Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
April 30, 2011 - 10:00 pm
It was just a short hop over to Gran Canaria and the port of Las Palmas during the night. The busy port only had three pilots on duty so the pilot we took was off down the pilot ladder before we’d started running mooring lines. Not that he was really contributing much to the operation anyway. That’s one advantage operationally speaking about the Canaries; the harbours are deep and fairly straightforward. The only time a pilot really becomes necessary is if a tug is needed (my Spanish is not too good!) when strong winds are blowing, a high possibility at any time of year. This however, doesn’t absolve a vessel from taking a pilot which, like in most ports around the world, is mandatory.
Las Palmas officially known as Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the capital of the island of Gran Canaria. Founded in 1478 it was named for the abundant palms there. The city was the headquarters for the Spanish Conquest of Tenerife and La Palma and was later a major supply port for ships bound for Spanish America. The oldest houses dating from the 15th century can be found in the colonial quarter, along with the cathedral of Santa Ana and the house of Christopher Columbus.
A late sail from Las Palmas enabled a local show to come and perform for us in the ballroom in the evening. Traditional song and dance from the visiting company entertained the passengers while the vessel was made ready to set sail. With the show complete the performers had no sooner stepped off the gangway before the Saga Ruby slipped her moorings and proceeded out towards Tenerife.
Santa Cruz, La Palma
April 29, 2011 - 10:00 pm
We arrived as scheduled at 1000 am at the pilot station on a bright sunny morning in the Canaries. The vessel was moored without fuss in the harbour, with the weather remaining in our favour during the night for our passage from Madeira.
Of course today, no matter where we were was going to be dominated by the Royal Wedding. Tours were delayed until the afternoon in order for our passengers to be able to follow the broadcast coverage on the TV’s in their cabins or on the big screen in the ballroom, and a champagne breakfast had been set up in the Lido to get everyone into the right mood for the celebrations. Those looking to escape the media coverage could stretch their legs ashore to take refuge from it all if they so wished, but most waited to see the Bride and then watched the ceremony as Prince William and Catherine Middleton married becoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
In stark contrast, the afternoon tours offered forest walks, volcano and wine tours amongst the choices with no rush to get back to the ship due to the scheduled late sailing time.The ships crew had obviously spent the day preparing for the Royal Wedding themed evening meal and evenings entertainment, with a large wedding cake taking up residence at one end of the dining room and champagne flowing for our passengers to toast the happy newly weds.
The ballroom had been decorated in red, white and blue with a balloon arch bridging across the stage providing a colourful canopy for the band to play beneath. And whilst the orchestra played to the passengers in the ballroom, the Saga Ruby departed quietly from the harbour under cover of the night sky.
April 28, 2011 - 9:00 pm
Having re-joined the ship in Southampton with the World Cruise now completed, my first task was to take Saga Ruby south across The Bay of Biscay to the Portuguese island of Madeira. With the Easter Sunday weather providing the hottest on record since 1949 it seemed almost strange to head south in search of the traditionally warmer climes of the Canaries.
On leaving Southampton in the sunshine, it was evident that many sailors were taking advantage of the good weather on this bank holiday weekend. Dropping the Pilot off just west of Cowes, the Saga Ruby made her way out to sea via the Needles Channel, all the while carefully monitoring the pleasure craft making the most of the fair conditions. Once clear and out into the English Channel the Vessel turned southwest on a familiar passage, to head for the Western Approaches and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Crossing the Bay of Biscay can at times be a bit of a lottery with regards to the weather conditions. Sometimes the Atlantic swell can combine with local weather systems to create less than comfortable conditions, whilst on other occasions the crossing leaves you wondering what all the fuss is about. Fortunately for us this time the later was the case, and although there was enough swell to remind our passengers they were at sea, fair weather prevailed with light winds and temperatures in the mid 60’s Fahrenheit making a pleasant start to the cruise.
The calm seas made it easier to spot wildlife along the way with whales, dolphins and even a couple of turtles observed by those with a keen eye and the patience to look for them.
