August 31, 2012 - 10:30 pm
The transit through the Belts thankfully was a peaceful one as there appeared to be a lack of the usual traffic. In calm waters we passed under the large suspension bridge that joins mainland Denmark with the islands that lead on to Copenhagen and eventually to Sweden via more bridges. Unfortunately this was around 4am so only the bridge team and I really enjoyed that view. The wind on arrival started to pick up and threatened to make things “interesting” for our approach but thankfully as we headed further in towards the port the wind subsided and with the help of one tug, we manoeuvred alongside in the very tight harbour.
Local delights awaiting our guests were tours to Lerchenborg Manor House & Birkegaarden Garden & Copenhagen but there was also a lot going on in the town that day with horse drawn carriages proving to be very popular indeed. The day had started off quite cloudy with the breeze making things quite cool, but against the forecast it actually became a beautiful sunny day and with all onboard we set sail for Oslo.
August 30, 2012 - 11:00 pm
Warnemunde was always going to be an early start but the overnight run saw our evening disturbed with an eerie fog! At first it was quite thick but as it started to clear in the twilight it continued to lay low which gave the odd sight of only seeing the top half of ships appearing through it! Eventually it cleared away fully and with the fog horn now silent we carried onto the pilot station for an incredibly early start of 0430. We needed to get in this early as the port was going to have a very busy day with another two cruise ships and lots of ferry movements. This was we were alongside by 0600 and there was no delay in sending out first tour, all the way to Berlin! We would not be seeing them again until 8.30pm so really wanted to make sure they got off on time. Other tours followed but were staying much closer to the ship with many enjoying the pretty town, Rostock and Fischland, the Forgotten World.
With all safely back from Berlin at 8.30pm we sailed out into the harbor passing the town and other cruise ships in almost calm conditions but in darkness. The pilot then told me it was customary here to say good bye to the towns people with a good blast on the whistle. After due warning to those on the open decks we duly obliged and the waving from those on the shoreline started.
Once clear of the breakwaters we set out into the Baltic but now were immediately in the much tighter routing system that takes vessels up to the “Belts” and our overnight passage to Kalundburg.
August 28, 2012 - 10:00 pm
A fast overnight run to Tallin saw us approach the pilot station at 5.30am. The forecast had indicated that the winds would be a little fresher and so one tug had already been ordered. Unfortunately the wind was even “fresher” than that and as soon as the pilot came onboard it was easy to agree that a second tug was required to safely get alongside. Indeed had the second tug not been available (and in the smaller ports this is often the case!) we may well have had to reconsider our call but thankfully the little tug boat came steaming out of an adjacent harbour just as we were approaching the breakwater which is always a comforting sight in windy conditions.
With both tugs securely made fast we performed our swing and backed into the harbour and were safely alongside by 8am. I did have to give a warning that the wind was making it a little chilly but thankfully all were well wrapped up as they headed off for a wide selection of tours around the old city including Saue Manor. Tallin is a beautiful old city and I can be sure of that as Helen our Hotel Director proclaims it as one of her favourite ports of all time! Quite an endorsement.
Thankfully the wind did ease during the day so only one tug was required for departure and once we got our “slot” within all the local traffic movements including ferries and other cruise ships, we headed out back into the Baltic for a welcome day at sea and a chance to recharge our batteries as we made for Warnemunde in Germany.
St Petersburg 26th and 27th August
August 26, 2012 - 10:30 pm
Lovely calm weather greeted us for our arrival at the pilot station at 4am on Sunday morning. Only slight problem was that the pilots obviously were working to a different schedule and ordered us to wait for an hour for the pilot, so we had no choice but to stop the ship, drift and wait. Quite frustrating when you have been running at full speed to get there on time. Anyway, with our local Russian pilot finally onboard at 5am we started in along the long narrow route that took us through the brand new flood defences that now protect St Petersburg from the surges that can cause so many problems in the low lying areas. The pilot informed me they have actually been used about 3 times since construction was finished early last year and was proud to tell me that the tunnel under the gates was fully open to traffic as well. Our conversation continued as we passed the remnants of a bygone era in the form of the old naval base on Kotlin island. Whilst still active there are only a fraction of the ships there that used to be based here. As we cleared the island and continued along the narrow channel towards the port we encountered thick fog. A switch to primarily using radars and electronic navigation systems followed as the pilot safely guided us towards the recently constructed new harbour where finally the fog lifted just as we started to berth alongside.
