After a most enjoyable time at sea it was time to set foot on dry land and our first Caribbean Island of Antigua. With the pilot on board Staff Captain Tom took the ship into port. It is a very narrow channel down into the harbour that is approx 130m wide with shallows on either side. It is well marked with buoys and in essence you need to be right in the middle. Once we reached the main harbour there were already 3 ships alongside so we manoeuvre passed them and were safely alongside.
St Johns is on the NW coast of Antigua and is the centre for the export of sugar, rum and Sea Island cotton. Antigua has a beach for every day of the year and a number of the guests and crew headed that way. There were 4 excellent tours on offer including “Mangrove Kayaking”, the “Antigua Island Tour” , “Stingray Encounter”, and “Catamaran Sail and Snorkel (with Lunch)”.
I decided to extend the call until 2130 which allowed us to have a magnificent BBQ on the Verandah deck with a selection of Chef Rustie Lee’s home recipes. In addition we arranged for a superb local steel band to play to our guests whilst they were dining under the stars. There was also the National Dance Theatre Company of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Antigua and Barbuda National Youth Choir. It was the most fantastic evening, and the guests of the ship opposite watched on with envy. Some of them even had the “cheek” to dance to our music. The photos don’t really do the whole event justice - you just had to be there. Many of the guests were dancing with the band and singers, and even a few conga’s weaved their way through the dining tables.
With the local entertainment off the ship at 2130 we lifted our gangway and by 2200 we were on our way. After a swift pirouette in the harbour we re-traced our tracks out through the buoyed channel and headed towards Guadeloupe.
As we passed the SW corner of Guadeloupe the wind started to gust to 35 knots which was a little concerning for arrival, however the Pointe-A-Pitre pilot station advised there was no wind in the harbour. It seemed hard to believe when we were experiencing strong winds 1 hour from the pilot boarding position, although I knew the harbour was well sheltered.
It's approx a 5M run in and we weaved our way through the off-lying islands and shallows. As it was the first time I'd been here as Captain we fully engaged the services of the pilot and made sure we got our money’s worth! The pilot guided us until we were 2M from the berth and then I took over. Just off the berth we completed another “pirouette” and moved astern to dock Portside alongside one of the passenger terminals.
There was a slight delay in getting clearance as we awaited the Officials!! – we are all learning to relax and get used to Caribbean time where no-one rushes. We were all clear around 0820 and straight away our guests were heading ashore. As this is a Murder Mystery cruise we had 4 tours named “Death in Paradise” after the TV series of course.
Pointe-A-Pitre is the largest city of Guadeloupe, an overseas region of France located in the Lesser Antilles and its inhabitants are called Pointois. The name Pointe-a-Pitre, literally the “Headland of Pitre”, is often said to derive from a Dutch or Jewish sailor named Peter.
I have attached a few photos from the local spice market, which is a fantastic spectacle of colour and choice of spices, at an excellent price of course. Within easy walking distance of the ship a number of “knowledgeable” guests headed straight there to top up their spice rack at home.
I headed off for an hour on my bike in the late afternoon. I went with a colleague and we ended up on to the equivalent of the M1!!! We quickly turned round and cycled back along the grass verge, which was all rather exciting to say the least. We eventually found a cycle path along the edge of a lagoon which was somewhat quieter to say the least.
With a 2030 all on board we departed shortly after and retraced our tracks from the morning. With pilot away by 2130 we set course for our overnight run to Roseau, Dominica.
As we made our approach towards the berth at Roseau, Dominica we quickly started to see the first glimpses of the destruction from Hurricane Maria last year. We were only the 2nd ship to dock in Dominica since the hurricane damage so they were very pleased for us to be calling. The pilot boarded only a mile from the berth so there wasn’t much time to have a proper discussion before we made our final approach!!
The berth had been damaged during the hurricane however they had made great efforts to ensure we made our call by resurfacing the entire dock area and walkway. Apparently many cruise ships had cancelled their calls after the hurricane damage which is sad in many respects as the country desperately needs the cruise ships to return to help re-build their Island – it’s a catch 22. However it was wonderful to see Saga supporting the local economy by maintaining Saga Sapphire's call schedule.
Dominica is called the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” as it is normally very inspiring as it turns and twists, towers to mountain crests then tumbles to falls and valleys. The weather is often dramatic here with dazzling sunshine, torrential rain and frequent rainbows on an average day. For our call we only experienced the dazzling sunshine. They say that if Christopher Columbus were to come back today, Dominica would be the only island in the Caribbean that he would recognise.
Despite the extensive damage from the hurricane, the local population is working hard to restore their country, including the main roads. With this intent we were able to offer 7 different Shore Excursions including “River Tubing Rainforest & Falls” (which I hear was superb fun), Easy Dominica & Rainforest Drive, AM Sip and Paint and Natures Hidden Treasure to name but a few.
When guests returned from their tours and general walks ashore, they were so moved by the devastation they asked if they could donate in any way. The ship responded very quickly and arranged for the Dominican Red Cross to attend. One guest was so touched she donated $1,350 and oversaw the collection at reception along with ship's staff and the Red Cross. We also had a few Government Officials attend along with their press team as they were also moved by the generosity of our guests. Within the space of 45 minutes we collected close to $5,000 dollars, which was just amazing.