Arrival at Funchal was a straightforward affair, the deep ocean’s abyssal plain giving way to the shallower waters of the harbour over a matter of a just a few miles. Once inside the lea of the harbour wall it was just a matter of mooring between a small cruise ship, the “Club Med II”, and the harbour’s Tug tied up against the sheltering wall - before our passengers could disembark to explore the island.
Only a sudden afternoon shower to catch people unawares marred what was on the whole, a warm and sunny day. Our passengers were all aboard for 5:30pm and the Saga Ruby set sail for the Canaries, moving stern first out of the harbour before swinging and proceeding towards our next island stop.
Ponta Delgada, Azores
April 20, 2011 - 6:30 pm
The Atlantic crossing started well enough after our departure from Grand Turk, two days of fine weather and a good speed. Regrettably the large high pressure system way up in the north meant a steady run of fresh easterly winds which gave a certain amount of swell from ahead. Then a technical problem resulted us in loosing another few hours and our arrival into Ponta Delgada was delayed until the early evening. As we approached, heavy cloud and a large swell from the north resulted in the island of San Miguel only eventually emerging from the murk when we were just eight miles away. A somewhat grey and forbidding sight, but one welcomed by all after six days at sea.
As we closed the capital, the outlook brightened, the sea become much calmer and the wind eased so that the two tugs I had ordered as a precaution were, in the end, not required to assist with the docking. Saga Ruby behaved like a lady as we turned off the breakwater and went stern first into the lighter wind, gently coming alongside the passenger berth.
We had to take a minimum quantity of generator fuel to make up for what wasn’t delivered in Cristobal so passengers did get a chance to stretch their legs and make the odd purchase before the shops closed at 7pm. In fact we stayed until 0930am, and then took a leisurely cruise along the island’s south shore, remaining in sheltered waters until after the evening show was complete and most of the folks had retired to bed. With fine weather over the UK it was inevitable that the Azores were not going to get the best of it, consequently as we rounded the eastern end we ran back into the northerly’s that were associated with an annoying little depression heading down the Iberian Peninsular.
Another three sea days and we shall be back into Southampton and, after completing yet another circumnavigation, the European cruising season will start all over again.
April 14, 2011 - 6:30 pm
The sea was almost glassy calm as we headed up through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti, and as the night came down a light breeze picked up from the east. In the morning, as we approached Grand Turk, it was still there and just strong enough for me to choose the windward side of the relatively new cruise ship pier. The pier extends across the shallows into very deep water, and to ensure sufficient depth to take the vessels, a relatively narrow sector of seabed on either side has been dredged. If the wind had taken the ship as we approached, we could have ended up embarrassingly high and dry if we had berthed on the lee side.
All went well and very soon the jolly agent and his few colleagues had conducted the clearance. With only a morning call there were some very keen passengers who were ashore and through into the terminal in double quick time, so quick in fact, that few of the ‘retail therapy’ outlets weren’t even open. This terminal, built by Carnival for the big cruisers of today, has no doubt brought more revenue to this small island, but I have the impression that wasn’t the main reason they built it. Even so, it has been very smartly done, and apart from the large pool within the complex, the beach area is lined with hundreds of deck chairs ready for instant use after the short walk from the ship. There was also a replica of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft that landed close by the islands on America’s first manned voyage into space in 1962.
We remained in fine weather, but a few miles along the coast huge grey cumulus were depositing their precipitation on the north of the island, the thunder being heard from the bridge wing. There were the usual tours, including one with Stingrays, and a few folks took to the beach, but the few hours soon flew by and by midday passengers and crew started to return. We left just thirty minutes later, and made a very quick getaway. The run across to the Azores is a very fast one and there was no time to spare.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
April 12, 2011 - 8:46 pm
Our days run across the western Caribbean, with the trade winds on our starboard side, was comfortable enough but became even calmer as we crossed Jamaica’s south western banks. The delightful Iris Williams sang for us that evening.
The following morning, in light winds and pleasantly warm conditions, we berthed alongside in Montego Bay. The pilot I recognised from over seven years ago, from the last time I was there and when the ship in which I was the master used to terminate every two weeks.
