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23rd December, 2019


Hello Blog readers, it’s been a while. I have had a sojourn over on the Spirt of Discovery for three weeks, before returning to the ’ole’ faithful, Saga Sapphire. Joined back to the Saga Sapphire on the 19th December after, what seemed a short leave and, by Jove, a wet month at home. So I was looking forward to the Canaries Christmas Cheer, not only that we would be in search of sunshine but also I had the great good fortune to have Leigh, my better half, with me for the Christmas cruise. Its early morning on this dull Monday, 23rd December, sailing from Santander. 

Yes, the first port of call was not on the schedule. Perhaps the ‘norm’ at this time of year crossing the Biscay. From the moment we sailed from Southampton on the 19th, I was watching the ‘storm’ marching its way across the North Atlantic. The mid-Atlantic swell associated with this beast was 16 meters,, over two houses high. Early on the 20th, reading all the weather reports, assessing forecasts and interpreting surface analysis charts, I had already positioned myself that the first port, Cadiz, due today, was not going to happen. The Saga Sapphire with her heavy hull and deep draft can take-on any weather, but the penalty is always the ships movement. So whilst the ship is perfectly safe, the risk of slips, trips and falls amongst my Guests was high and therefore non-negotiable.  

Options were to return to a UK port and shelter; that would have signalled severe adjustment to the itinerary. A French port would have been the best option, sheltering in the North Biscay - but given the French General Strike, the impact on shipping being ‘no Tugs’ in French Ports. Because of this French ports became a no-go. Besides that, the French Biscay ports were filling up with ships already deviating for a Port of Refuge. Therefore, steaming south to the north Spanish coast became my only option. 

The Port of Bilbo was closed, due to the weather, however, Santander said they could take the Saga Sapphire. It was then a high-speed run south to beat the storm coming in from the west. If I misjudged it, it would be too windy and I would have to abort the port. Len, the Chief Engineer, did a great job in keeping the engines at full chat. 

We made for the Pilot station off Santander, and embarked the Pilot at 0930 on the 21st, Saturday. It was a tricky manoeuvre, it’s a tight river passage in any event and a complex swing is required to get the ship ‘stern-in’ to the berth. Why tricky? Because it was blowing 32 knots from the south and on the limit for a ship of this size in this port. I had the two ‘largest’ tugs available to assist with the manoeuvre, and, I acknowledge the capability of the Pilot; very good indeed. I’d also like to recognise the Port of Santander for making a berth available for the saga Sapphire, they were very focussed on helping me out. Thank you guys! 

The other positive of being in port on the 21st was that we could now do our ‘Welcome Cocktail Party’ in peace, no ‘motion of the ocean’ to contend with, no slips and trips. So at 2 o’clock this morning, 23rd, Monday, we slipped our moorings and proceeded to sea. I will be close-coasting’ off the Spanish coast all day today. There remains a residual 5 meter swell here and I need to manage the passage-plan to go around Finistere; it’s well exposed to the NW swell out at Finistere, but the swell is forecasted to ease from 2200 through to midnight. The grand plan is to be there at 0100 tomorrow morning and then run south with the swell astern. Let’s see how that works out! 

I would like to thank Judi, Shore ex manager, for the sterling work by her team in making available, at very short notice, a local tour programme in Santander.  

We are on our way to Tenerife, a day late of course.


Captain Stuart Horne

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.