Our arrival in Lisbon was ahead of schedule due to the tide. As we sailed past the statue of ‘The Monument of Discoveries’ we were greeted with a beautiful sunny day. Set on seven hills on the banks of the river Tagus, Lisbon has been the capital of Portugal since the 13th century. It is a city famous for its majestic architecture, old wooden trams, Moorish features and more than twenty centuries of history. Following disastrous earthquakes in the 18th century, Lisbon was rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal who created an elegant city with wide boulevards and a great river front and square.
In the afternoon Tom and Kathy, our Shore Excursions team, were there to supervise the arrangements as some of our passengers made their way in 4x4's around Sintra & Cascais, others however enjoyed a beautiful town – just outside ‘Obidos’. The other tours on offer today were A taste of Lisbon and the Palace of Ajuda. Some of our guests, however, decided to enjoy a quiet relaxing day on board just soaking up the sun, whilst others took part in many of the activities around the ship including Short tennis and Team Trivia.
Our guests enjoyed the Saga Pearl II Orchestra, and the last sail away party of the cruise out on deck as we set sail slightly after one of our "fellow" cruise ships, making our way to Southampton!
The run around the south coast had been in rather overcast weather until the cold front had passed through, and then it became relatively clear except for the grey low cloud that seemed to merge with the far horizon. A little breezy too, with the wind from the north bringing down the temperatures.
The following morning saw us, in an inky blackness, turning into the Humber Arm. The pilot boarded for the final ten miles down toward Corner Brook, a place I had spent Christmas on board a paper carrying cargo ship forty three years ago. The paper mill was still there, its steam exhaust visible for miles as dawn began to break. It was just 5 degrees as we docked, a distinct change from the balmy 20 degrees of St. John’s.
So the passengers all went ashore to board their coaches, plus three typically American yellow and black school buses, wrapped up to the nines. Funnily enough they all had a smile, and the odd quip as they passed me on the dockside. Tony the local agent was a charming gentleman taking a break from his normal job as a driving instructor. He very kindly took a few of us off for an hour’s drive during the afternoon to see the sights, which included an old steam engine dating back from when Newfoundland had its own railway. It ran from Port Aux Basques in the south west to St. John’s in the east and took several days at a maximum speed of 30 mph. The American servicemen during the Second World War nicknamed it the ‘Newfy Bullet’…..for obvious reasons.
Captain Cook mapped most of Newfoundland before going off to the Pacific, consequently, and no doubt not wanting to miss out on a guaranteed tourist ‘activity’, the Corner Brook officials some years ago decided to erect a statue in his honour at the top of a nearby hill. After first taking in a rather large mall on the way, we ended up at the viewpoint. In amazingly clear weather the views along the Humber Arm were spectacular and looking back down to the harbour, Saga Sapphire could be seen lying quietly close by the paper mill.
Tony very kindly gave me an old railway lamp before we departed, one of a dozen he’d managed to hold onto when the railway eventually closed in 1983. It will be a suitable addition to my collection of railway ‘bits and pieces’.
The journey up from Cornerbrook took us north of Anticosti Island and through the Mingan Islands which lay off the north shore of Quebec State. For many years Havre St. Pierre remained very isolated but eventually a highway was built to connect the isolated communities with Quebec. In front of our berth a bulk carrier lay at the Rio Tinto mine dock loading ilmenite ore and at first there was an issue with where our headlines could be placed. Common sense prevailed when I pointed out our gangway would be floating in mid-air unless we could come to some arrangement and, as we berthed, a pod of Minke whales swam past on the other side (Saga likes to surprise and delight).
It was a cold but clear start with light winds as our passengers embarked on their excursions, all of them by boat out to the various islands. Ashore there was a small town with enthusiastic locals who were very willing to offer advice. Directly across the road an arts and crafts boutique also had free local ‘tea’ made from a rather unusual looking leaf. During the morning the bulk carrier in front was moving up and down its berth in order to get each hatch under the loader in turn. At one stage it came within six feet or so of our bow. Needless to say, we kept a beady eye on their ‘adjustments’.
Mrs R and I joined an afternoon tour which took us, in a large open boat at great speed to Quarry Island, where two lady Rangers gave us the guided tour through the pine forest. It was very unique as rambles go and, apart from numerous species of vegetation I don’t recall seeing before, the shoreline had some unusual limestone rock formations that had been shaped by the weather over the millennia.
When we departed it seemed the whole community had come down to see us off, cars were flashing their lights and tooting their horns. On the dock there must have been a hundred or more waving flags, now you don’t see that very often in Dover.
The last (and only) time I had been to Sept Iles was in January 1975, and not on a passenger ship. It was an 84,000 tonne iron ore carrying bulk carrier which took several days to load because the shore side loaders were frozen up, along with the sea by the ship. It seems like a long time ago, but the memories came flooding back as we came round the island and another huge ship was doing exactly the same as we had all those years ago.
Needless to say it wasn’t for the iron ore that we had come to this place. The tours included a Zodiac ‘cruise’ where our slightly more adventurous folk donned Michelin like suits to go racing over to the archipelago to look at, well, islands and the local wildlife. The less adventurous went on the museums tour (in the ubiquitous school buses again), which took in the history and heritage of the Innu people. They lived in tents made from animal skins and, as might be expected, survived by hunting and trapping. The second museum was a replica of an old trading post dating back to the days of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In those days furs, seal oil and salmon traded from the native population were exported over to Europe.
My day was somewhat less exciting, but novel never the less. The boarding pilot was a great hulk of a man wearing a short sleeve shirt; I had to ask him to put his jacket on when we went onto the bridge wing to dock as the passengers looking down would have thought us slightly wimpish being more suitably dressed for the 8 degree temperature. I also had to pop over to the Harbour Master’s office to exchange plaques commemorating our inaugural visit. He was not exactly of diminutive stature either, but with his colleagues made me feel very welcome. Probably not surprising really as they have relatively few cruise ship calls and would love to have more, in fact it was suggested that if we had to call on our way back and stay overnight then they would have a huge bonfire on the quay and a party to go with it, a somewhat unusual suggestion I thought.
The bulker had completed loading by the time we came to sail and we followed her out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, she bound for Rotterdam, the journey I had also taken forty years ago through very uncomfortable north Atlantic seas.