There are so many sights to see in St Petersburg and even after 2 days of tours and shuttle buses, passengers rejoined the ship knowing already what they would be coming back to see next time. And with all aboard on Monday evening we set off back down the long channels, through Kotlin Island and out into the Baltic again.
The route out was far more pleasant in that the visibility remained clear and we all had a chance to see the sights in daylight unlike our arrival a day earlier.
August 25, 2012 - 10:30 pm
We had a beautifully calm run over night and made our way along the traffic routeing system that will eventually take us all the way to St Petersburg. However, in only light traffic conditions we were able to cross the west bound lane on the north side and make our approaches to the Helsinki pilot station where the pilot was waiting for us on a near perfect morning.
That was just as well as the berth in Helsinki is in the main harbour which is guarded by an old fort that offers just under 100 metres of space to pass through. Once safely inside we managed to approach the berth and swing around in the calm waters before backing onto our berth.
Being such a lovely day, I stood on the dock to wave off our guests heading on tour inland but after a steady procession for some time I was wondering if there would be anyone left onboard other than the crew? When I got back to the gangway it seemed only 100 were onboard but most of those where booked on later tours anyway. So for those that did remain it must have been like having their own private yacht berthed in a lovely calm and sunny marina!
The tours had taken our guests off to explore the highlights of Helsinki, the Old Town Porvoo & the Sibelius Experience and all seemed to return enlightened. With all back onboard we set sail back through the narrow exit and back into the traffic lanes heading for the eastern most port on out itinerary, St Petersburg.
Stockholm 23rd and 24th August
August 23, 2012 - 9:58 am
Unfortunately being late from Kiel meant some slight adjustments to the itinerary. However this had some very positive effects. Firstly, after a leisurely morning at sea we picked up our pilot at 2pm for the 4 hour picturesque cruise into Stockholm.This ship is small enough to be able to use the shorter, but far prettier southern route through the islands to Stockholm.
The odd shower could not dampen the view as we weaved in between the islands including one where the pilot pointed to a little red house and stated “that is where ABBA wrote some of their earliest tracks..” Normally we would have picked up the pilot at about 4am so getting this opportunity to sail in during the afternoon was enjoyed by all.
As we approached the city, a number of large cruise ships and ferries started to leave and formed a line of “Great White Whales” coming out of the rain. To be honest I was very glad to be on our old girl as we entered the inner harbour just as the rain stopped and the sun was starting to come out so that we may all enjoy the harbour to ourselves and a peaceful night alongside.
Early morning in Stockholm and our guests were up and about ready to embark on tours to the Vasa Museum, Drottningholm Palace and a waterways trip in lovely sunshine which we would not have had the day before. But with all aboard by mid afternoon we set sail back out through the narrow channels, but this time we passed through the narrowest part of all which is the other side of an island we pass on the way in. Only 100 meters wide which means you can’t help but feel the sensation to breathe in. Clearly some of the local wildlife was also breathless and we picked up a stowaway on the bridge wing as we sailed away towards open water and onto our next destination of Helsinki at full speed!
August 21, 2012 - 11:00 pm
A busy crossing through the traffic lanes saw us arrive at the pilot station for the Elbe just after lunch. We were greeted by one of the largest pilot boats you will see around the globe but once he was safely alongside we embarked our first of many pilots for our transit through the Kiel Canal.
On arriving on the bridge his first information was not what one would like to hear on such a tight schedule and that was that one of the locks was not working and that there was a back log of ships waiting to pass through. There really are not any options in this case but to go to anchor in the river and wait for our turn which did not come until 7pm.
Whilst we waited at anchor our second pilot joined and he was taking just into the locks where pilot number 3 arrived for the first part of the transit. I have to say that when the locks are working (and the second one was fixed by the time we entered) it is a very slick and well practised operation and once the gate was closed behind us, the water level was adjusted and the gate ahead opened to reveal the start of the canal. The first two thirds of the canal are fairly reasonable with mainly straight and relatively wide channels through farmland and countryside. However about half way through you switch pilots again and then start to transit the more built up areas where the channel narrows and the turns become a little tighter! Due to the lock problem our transit now was mainly through the hours of darkness and we did not get to the locks at the other end until 3am the following morning. However, I did see many people out late at night still enjoying the experience even at that hour!
After passing through the last set of locks we set our course for Stockholm just as the first glimpse of morning light appeared on the horizon.
