later. The view from the berth is not particularly exciting, considering what lies just over a mile away, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe in my opinion.
The passengers, of course, made the most of the tours or the shuttle bus, and by the time they returned they were full of positive comment. I, on the other hand, had just enough time to catch up on a short period of ‘deck head survey’ prior to our departure at 4pm, and another four hours of island scenery.