Little had changed nearby, but just five minutes down the road a huge new hotel complex has sprung up next to sea, with man made beaches, restaurants, bars, and swimming pools that must have meant a huge investment on land that had been just scrub and marsh.
The day remained fine, even though threatening clouds over the nearby hills looked decidedly threatening. The tours went off and returned, near enough on schedule, but there was a touch of the ‘Ya man’ laid back degree of urgency noticeable in the attitude of some of the locals I met.
We stayed late into the evening, and not until the steel band ‘Tropical Harmony’ had been ushered off after their unique entertainment had come to its final crescendo. (Probably not soon enough for some of our more classically minded guests).
We sailed back into a glorious night, away from the new hotel, with its multi coloured roof light displays and no doubt the disco beat that we were fortunately far enough away not to hear. Light and noise pollution was soon left behind us as we continued on our way towards the coast of Cuba and the Windward Passage.
San Blas Islands
April 10, 2011 - 8:36 pm
Eventually the bunker barge did arrive, but we did not start transferring the much needed fuel until midnight had passed. After a frustrating night of slow pumping and a somewhat casual attitude on the part of the barge crew, we finally left the anchorage just before 10:00am the following morning.
It was only after I passed on a message to the barge skipper that I was heaving up the anchor and he better be a little smartish in letting go his ropes from us. My plans to add another stop to compensate for the ‘loss’ of Fanning Island were starting to fall apart, I was, however, determined to give it a go.
We made the best speed we could over the 70 odd miles to the Gulf of San Blas, hugging the Panamanian coast as we did so. We anchored off the four small Carti Islands and by 3:00pm the first tender had made a run in with fifty passengers.
Another three hundred plus joined them within the hour to have a wander around the narrow paths that separated the rather basic dwellings. The native ‘Kona’ islanders were expecting us and had their handicrafts on display ready for the passengers to peruse and hopefully buy.
Most consisted of very colourful needlework in geometric patterns or ones decorated with tropical birds. Many of the ladies were practising this meticulous work as we passed, what men we saw seemed to be ‘resting’ in hammocks within the shaded darkness of their homes. It was Sunday so I guess they must have felt entitled, which would also be the reason why we saw plenty of children playing and not at the small school.
Back by the ship young boys in dug out canoes, were under the stern and shouting up for the passengers to throw money down to them, at which they would dive in and catch the coins before they disappeared below the surface. I also noticed as I returned, what appeared to be the odd apple taking flight.
After just over three hours at anchor we left, intent on catching up with the schedule and making sure the boys had vacated the area immediately behind the stern. Once through the reefs the bow was turned to the north, and as the trade winds picked from the east, the darkness of a Caribbean night descended.
April 9, 2011 - 9:30 pm
Our arrival at the Panama Canal was eagerly awaited and many passengers were out on deck in good time to catch the first glimpses shortly after 6 a.m. A number of launches brought first the Panama Canal inspector, then the pilot and then the agent. The inspector inspects, as might be expected, but it is a form of legal protection to shelter the Canal Company from expense should the pilot make an error of judgement that may cause damage to the vessel.
We continued on past Flamenco signal station and made a slow approach to the first pair of locks at Miraflores, off the port of Balboa. To the starboard side, in water close to overhanging trees, our eagle-eyed navigator saw a crocodile swimming slowly past the bank. Needless to say there were some scampering feet when an announcement was made.
Other traffic ahead of us had to clear into the second lock before we could proceed. Before 9 am we were finally locked in and had commenced our elevation. Conditions were just about perfect, no wind and enough cloud to protect the folks from the sun, but the humidity was rising. Less than two hours later we had cleared the second lock at Pedro Miguel and were on the level of Gatun Lake, some 26 meters above the Pacific. It had become positively steamy.
Apart from the busy routine scene around the locks themselves, there is also a huge development going on to the side where construction has commenced to build a new set of locks and approach channels that will take the largest of today’s modern container vessels. It is a huge multi billion-dollar project that is expected to be completed around 2014. By a process of re-utilization, the new locks will save 60% of the nearly 200 million litres of fresh water that are currently flushed into the sea for each vessel transit.
