April 2014

Almeria

April 14, 2014 - 11:30 pm

We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar in the early evening of Sunday, having had a sunny passage down from Lisbon. The impressive mountains near Ceuta were clearly visible to starboard, but the other Pillar of Hercules was over seven miles away, just a shadow above the almost invisible horizon.

After a starry night and a colourful twilight we headed into the Spanish port of Almeria, my first time. Despite a challenging docking all was well and passengers were soon off on tour. The four wheel drive experience was a complete success while my wife reported back that ‘Flamenco, the sound of Andalusia’ was a particularly impressive show. She did assure me that she had not taken the complementary glass of sherry so I have no reason to believe her opinion was influenced by anything except her own dancing background. On board, after crew drill, I met two folks representing the port authority in order to exchange plaques celebrating our first call, and who seemed very pleased to see us.

We managed to take a stroll for an hour, into the nearby main part of the town, and although it must have been siesta time, there was still plenty of activity. The weather stayed fine during the afternoon and we sailed on schedule at 4:00pm, the reason being a fast sea passage ahead of us as we proceed to another continent.

Captain Philip Rentell, Saga Sapphire

Lisbon

April 12, 2014 - 10:00 pm

After a pleasant day in Southampton and a departure that took us through the Needles Channel in the fading light of the evening, we had a smooth and sunny crossing of Biscay. Our voyage is over three weeks, taking us into the Med as far as Croatia and Venice. We have many Britannia Club members with us, so many familiar faces were at the welcome cocktail party and, as might be expected, there was some smiling banter with those who know me well.

Lisbon

The wind around Cape Finisterre was a touch fresh to say the least and the swell, somewhat larger than forecast, was actually rolling past the ship. Fortunately it was all following and apart from the odd larger roll, we proceeded down the Iberian Peninsular at a slightly more sedately pace than normal, arriving off the entrance to the River Tagus shortly before ten in the morning of the third full day. This gave the folks the opportunity of seeing us pass the Tower of Belem, Henry the Navigators monument and the Statue of Christ in daylight. The pilot had boarded by the time we passed under the bridge, a relaxed chap I had met before on several occasions.

Those that wanted to maximise their time ashore must have skipped lunch in order to catch the first shuttle bus, the remainder who were on tour started to file off just before one. I had an inkling that some of the local guides may have their commentary affected in the same way as those lecturers on the after lunch slot. It’s funny how sometimes one cannot stop the darkness descending when comfortably seated after an ample meal.

It was a very pleasant first port of call, overcast at first, but the sun came out within the hour and our tourists all came back with more of a glow than when they left.

Captain Philip Rentell, Saga Sapphire

Funchal, Madeira.

April 5, 2014 - 10:30 pm

We have been extremely fortunate with the weather for the last few ports. Arrecife, although sunny and warm, was rather windy as a cold front passed through and this resulted in a certain amount of ‘selective manoeuvring’ when taking the ship off the dock as we departed. Taming nature is rarely easy. Las Palmas and Tenerife though were fine, the latter benefitting from ‘God’s Tug’ as we left shortly after lunch. (An offshore breeze) That afternoon was idyllic as we sailed through clear blue waters, the sun reflecting from the waves created as the bow sliced through the low swell. We left the Salvagem Islands over to starboard, once an unmarked hazard to all vessels passing from Madeira to the Canaries. In my early days at sea, even with radar, they were often difficult to detect until rather to close for comfort. The night was full of stars and the gentle sounds emanating from our wash.

Funchal

I had recommended that passengers might consider rising early to observe our approach to Madeira and my predictions of splendid views as we approached turned out to be correct. Regrettably the remaining vestiges of slumber seemed to be the priority for most of the guests and few saw the many thousands of lights above Funchal or the mountains emerge from the darkness as twilight replaced the darkness. Apart from a Polish sailing training ship berthed astern we were the only ship alongside and, being a Saturday, the locals were very active on the water. The deck officers had to be particularly careful during our crew boat drill to ensure lifeboats were not lowered into the water as kayaks came racing past underneath. They seemed to be on a mission and the fact there was a large cruise ship in the way wasn’t going to change things. Around the same time the odd deep sea fishing boat left the harbour along with a number of large catamarans with tourists clad only in their swimming gear lying over the forward netting. For sure there would be some seriously sore people the next day, but I’m sure none would be any of our guests who chose slightly more sedate excursions. Having said that, those that took the 4-wheel drive tour came back with big smiles after an adventure they said was far better than they had expected Saga would provide. Just goes to show.

