After a relaxing Sunday at sea, when our passengers had the opportunity to attend the interdenominational church service, be instructed and pampered, and of course join me at my welcome on board party, we docked this morning in La Pallice at 8am.
Many passengers had booked to go on one of our organised tours. The tours to choose from today were ‘La Roche Courbon Castle & Saintes’, ‘La Rochelle & Cognac Tasting’ and the most popular tour was ‘La Rochelle and Ile de Re’. For those passengers who had not booked on an organised shore excursion, there was a shuttle bus service which ran throughout the day, taking passengers to and from the centre of La Rochelle.
Although it was a chilly start to the day, it soon brightened up and temperatures reached 20 degrees. The Saga Orchestra played out on deck as we sailed away from La Pallice and passengers enjoyed the beautiful views in the late afternoon sunshine.
This evening’s entertainment began with a pre-dinner classical recital with The Cairn Quartet and our main show time featured Master Guitarist Robin Hill. Our resident pianist Clive Carrington entertained at the piano in Shackelton’s until the early hours for those passengers who like to stay up late.
Today we arrived at the pilot station just before 8 am. Ports situated in the mouth of a river are always interesting as during manoeuvring we have to deal with the flow of the river as well as the usual elements of wind and tidal currents. Today was no exception, but with the assistance of a tugboat we were berthed in Bayonne, in South Western France, at 9 am. Our passengers were up and rarin’ to venture ashore.
The three different tours on offer today were ‘Saint Jean de Luz and Biarritz’, ‘Traditional Basque Village & Countryside’ and ‘San Sebastian’. There was also a complimentary shuttle bus service which ran continuously throughout the day to the centre of Bayonne.
Back on board, passengers looked forward to the first of a series of cookery demonstrations by Celebrity Chef Jean Christophe Novelli. His first was entitled ‘Quick & Easy French Classics’. The Discovery Lounge was full with passengers eagerly waiting to watch Jean Christophe at work and hoping to pick up some helpful hints and tips.
After dinner this evening’s entertainment was a Variety Showtime featuring Master Guitarist Robin Hill and Baritone Antony Stuart Lloyd. After the show, the Explosive Vocalists performed a late night cabaret in Shackelton’s, where our passengers danced the night away to songs from the 60s.
This morning we arrived at the Gijon pilot station under a cloudless sky. The sail in was very picturesque with views of the magnificent mountains framing this attractive town. The ship was safely berthed at 8 am.
Gijon is the largest city and seaport in the autonomous region of Asturias. Early medieval texts mention it as “Gigia”. It is located on the Bay of Biscay, approximately 20km north of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. Although there was a small settlement here in Roman times, it did not develop into a sizeable town until the 19th century, when large iron and steel works were built. Following the opening of a railway in 1874, the port developed into a major centre for the export of Asturian coal and agricultural produce. The harbour was rebuilt in 1892. The iron, steel and fishing industries still employ large numbers of people, but service industries and tourism are growing in importance.
Many passengers had booked to go on an organised tour today, and there were a number to choose from. Some were more in depth tours lasting the full day and others were shorter, half days tours to give a flavour of the local culture. As our berth was just a short walk from the town many of our guests, having returned from their excursion, elected to also explore the local area - a lovely town to explore with its many local shops, coffee shops and restaurants. The weather, being fairly warm today, ensured that a lovely day was had by all.
As you know, we are fortunate this cruise to have Celebrity Chef Jean Christophe Novelli on board. This afternoon he entertained and enlightened our guests with a special cookery demonstration titled “Secret Techniques”, while this evening’s entertainment began with our very own Explosive Productions and their show “Music of the Night”.
We are now en-route to our next port of call, Santander.
The morning at 8 am we arrived in the port of Ferrol, where our berth was a short shuttle bus ride from the charming city.
Ferrol is in the province of La Coruna in Galicia, located on the Atlantic coast in north western Spain. The city has been a major naval shipbuilding centre for most of its history, and the capital of the Spanish Navy’s Maritime Department of the North since the time of the early Bourbons. Before that, in the 17th century, Ferrol was the most important arsenal in Europe.
There were four tours departing this morning, the first ‘A Day in Santiago de Compostela’, the second ‘The Way to Santiago’ ‘Santiago on Your Own’ and ‘Galicias Scenic Coastline’, during which our passengers had the opportunity to discover the natural attractions surrounding El Ferrol, driving along the coast with its typical Galician villages and enjoying views of nearby beaches, forests and estuaries.
We departed today to the sound of the wonderful Galician Bagpipe Ensemble. The afternoon continued with the usual myriad of activities, followed by a spectacular Viennese Tea.
This evening began with my hosting the Britannia Cocktail Party, attended by some 250 members, during which I had the great pleasure of introducing a Diamond member to the assembled company and presenting her with her diamond pin, and also introducing and presenting two new Sapphire members with their sapphire pins. After a scrumptious dinner, the entertainment continued in the Discovery Lounge with the wonderfully talented Harry the Piano.