August 18, 2012 - 10:30 pm
I was indeed very pleased to arrive on the bridge early on Saturday morning to find the was next to no wind at all and felt very pleased we had switched the day with Invergordon. What I was less pleased to see was that actually I could not see the island at all!! Yes, the dreaded fog had set in again so with whistle blaring away every two minutes we proceeded somewhat cautiously into the harbor. The entire approach had to be carried out using the radar and indeed I was relieved when the officer forward reported he could actually see the berth we were creeping up to through the dense fog. Shortly afterwards the berth became visible from the bridge and we completed our manoeuver just a little behind schedule.
In my morning arrival broadcast I felt I had to convince the passengers we were actually here as only the jetty was visible! However the sun was now shinning high in the sky and the fog was quickly burned away to reveal the beauty of the inner harbor. Excursions with titles such as “Ancient Treasures of Orkney, Spirit of the South Isles, North Orkney Exploration and Scapa Flow & Italian Chapel” all awaited. I have to say that having been around this coast before I can confirm that the rocky west coast of this island is a sight to behold and the story of Scapa Flow and the Italian Chapel had been quite moving so I knew everyone was going to appreciate the better weather today.
With all back onboard for the last time we set sail into the evening sunshine and out into the North Sea for our long journey south back to Dover and home.
August 17, 2012 - 10:30 pm
We should not be here today! We should have been in Kirkwall and back here on Saturday but those wonderful chaps at the met office were forecasting strong winds today in Kirkwall. Unfortunately Kirkwall do not have tugs on station there and the wind strength would have made it very risky to be able to berth alongside. Conversely, Invergordon do have tugs and with their help in the morning we managed to call here instead having switched the ports around in our itinerary.
The day does start off a little gloomy but thankfully stays dry until all the tours' passengers have boarded their busses and are heading off to places such as Lock Ness, Rogie Falls and Silverbridge Forest, Urquhart & Grand Dunrobin Castles and Royal Dornoch whilst the crew remained onboard and carried out one of their weekly emergency drills. What was appreciated though was that all managed to return to the ship and set sail in glorious sunshine and flat calm waters with the sounds of local pipers playing us out.
On the way out we weaved our way past a couple of rigs, one of which was missing it’s top and looked suspiciously like it might have turned over with it’s legs sticking up. Not so of course but a reminder all the same of the close links between the wonderful coastline and the offshore oil industry. Once clear of the river, a very slow course was set overnight to what I hoped would now be a calm Kirkwall.
August 15, 2012 - 9:00 pm
Unfortunately it was a very early start for us as thick fog enveloped the ship on its approaches to the Firth of Forth. With myself on the bridge and the Fog Horn sounding it’s merry tune, we slipped into the Firth hoping to find the pilot boat in the right place at the right time. Our arrival and departure has to be timed accurately as the berth in Leith is accessed via a lock that can only be entered at certain stages of the tide for vessels of this size. Our “slot” was 1.15pm and so we picked up the pilot just an hour earlier at 11.15am. As if the pilot had arranged it, the fog cleared just as his launch approached the ship. Unfortunately, after giving us a tantalising glimpse of the port of Leith ahead, it quickly descended upon us again and we could not see the locks! On an approach such as this visibility is everything and without it no approach was possible so we pulled up and scratched our heads as to what could be done. The fog had been so thick all morning that no one was confident of it lifting. Rapid phone calls and VHF radio communications followed to try and find an alternative. Just as the harbour master was clearing barges off the dock in Rosyth just up the Firth to allow us in there, the fog started to lift and suddenly we saw the opportunity to approach. Just in time too as we only had 30 minutes of our “window” left open to us.
It was still very windy so with tugs strapped on fore & aft we made a somewhat exciting approach and all breathed easy when we were inside with the gates closing behind us. It was just then a matter of manoeuvring the ship past the Royal Yacht Britannia and onto our berth just one hour later than planned.
Of course the main reason for being in this magnificent city was to take all but a few of our passengers to see the Edinburgh Tattoo in the evening. Even the pouring rain at the start of the show could not dampen their spirits and a fabulous time was had by all. They all then returned to a midnight feast setting everyone up for a deep nights sleep. However, with the morning sunshine came a full tour program which included tours of the Royal Yacht Britannia as well as a trip back to the castle to see it in the daylight.