Funchal was our last port of call for this cruise and I can say with certain confidence that it was a superb finale, the island is not only charming, but spectacular for those that venture further afield. A firm favourite of mine. We sailed before dinner into calm waters, taking a small diversion to pass within a mile or so of the amazing airport that has a runway extension of well over half a mile built out over the cliff on concrete pillars several hundred feet high. Porto Santo passed down our port side as sunset approached, a rarely seen pleasure as our usual itinerary would have meant passing during the hours of darkness.

Three days at sea before Southampton and the forecast is good. How splendid is that?

Captain Philip Rentell, Saga Sapphire

Santa Cruz Tenerife

April 4, 2014 - 11:00 pm

Tenerife 1
8:00am this morning, we arrived at the largest of the Canary Islands being Tenerife. Surrounded by beautiful scenery Santa Cruz de Tenerife was founded in 1494. Santa Cruz is in fact the islands Capital but was originally a tiny fishing village. The island is dominated by Mount Teide which was a tour in which some of the passengers chose to go on today. The volcano rises 12,000 feet and is the highest peak in Spanish territory and declared world heritage site by UNESCO. Occupying the main portion of the island, the soil is fertile and agricultural products include tomatoes, grain, cotton, coconut palms, fruit and maize.

Mercedes and La Laguna was the most popular excursion today, on this tour the guests were able to capture views of the outstanding wild countryside and northern coast.

The centre of town was just a short walk away shown by a very distinctive blue line on the pavement; alternatively it was quick ride on the shuttle bus for those less able guests. Tenerife is a fantastic place for shopping with a large variety of shops selling all sorts of duty free items and handicrafts. There were also a number of cafes and bars to enjoy a spot of tapas.

Sail away today was at 1:45pm with the cruise staff and gentlemen hosts out on the open veranda deck. Once again we were lucky with the weather and so a few joined us for a drink or two whilst we listened to the Perfect Mood Duo.

This evening was full to the brim with entertainment with a classical concert from the London Myriad Wind Quartet, titled ‘French fancies’. This included music by Poulenc and the beautiful ‘Clair de Lune’ by Debussy. Following on from the concert through in the Britannia Lounge the Explosive Productions cast presented their show Hollywood Nights. This was a tribute show to all those big blockbuster movie sound tracks which of course went down a storm with our guests this cruise.

Assistant Cruise Director Kayleigh Lucas, Saga Sapphire

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

April 3, 2014 - 11:00 pm

We came in alongside this morning at 8:00am, and with the skies looking bright it looked as though it was going to be a positively fine day. I was greeted by several eager guests this morning at 7:45am in the Britannia lounge ready to go on tour. Come 8:30am the ship soon became a tranquil haven with almost half of the guests having gone on excursions. Today most went on the Essence of Gran Canaria tour. Here they really discovered the volcanic origins of the Canary Islands after visiting Bandama Crater. Our guests took a 30 minute journey up to the extinct crater which rises nearly 1,900 feet above sea level. This gave every one a really fantastic opportunity to take pictures of the wonderful views across Las Palmas.

Las Palmas is one of my favourite islands in the canaries and probably one of the prettiest, officially known as las Palmas de Gran Canaria; it is in fact the Capital of Gran Canaria. Today we were fortunately docked very close to the town centre so shuttle buses weren’t needed. Directly opposite Saga Sapphire was a rather large mall as well which came to the delight of all the crew, who soon went in search of Wi-Fi. Not far from the town was a beautiful man made beach aligned with quaint cafes and bars. Now a popular tourist destination for many Brits, it’s not hard to see why with the subtropical climate which is perfect for growing exotic palms and fruits.

Maspalomas

This afternoon a few chose to explore Maspalomas a resort set in the southern tip of Gran Canaria. They arrived at the beautiful sand dunes where they then took a camel ride whilst strapped into a basket seat. This allowed them all to admire the beautiful views from a completely different perspective. This unique experience left everyone returning back to the ship eager to tell all about their adventure.

