Mystery Cruise. Port No.3
December 8, 2013 - 11:00 pm
We eventually sailed at 5:00pm the next day, effectively losing a day of the original schedule, but as the passengers are not aware of the itinerary perhaps it may be considered to hardly matter. I do know they were more than happy to have a comfortable night alongside rather than face the rigours of a turbulent North Sea. The Elbe is a long river so it took some time before we were passing the pilot station; fortunately the majority of passengers were in bed and were quite unaware that the rough seas remaining were sufficient to prohibit the departure of our two pilots.
By the following morning the wind and swell were starting to abate and the waking passengers were greeted by a bright day interspersed with dark snow showers that quickly past. By the evening the sea was just about flat calm, which could have perhaps given an indication as to where we were.
The following morning, as a sleety rain made inroads into any exposed flesh, as we stood on the bridge wing and the ship was backed onto the berth of that wonderful, wonderful (if you can remember the Danny Kaye song) Danish capital, Copenhagen. A thin layer of snow covered nearby buildings and lay as a damp carpet on the cobbles. Passengers were prepared however, and the buses were all lined up ready to go on a panoramic tour in comfort. They have been split into two groups, with one group touring in the morning, the other in the afternoon. In addition to this complementary tour a free shuttle but was running back and forward to a drop off point close to the entrance of Tivoli Gardens where a Christmas Market has become the focal point.
Despite the snow changing to rain during the day, spirits did not appear daunted and I met well over 450 Britannia Club members at the cocktail party after we had sailed. All of whom seemed still enthused by the whole thing. I guess there must have been a few who were missing sunshine, and I did get one who commented, "Please Captain, tell me there won’t be any more Christmas Markets?" Needless to say I could not confirm either way.
Mystery Cruise. Port No.2
December 5, 2013 - 11:30 pm
We sailed throughout the night, two pilots changing over in the early hours and Staff Captain Kosta covering for me while I took some rest. The grey dawn eventually brought some light to a rather grey scene of estuary, buoys going past, the wakes of other ships blowing out in the fresh wind, and then the low land becoming more distinct. The Weser pilot disembarked, we passed anchored ships waiting apparently many hours for passage through a certain canal built at the turn of the 19th century. New pilots came aboard to take the ship on the final half of its 76 mile river journey.
Despite the rather chilly conditions there were several passengers on deck looking forward in an effort to identify their location. There were plenty of indicators for those with a keen eye, but I managed to fool a few when I pointed out a building on the shore line flying the national flag. In fact it was the flag of the district, solid red with a castle emblem in the centre. A lady suggested we were in Switzerland, now that would have been not only a mystery, but also a miracle.
We docked at lunchtime, a fine passenger terminal and just a few miles from the centre of…………..Hamburg. The intention being to stay overnight and sail the following afternoon, but nature had other plans. Despite a chilly windy afternoon many of our folk took the fifteen minute shuttle bus journey into town and the ‘Historischer Weinnachtsmarkt’ which looked particularly splendid as darkness returned. Here, next to the Rathause, the City Hall, there were dozens of stalls with thousands of lights, and even a ‘flying’ Santa Clause complete with sleigh and four reindeer that passed overhead every couple of hours.
Overnight the weather deteriorated and by the time the scenic tours had returned to the city centre the Christmas Markets had been closed to ensure their safety. Sailing was delayed twenty four hours and we all ‘bedded down’ for a stormy night. The following morning the tide was so high it came over onto the quayside for a few hours, causing some consternation for the terminal operator.
Mystery Cruise. Port No.1
December 4, 2013 - 10:00 pm
I could have, of course, gone the wrong way around the Isle of Wight just to throw them off the scent, but in the end time and tide meant the Needles Channel was somewhat of a non-starter. We passed through the Dover Straits during the hours of darkness, a blessing really as the amount of ship traffic and the lights of the northern French coast could easily have given the game away with regard to the direction in which we were headed. As it was the odd oil rig later in the day could hardly be associated with the Bay of Biscay.
At the welcome cocktail party the passengers, the majority of which I have sailed with many times before, seemed up for the adventure. The most obvious questions were avoided by my suggestion that they shouldn’t even bother to ask, but I did get ‘You won’t be taking us up to Murmansk like you did before will you Captain?’ My reply was a simple ‘Won’t I?’
The following morning was an early start with the river pilot boarding around 4:30am. We proceeded then in total darkness and thick fog until, not long after 7am. A great orange glow started to illuminate the port side. It was the massive container terminal at Bremerhaven, north west Germany and our berth was close by. The river fog persisted, adding to that touch of mystery. With a certain degree of theatrical hesitation I came onto the public address and announced our arrival. The first tour group headed off for the one hour journey to Bremen shortly after. There the historic market square with its 600 year old town hall is the focal point for the Christmas Market and the folks had a few hours free to wander around and take in the experience.
Meanwhile back on board, because of a not too clever weather forecast, I had a decision to make as to our actual sailing time, route after departure and next destination. A real mystery then.