As is often the case in Scottish ports of call we were piped away from the berth with the sound of bagpipes as we gingerly headed back out through the lock and back into the Firth of Forth but this time we could see for miles and enjoyed the Scottish coast line all afternoon.
August 14, 2012 - 10:00 pm
A relatively quiet and simple arrival this morning as the winds were almost calm with only a little current at the entrance to the harbour to contend with. The pilot this morning was a little more traditional than the one we had last cruise in that he had not brought all the “Bells & Whistles” they seem to like these days. His main tool for navigation was the “Mark One Eye Ball” and he used it to good effect, guiding us safely through a tight swing of the entrance to the berth and backing us down serenely to lay alongside on time.
As this was only a half day call, those on tour were all ready and waiting for the gangway and as if under starters orders, swept onto the dock side and into the awaiting coaches. Tours to Amsterdam and the canal cruises and Van Cogh museum were enjoyed by many but all were back onboard by 1.30pm as we set sail into somewhat foggy waters and our first Scottish port of call, Leith.
August 12, 2012 - 9:30 pm
With our lady pilot on the bridge from 5.30am we headed into Bergen on an unusually dry and sunny day. Bergen is well known for it’s rain but today the sun was out and temperatures were rising. Bergen is certainly a pretty place in the sunshine and we were all enjoying the warmth again. However, during the drill it became apparent that we had a small problem with one of the lifeboats. Of course when we are talking about lifesaving appliances we don’t have a tolerance for minor problems and so with a few phone calls to local services we located a crane to take the boat out of the water for us so we could replace the suspect parts
This did delay our departure but everyone was enjoying a formal evening onboard and there was a notable cheer from the dining room as the fully fit lifeboat was hoisted upwards past the restaurant windows.
We set of again just after 9pm and negotiated our last set of bridges and narrow waterways dropping off the pilot at around 11.15pm. Back into the North Sea we then set a course for Dover and home with wonderful memories and new friends and yes, those memory cards were finally full!
August 10, 2012 - 11:00 pm
This is where the early mornings really start as the pilot station is a long way from the town. It was also a surprise to come to the bridge at 2.30am and actually find it was dark. For days now we have enjoyed the midnight sun so navigating in the dark again was exciting in itself.
The wind was whistling around the islands for our transit to the town but thankfully and, as is so often the case in Norway, the mountains protect the ports from the strong winds outside and we had docked in this picturesque town by 8am.
The route out was different to the one we came in on but just as long and so we managed to drop the pilot off in the evening at around 8.30pm just after passing Alesund. From there we had short run overnight to pick up another early pilot for our last port this cruise of Bergen.
August 8, 2012 - 10:30 pm
After Svalbad, the still small town of Tromso seemed more like a major city to us all now. The pilot boarded very early (the first of a few early mornings as we headed south) and we were back to enjoying the fjords but this time the sunshine was with us all the way.
With little space left on those memory cards I am slightly amused to imagine how friends and relatives at home will be sitting through hours of scenic shots when our passengers get home!
But that is not the end of the scenery as we head off in the evening under the bridge that joins the islands together and breathe a sigh of relief that our height calculations were correct allowing us to fit under. In fact our foremast is actually lowered in a “telescopic” fashion to facilitate this and reduces what we call our “Air Draft” by some 5 metres or so. With the pilot away in the evening we set out into open water for a day at sea en route to Molde.
August 6, 2012 - 10:30 pm
This was my first time in Magdelena Bay and so I was introduced to the system of setting up a tender dock ashore to let everyone take a walk around. The Rangers played their part again in keeping everyone safe whilst I was our bridge team were keeping a very close eye on the large lumps of ice drifting close to the pontoon. You always have to be careful her, as whilst they look spectacular and peaceful, they can of course weigh hundreds of tons and would make short work of our light alloy gangways.
Just a morning call here as we then set sail in the early afternoon with the glaciers behind us and increased speed to drop of the Rangers at the entrance to the jjord to Longyearbyan were we started our Svalbad exploration, before heading south back to the Norwegian Coast and Tromso.
At 9:30pm there was an invitation to the Saga Ruby Ball for an evening of dance, fun and games with the Officers and Staff of Saga Ruby hosted by our Cruise Director Jo Boase. The Kodex Trio were up in our Preview Bar keeping our passengers entertained with some late night dancing, and through into our South Cape Bar, cocktail pianist David Taylor was entreating at the piano until midnight.