With its long sandy beaches and delightful setting between the sea and the Cantabrian mountains, Santander is considered one of the prettiest cities in Spain. Although the area has been inhabited since the Roman times, the present town dates mainly from the 19th and 20th century. It combines the functions of a busy freight and passenger port and a popular seaside resort. The city has two distinct centres: the main commercial district around the port and railway station, which was largely rebuilt following a disastrous fire in 1941, and the high-class residential area known as El Sardinero, which became popular with holidaymakers from the mid-19 century. The city has a university and is a popular venue for conferences.
There were 3 tours available to guests today: ‘Bilbao and Guggenheim Museum’, ‘Santillana and Comillas’ and ‘Scenic Santander’. Some of our guests just went for a stroll as we were docked close to the centre of town whilst others went out on tour. As we had yet another lovely sunny day some of our guests chose to relax out on deck and participate in the afternoon quiz and various games.
This evening in the Discovery Lounge there was a performance by UK’S rising opera star Kate Dowman, who presented her Celtic and Classical Favourites. This was followed by Late Night Live with Kurt Davies with his ‘From Swing to Soul’ accompanied by The Saga Orchestra.
This morning we arrived at the pilot station at the very civilized time of 11.30 am. The pilot boarded by helicopter for the 72 nautical mile scenic sail up river to down town Bordeaux, under a beautiful sunny sky. On the way we passed vineyards, villages, towns and chateaux.
There was another mouth-watering cooking demonstration from celebrity Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and then a wonderfully special French and Spanish Fiesta Grand BBQ Lunch out on deck. We arrived in the beautiful down town port of Bordeaux in the late afternoon.
It being a Saturday evening the quay was full of local people enjoying the sun and the sight of our ship. Some of our guests went on the evening tour entitled “An Evening at the Chateau Kirwan”, during which our passengers were able to explore its Cellars and wines before sitting down to enjoy dinner in the handsome reception room next to the main house. The Chateau Kirwan was purchased by Sir John Collingwood in the 1750’s, but a decade later it was inherited by his son-in–law Mark Kirwan, who renamed the estate and rebuilt the chateau.
On board, for our evening entertainment, Explosive Productions presented ‘Love Me Tender’ celebrating the music of the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Mr Elvis Presley.
We stayed in Bordeaux overnight, and our passengers were up bright and early the following morning to go ashore on their planned excursions, which unsurprisingly had a distinct wine feel to them! On offer today were ‘St Emillion Village and Vineyard’, ‘Bordeaux and Wine’, ‘Medoc Vineyards and Wine Chateau’ and ‘Chateau de Roquetaillade’. Some of our guests just stayed on board relaxing on deck in the sunny weather, or taking part in the various activities with the cruise staff.
At 5 pm it was time to leave this wonderful port. Many of our passengers were out on deck to enjoy the beautiful scenery once again as we made our return journey down the River Gironde.
This evening we had the fantastically talented ‘Harry the Piano’ perform for us in the Discovery Lounge, followed by our very own Clive Carrington in Shackletons. A great day and evening was had by all.
After embarking the pilot at 8 am this morning we sailed 15 nautical miles up the River Loire to our berth in the port of Montoir, the gateway to Nantes and the Western Loire.
Many of our passengers had booked to go on an organised excursion today, and there were three on offer: ‘Nantes and the Edre River Cruise’, ‘Through the Vineyards’, which took passengers to the picturesque Muscadet vineyards, and the third tour was the ‘Nantes City Tour’. There was also a complimentary shuttle bus service, run by the port authority, to the town centre.
Once all were safely back on board we set sail from this, our final port of call of this cruise, and began our sail to Dover.
This evening was the last formal night, and it began with a Last Night of the Proms themed Classical Concert. After a delicious dinner the Explosive Production Singers and Dancers presented ‘Laughter in the Rain’ - a show paying tribute to the music of Neil Sedaka. After our main Showtime passengers enjoyed jazz from the Saga Pearl Orchestra in Shackleton’s Bar. The Jazz Set had several surprise guests, including singing by Cruise Director Kayleigh and Security Officer Mike on trumpet.
We will now spend an enjoyable day at sea before our arrival in Dover on Wednesday at the end of this ‘Flavours of France and Spain’ cruise. However, we will not be embarking any new passengers on Wednesday afternoon. Instead, I shall be sailing Saga Pearl II to dry dock in Hamburg. We are due to arrive there in the wee small hours of Friday morning for the start of our multi-million pound refit. I shall keep you updated as the refit progresses.
After we arrived in Dover on 11 November we were still a cruise ship with passengers enjoying their last moments on board awaiting their car for the return home. When all passengers had departed the scene changed as the ship prepared for her scheduled dry docking.
Contractors boarded the ship during the remainder of the morning. After lunch all the crew and contractors were taken through their familiarisation and emergency duties. This was followed by a Safety address by the Safety Officer of the refit yard.
This done we left the port and were soon on our way to Hamburg. As by magic the ship changed from a cruise ship to one big work place with crew and contractors working all over the ship. The crew were very busy installing protection of walls and their decorations and floors. The contractors started their assigned jobs. The senior officers in the meantime ensured that all the work scopes were clear and followed. This was a perfect example of hitting the ground running.