With everyone on board by 1800 we slipped our moorings and headed off into the sunset towards Martinique.
It was yet again a “breezy” approach to the pilot station but with the pilot on board at 0715 we made our approach towards the berth at Fort de France, Martinique. Staff Captain Tom conducted the manouver once again – all part of his training and development towards being Captain one day. It was a challenging docking on a very short berth – only 60m long with a number of detached dolphins (mooring platforms). Jo Boase our Cruise Director commented later that there were a lot of dolphins in Martinique!!
With us all fast by 0800 the ship was cleared soon after by the local officials. I have not been to Martinique for some 20 years and the new cruise pier at Fort De France is located within easy walking distance of the town centre. There were several tours on offer today “Saint Pierre & Botanical Gardens”, “Deep Martinique”, “Discover the North by Catamaran” & “Flemish Bay and Beach”.
Fort De France is the capital of France’s Caribbean overseas department of Martinique and is also one of the major cities in the Caribbean. Martinique itself was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1508 and he immediately declared it the most beautiful country in the world. The name is believed to come from the native words “Matinho”, meaning Island of Women, and “Madinina” – Island of Flowers.
We had another late sail and remained in port until 2230 to give our Guests the opportunity to stay ashore and savour an evening in the French Caribbean. With everyone on board we slipped our lines and as we were leaving the berth the heavens opened such that the Staff Captain and I got absolutely drenched – it’s moments like this one looks forward to the new ship with enclosed bridge wings!!
Another windy approach to the harbour – it’s funny how you sometimes get a series of days like this in the Caribbean. Although 30 knots outside the harbour the pilot advised it was only 10-15 knots inside the port. So many of the ports over here are well sheltered from the predominant NE’ly trade winds.
With the pilot on board we lined up for the harbour entrance following a set of leading marks to identify the centre of the main channel. We were all docked at Castries, St Lucia by 0730 and guests were free to go ashore from 0800.
Over the last decade, a combination of inviting resorts, fine beaches, plenty of water sports, fascinating natural beauty and a welcoming environment have drawn more and more visitors to this lush, tropical paradise. St Lucia is just 27 miles long and 14 miles wide and located between Martinique and St Vincent. Due to its natural beauty St Lucia has been dubbed “The Helen of the West Indies”. It contains the famous twin peaks of the Pitons, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which rise dramatically 2,000 feet into the sky and dominate the Island.
There were 7 Shore Excursions on offer today, with something for everyone. The more active could enjoy “Discover Sailing” aboard a beautiful racing yacht, or snorkelling between the Pitons, or even a Helicopter Trip.
For me it was an amazing day as 3 of the Senior Officers and myself had the pleasure of taking Joy Howe, our soon to be a twice Diamond Britannia Club member, for a surprise day out. This cruise she will reach 2,000 nights sailing with Saga which is just amazing. Anyway at 0945 we met in the reception area and Joy only knew to bring a swimsuit, some sun cream, a change of clothes and to dress “elegant casual”. With a private transfer on the dock we whisked her away to a tropical paradise - the “Calabash Cove Resort”. This was a way for Saga to say thank you to Joy for her loyalty. With a mixed fresh fruit daiquiri to start and a plunge in the pool we were set for a wonderful and relaxing day. They even provided a cottage for us to use for the day with its own mini pool and dining terrace. Lunch was something to savour with the most stunning views. I have attached a few photos of this magical place.
With a late sail we had another BBQ on deck and a steel band. These Caribbean evenings are perfect for this and fortunately we worked around an earlier rain shower with the restaurant staff quickly removing all the wet linen from the outdoor tables and then re-laying as if nothing had happened. What a crew!!
With everyone still enjoying the party we slipped our moorings and cleared the harbour, en-route for Bequia.
A few days ago we heard that another ship would be making an unscheduled call into Bequia and we would have to share the same pontoon. Bequia is a very small Island in the Grenadines at only 18m2, so having 2 cruise ships on the same day sharing a landing stage had all the makings of an “interesting” call, with the first ship to arrive getting the best anchorage. However, behind the scenes my team was working on securing a berth at the rather nice Bequia Yacht Club and running our tenders there instead.
Having left St Lucia the evening before at 2300 we proceeded at a high speed to Bequia. Adonia had left 5 hours before us, so I guess our efforts were always going to be optimistic. She arrived at the anchorage at the unsociable hour of 0430. Therefore at 0300 when it became clear we weren’t going to beat her we slowed down and then at 0630 sneaked in and anchored to the north of her. She must have been somewhat surprised at 0700 when our first launch left, but went to the yacht club instead of the small town quay. The Staff Captain went in the first launch to “size up the facilities” and quickly fed back that it was going to work very well. We had a very successful call and all our Guests had a great experience.
Bequia is the 2nd largest Island in the Grenadines and means “island of the clouds” in the ancient Arawak. Princess Margaret, who had a home on nearby Mustique, visited Bequia and had a beach named in her honour. We had four tours running today “Bequia Highlights, Bequia Coastal Cruise, Bequia Snorkel Adventure and Mustique Magic.