August 5, 2012 - 11:30 pm
Another day and another fjord but this time with far fewer buildings. Indeed it is only actually very small here and so our mooring lines stretched to the far side of the dock and over to some secure bollards along the beach to keep us alongside. I always feel sorry for those linesmen who have to heave heavy mooring lines over rocky shores but my sympathy can wane somewhat when they take forever and the ship drifts steadily away from the dockside where you may have just completed an approach.
It is in this port that we start needing the support of rangers with big guns. Not to control our passengers of course but just in case any polar bears decide to come an investigate the new comers to their world. One assumes that to any Polar Bear the sight of so many “Bite Size” meals walking around the town could be tempting. We always appreciate though that we are in “their” territory and all our measures are to discourage them and get us away from danger and back onboard out of their way as no one would wish any harm on such magnificent animals. The buzz around the ship though is that everyone only came onboard this cruise to see them and I am possibly the only man who would prefer that we didn’t in many respects!
With no bears in sight and with all onboard we pulled away for a small picturesque cruise up towards the glaciers at the far end of the bay. Going very slowly in brilliant sunshine, you can really enjoy the scale of these beautiful fjords. However, we could not hang around for long as the weather has allowed us to plan an unscheduled trip that evening to the Artic Ice Edge. A small cheer is heard around the ship after the announcement that we were heading due north in search of ice. Now it is very seldom that you will see a Captain of a ship spend the evening on the bridge training his binoculars onto the far horizon “hoping” to find ice ahead. Usually the other way around but I was very pleased at around 8.30pm when into view came the first signs of drift ice indicating that the satellite reports were correct and we had found it. Speed was reduced and all mustered on deck very well wrapped up for the evening spectacle.
Indeed our wonderful crew (who possibly didn’t believe I would find it – not that you can actually miss it if you just keep steaming north!) then organised an impromptu BBQ on the open decks aft. We came to a stop and slowly turned the ship in near silence listening to the sound of ice (yes it does indeed make a subtle popping sound as it melts away at the edge.). The silence was otherwise only interrupted with the clicking sounds of cameras around the open decks and an announcement from me that we were there and Andy Murray had just won the Olympic Tennis final!! However those on the aft decks were also treated to the gentle sounds of the classical trio playing away with the backdrop of the ice behind them.
One must remember though that we had another port to reach and it was certainly cold so with everyone inside enjoying the vocal talents of west end & opera star Philippa Healey in the Ballroom, we set of south again towards Madelena Bay. We have only been heading north up until this point so we really consider this the half way mark and our long trek south began.
August 4, 2012 - 10:30 pm
A thankfully calm crossing of the Norwegian Sea led us to make land fall in the very early hours although it never gets dark up here of course. With the light shining over the snow covered mountain tops we proceeded serenely into the fjords to our dock in Longyearbyen. We did have to sit and wait though as two smaller vessels had to depart the dock first to allow us alongside. Once they had been woken up and booted out to the anchorage though we berthed alongside a pier which is still a little short for us. We might be a small ship by cruising standards but still a large one for the locals.
You may be forgiven for thinking there is little up here to enjoy but the scenery which of course is fantastic, however as implied you would be very wrong. The islands have a history of exploration, and hardship going back hundreds of years and it seems incredible that people from a host of nations were setting up towns and mining areas so long ago in what must have been incredibly harsh conditions. Once our gangway was rigged our passengers set off to enjoy such sights as a Glacier Hike & Panoramic tours with the Spitsbergen Airship Museum providing much of the historical facts. Many passengers had set off ashore in search of wildlife but possibly should have waited with us onboard as we were treated to a wonderful sight of a family of Beluga whales who came right up to the ships side to see us.
With all back onboard we set off on a little spin around the bay before setting out to sea for our next stop.
August 2, 2012 - 11:00 pm
This morning saw us dock in Leknes in the Lofoten Islands. Sounds like a simple operation but the pier here is actually in a very small harbor providing pleanty of challenges to negotiate. However the one to remember was the impromptu “Limbo” lessons that had to be offered at the gangway to get everyone ashore. An exceptionally low tide had left the dock a little way above the ships door but with some ingenious rigging of the gangway, our teams managed to get everyone ashore on time with excursions to such places as the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum & Lofoten Viking Museum. The more adventurous even enjoyed gliding over the reasonably calm waters in the “RIB Adventure”. With everyone back onboard we set sail for the highlight of our cruise and our long journey almost due North to Spitsbergen.