After a busy and successful day it was good to share a meal and a chat before a well deserved night’s sleep. The next day was mainly a sea day during which the crew and the contractors continued with their jobs and the senior officers and the representatives of the repair yard finalised the arrangements.
Taking a ship into a dry-dock is a complicated exercise which needs good communication and information so that all can be planned properly. A very important item is the ship’s power. As the ship goes dry and the engines that provide this power are seawater cooled we have to provide an alternative. This was accomplished by putting a big mobile generator on board together with a fuel tank. Other services are fresh water, different types of garbage and treated sewage removal, backup shore power, compressed air outlets and more. We arrived at the pilot station at 10 pm where the Elbe estuary pilot boarded. This was followed by a river and then a harbour pilot, before we arrived at the floating dry-dock.
Prior to our arrival this dry-dock had been set, with information given by us, in the shape of a dry-dock plan, using this plan the dry-dock operators placed resting blocks on the dock bottom for the ship to sit on. These provide a stable base for the ship to rest on. After entering the dock backwards with the assistance of two tugs the ship was secured in position with shore wires at the stern and the bow. When that was done the draft of the ship was reduced to 5 meters. This ensured that the ship was safely resting on the blocks. Once on the blocks, final preparations were made and the dock was pumped clear of water completely.
The rest of the day was used to continue with the jobs started on the previous day at sea and building scaffolding, in order to carry out work on the outside of the ship from the dock bottom.
The weather is not very good during these early days. It rains most of the day with both light and heavy rain showers. I feel quite at home as this is typical Dutch autumn weather. We are all waiting to develop webbed feet.
On 14 November the yard started to cut access holes in the ship’s side for the transfer of very bulky bits of machinery in and out of the ship, which is normal for a ship undergoing refit in dry dock.
When a ship goes into dry dock there are always checks to be carried out which cannot be done at any other time. The rudders are removed and overhauled, and the propellers are removed and taken to a shore side workshop for overhauling. The stern of the ship looks rather strange without these vital propulsion and control mechanisms. The yard uses different kinds of pressure to wash and scale so that the dirt and loose paint is removed.
On deck our crew and contractors are beavering away with chipping hammers and power tools. Hearing the noise is music to the ear as this level of maintenance can only be done when Saga Pearl II is out of service.
Inside the carpet contractors are removing the carpet from all corridors, landings and the passenger cabins. They have the enormous task of replacing them all. I can report that the first six days have been very busy, but successful.
The weather is still a bit showery, but less so and therefore the Chief Officer has started to put some paint on some of the areas his men have been preparing. This is one of several jobs that can only be carried out when the ship is dry, like the flaking out of the anchor and anchor chain on the dock floor. This allows for close inspection of the anchor and chain and the cleaning and close inspection of the chain lockers. There are two anchors and chain on Pearl II. Each chain has 12 shots of 30 yards (27.5 meters) each, making a total of 360 yards from the bitter end, which is connected to the ship by way of a link connected to the bulk head of the chain locker and the anchor.
Another job is the overhaul of the stabilisers. These have been removed and taken to the work shop. We have also removed the bow thruster and had it taken to the work shop for close inspection and overhaul.
The carpet contractors have finished the majority of the removal of the carpet in the areas that are to be re-carpeted and are starting to lay the new carpet in the passenger cabins. These stripped stairway landings provide perfect work and cutting surfaces.
Another job being carried out in the ship is the re-upholstering of the public room furniture, and Shackleton’s has been converted into an upholstery shop for this project.
Apart from the local dry-dock workers there are also 340 persons living on board. So apart from being one big work area we are also a hotel providing accommodation, meals and recreation. These areas and services are moving with the areas where work is taking place. A huge logistical puzzle.
A very important safety feature with so many persons on board is the access to and from the ship. There are two points of access which are manned by the ship security staff and the yard staff. These are on the Boat Deck aft in the shape of level gangway to the dock wall and scaffolding and stair one on the C deck aft to the dock floor. At the beginning of our stay we held a general emergency and evacuation drill to confirm that all on board knew what to do in case of an emergency.
As I write this the ship’s side and hull is being prepared to be painted. I mentioned in my previous blog that the ship had been high pressure washed, and all the ship’s outside surfaces are being grinded smooth to prepare them for the primer coats.
We are also taking the opportunity to give the boats and tenders a good scrub, sand, and paint. They will end up like shining beauties.
The refit is going well and everyone is working very hard.
Each evening we have a ship’s management meeting to discuss the day’s progress and the tasks for the following day, and then each morning we meet with the yard to discuss the day ahead.
As you will appreciate it is not easy to reach the high sides of the ship so there are three systems in place to enable us to do this – a high worker (cherry picker), scaffolding from the dock bottom up, and hanging scaffolding.
The cherry pickers are, at the moment, being used to do the paint work on the ship’s side and the hull. The primer coat has been completed, so the ship is now ready to be painted in her traditional Saga blue and white.