With the fantastic weather we’ve been experiencing, it was the perfect opportunity this evening to have a BBQ out on the open deck. So at 7:00pm the food and beverage team opened the doors for everyone to enjoy some of the visual feasts the chefs had been busy preparing. Live music from the Perfect Mood Duo really enhanced the atmosphere, and with the wine flowing the guests were soon in a merry mood ready for a spectacular show from West End Vocalist Mike Sterling. Having seen Mike perform previously we were all very excited to listen to him sing once again, and as expected he didn’t fail to deliver. After main show time Lilly and Zoltan our resident duo entertained those up in the Drawing Room, whilst Martin Orbidan’s tinkled his ivories through in the Cooper’s Bar.

Assistant Cruise Director Kayleigh Lucas, Saga Sapphire

Arrecife, Lanzarote

April 2, 2014 - 11:30 pm

Arrecife (Spanish for reef) is Lanzarote’s capital and principal port with over half of the population of the island living here. Lanzarote is a unique and exciting place to discover in the Canary Islands, with many brits taking advantage of the low cost holiday offers available. Being the most easterly of the Canary Islands, Lanzarote has a distinctive identity of its own. It was born through fiery eruptions, which can really be seen on many of the tours. Having turned a volcanic catastrophe into an art form this really is an extraordinary place .The houses here are small and white, with green frames and doors and their chimneys are topped with Moorish-style onion domes.

Lanzarote

Trips to fire mountain are popular for tourists, this being a tour available today. Most went on the Lanzarote panoramic today which is always a fantastic way to see much of the island whilst sat in the comfort of a nice warm coach. Being renowned for its strong winds it’s quite interesting to see how the locals here protect their crops, with something that looks like small half mooned shaped stoned walls.

Being in port up until 5:45pm, gave everyone a good chance to really explore this quaint old town. The shuttle buses of course ran all day operating from the ship to Charco San Gines, which is a rather long shopping street which came to the delight of many of our guests. Coming back to the ship with bags in tow it would seem most had purchased their souvenirs for the cruise.

Another tour which 50 or so of ours guests chose to do today was The César Manrique foundation, which was set up in 1982 by César Manrique himself and a group of friends. Unfortunately however it wasn't actually officially opened until after his death in 1992. Manrique's home itself is built within a 3,000 m2 lot; this is something that can be explored by the guests. Amazingly it was built on the site of the Lanzarote eruptions in the 18th century. This Arrecife born architect has created a perfect symbiosis that offers the rest of the world an expression of art amongst the volcanic peaks.

Explosive Productions proudly presented this evening their newest production show “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” which was a tribute to the 70s. Lily and Zoltan entertained those up in the Drawing Room this evening, whilst Martin Orbidans our cocktail pianist played requests through in the Coopers bar. After a wonderful day here in Arrecife most retired to bed early for another exciting day in port tomorrow being Las Palmas Gran Canaria.

Assistant Cruise Director Kayleigh Lucas, Saga Sapphire

Agadir, Morocco

April 1, 2014 - 10:00 pm

It has been a hectic few days since I returned from leave and consequently the time available to keep a record, as it were, has been limited. Having had a rather protracted leave, which including chasing steam trains in India, it has been a period of ‘catch up’ with all the very necessary work involving actually operating the ship being a priority. There has been the great delight of meeting old friends who have come to join us again, this time on our thirteen day voyage to the Canary Islands, plus the many new folks that are trying Saga cruising for the first time.

The passage south from Southampton wasn’t great, but not too bad considering the relatively early time of the year. There was rain for some of the time in Lisbon last Sunday and that, along with the fact that many of the shops were shut, probably did not enamour me to many of the ladies, the husbands were fine though. Fortunately the sun did come out for a while in the afternoon and praise was cast upon my shoulders, as if I had anything to do with it? Another day at sea as we headed towards North Africa was sunny, but a low pressure was only a few hundred miles of the Iberian Peninsula and seas were not quite as smooth as I would have liked.

Agadir
So arriving into Agadir with bright sunshine and light winds was almost a bonus, smiles abounded as I greeted the passengers making their way to their tour buses. We had been delayed by a rather large garishly painted German cruise ship who arrived before us and the local pilot had a face which barely disguised his displeasure at having to be on a more sedately vessel that would no doubt delay his breakfast. In fact he left on good terms and it was a more relaxed colleague of his that came on board for the departure just after lunch. At the Britannia Party last night passengers, who of course think they know me, suggested I sounded slightly peeved that a German had managed to delay our arrival. It was, of course, not the case. ‘Swings and roundabouts’ I replied, ‘But perhaps an April Fool’.
Captain Philip Rentell, Saga Sapphire

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