By 2 p.m. we were in the first of the three locks at Gatun, on the Atlantic side, and on our way down. At both ends it is possible to watch a vessel's progress via the web cameras and a few of our folks were calling home on their mobiles to let relatives know. By 3 pm we were out and within the hour, anchored off Cristobal waiting for a fuel barge to arrive. We continued to wait, and wait, and every promise that it would arrive soon proved to be optimistic.
April 5, 2011 - 10:45 pm
On our journey south we managed to close the Mexican coast sufficiently to see the spectacular rocks off Cabo San Lucas. Unfortunately the marine mammal life, often found off that Cape, eluded even the most eagle-eyed passenger. We continued on at great speed and with ever increasing sea temperatures towards Acapulco. By the time we arrived, early on the 5th, the air temperature was already well over 80 degrees with high humidity and no wind - things were just getting a little sticky.
Acapulco was just as bustling as I remembered, even though my last visit was back in 1989. These days, however, the urban sprawl has just continued up the slopes and round the headlands, with hotels and apartments appearing to hang from the hillsides. For the passengers there was, of course, the obligatory tour to see the divers, but we managed to follow one that took some of our guests to a very up market hotel facing the Pacific.
It was a very pleasant way to idle away a few off-duty hours, in the shelter of overhanging tropical trees and close to a ‘quieter’ pool. So quiet in fact, that we watched a two foot long iguana come down for some stealthy foraging in the grass and around the rocks of the poolside waterfall.
Our return, with a very friendly and jovial 60+ driver who said he had really commenced his life just twelve years ago when he had finally managed to live a more ‘Godly’ lifestyle, took us back through town. Away from the glitzy shopping street there was obviously far less salubrious surroundings and at one stage we passed under two circling police helicopters, one of which had what appeared to be a SWAT team hanging out of the open door.
Berthed behind us was one of my previous commands from the 90’s, apparently now being operated by a Mexican concern and having had at least it’s fifth name change since its original voyage around 1970.
Staff Captain Matt took the control when we departed, with me reminding him that we should avoid going astern more than a few meters, for obvious reasons. It was an excellent exercise, the manoeuvre being made just a little more complex by the fact that the ship had not just been secured by the normal mooring lines. Additional use of an anchor was made with another line out to a buoy to keep the ship from riding up against the dockside fenders, due to the low swell that always comes into Acapulco Bay.
Los Angeles, USA
April 1, 2011 - 10:43 pm
Our five days at sea from Kailua Kona had been in relatively smooth seas, but as we proceeded north east the mercury slowly descended, so that by the time we entered the cold California Current coming down from Alaska, the air temperature was only just touching the 60’s and the sky stayed grey and overcast.
All of that changed, however, as we passed Catalina Island and headed in towards Los Angeles. The day dawned with blue sky and no wind; the pilot boarded and was suitably relaxed in the style only the seen in California. We approached the berth, just off a restored World War 2 ‘Victory’ ship, the ‘Lane Victory’ and proceeded to line the bridge wing up with a chap flashing a blue LED ‘I-Pad’ like light at us. Neither the pilot nor I had seen anything like it before.
The terminal, built for the 3,000 plus passenger ships of today was just a tad too large for us, particularly as the door out was a block away from the door in. Apart from having to wait 15 minutes while clearance was obtained to unlock the ‘in’ door, I felt like I’d been to the gym by the time I managed to get back on board after my initial recce. And that was all I saw of LA, a crew drill and the US port health inspection took up the rest of the day.
Passengers, however, seemed to have a fine time in the great weather and those that went on the ‘Hollywood’ trip managed to see Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz planting a star into the sidewalk. Some folks finished their cruise here and were flying home, others joined and there seemed to be plenty of visitors taking the tour and visiting friends on board. We left on schedule, with an equally affable pilot who was intent on telling me what he was going to watch on the telly that evening, if he could get to the remote first.