It was a windy day at the anchorage so I spent most of it on The Bridge keeping a watchful eye on things. We used the bow thruster throughout to keep the wind ahead and avoid having it blow directly on the beam which could cause the anchor to drag. I have to say the ship’s staff involved in the boating operation did an amazing job, and ensured the call was a huge success.
About an hour after everyone was aboard we had recovered all the boats, secured the pontoon and gangway, and were heading off towards Port of Spain, Trinidad.
It was a very calm and mystical sunrise this morning as we made our approach towards Port of Spain, Trinidad. There was a light mist tip-toeing above the horizon, which evaporated as we approached the pilot station for embarking at 0700. Rob our 3rd Office kept the con (control) of the ship to complete our engine astern tests, and steering tests, before embarking the pilot. We do this prior to each arrival as a standard procedure. Rob then kept the con until the inner harbour when I took over, completed a swift pirouette (the ship not me), and then “backed up” to the berth. We were all fast by 0750 and Guests were ready to go ashore shortly after 8 o’clock.
Port of Spain, the capital and commercial centre of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, is the country’s third largest town. It has architecture from around the world from Hindu temples to gingerbread Rococo. Trinidad, home of the carnival and the steel band, is an astonishing melting-pot of people and cultures – including African, Oriental, Indian, European and New World. It is also home to an interesting array of South American flora, as well as more than 400 species of birds.
There was a myriad of tours on offer including a mystery tour where only the guide and driver knew where they were going – a real unique experience. A couple of tours went out to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, one of which included kayaking. It would appear that these 2 were a real highlight for many guests. The Caroni bird sanctuary was established in 1953 and sprawls across a tidal lagoon and maze of mangrove lined waterways. One of the most spectacular features of the Sanctuary occurs at sunset when thousands of Scarlet Ibis and Egrets return to make their roost for the night. Apparently this happens like clockwork every day.
With everyone on board we slipped our lines and retraced our tracks through the harbour and buoyed channel. Next stop Barbados for our final port of the Caribbean.
Having been able to make good speed overnight I was keen to try and improve on the scheduled 1000 arrival into Barbados. With the pilot on board at 0840 we headed into the azure blue harbour at Bridgetown and docked head in at 0910, so an improved arrival time for our guests.
Located beside the island’s only natural harbour, the capital of Barbados combines modern and colonial architecture with glorious palm tree-lined beaches and a number of historical attractions. The city is renowned for its British-style parliament buildings and vibrant beach life , and has often been called “Little England”. Cricket of course has traditionally been the national game. The Island has produced some of the sport’s greatest players, including the batsmen Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and George Headley; the bowler Malcolm Marshall, and the all-rounders Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Frank Worrell.
It was a beautiful final day for our final port of call in the Caribbean and we had 6 shore excursions on offer to tempt our guests including the “Catamaran Turtle Encounter” and “Harrisons Cave Experience”. One of our guest lecturers, Captain Tim Orchard who was a Concorde pilot, escorted the “Barbados & the Concorde Experience” and gave lots of extra detail which made it very personalised.
Barbados is probabaly my favourite Island in the Caribbean as to me it has everything you need for such a location. Great golf courses, beautiful beaches, friendly people, a great choice of restaurants from fine dining to the local shacks on the beach, and of course a lot of history!!
Well this evening it was time to say farewell to Barbados, and the Caribbean – so we gave a rousing tune on the ship’s whistle. 40 minutes later we were clear of the port and heading south to clear the Island’s southern shores before heading east towards Port Praia, Cape Verde.
After leaving Bridgetown on the 9th February and clearing the southern shores of Barbados we set an Easterly course across the Atlantic towards the Cape Verde Islands. With several days at sea I knew Jo Boase, our Cruise Director, would be working her magic to keep all our guests entertained.
This started on our first sea day with a cake decorating display by Celebrity Chef Rustie Lee, who has been with us for the whole cruise. There were also 2 mystery guests brought out to the decorating table, and both of them had Captain in their title!! So to start things off Rustie burst into song with “Yellow Bird”, until I suggested the Eddie Grant classic “I don’t wanna dance…” and then the 3 of us, plus Jo Boase, ended up singing and dancing. Rustie is certainly a live wire and before the show she mentioned that she had spent most of the day in Barbados with Eddie Grant, hence the choice of song.
Once the singing was over it was time for Rustie to begin her demonstration of how to decorate a cake – Caribbean style!! The first thing she picked up was a bottle of rum and she doused the first layer with it – you knew this was going to be good. After that is was jam and Chantilly cream and some chopped fresh mango. The next two layers followed the same format and finally with the top layer in place she covered the whole cake in yet more cream.
The task was then for Staff Captain Franko and me to carry out our own cake decorating along the same lines. Well this really was fun and I loved “slapping” jam and cream on each layer after swamping it in rum of course. I also added two lots of fruit on each layer and the final result can be seen in the photo – even Exec Chef John came over and gave very positive comments, which rather surprised me.
Yesterday we had a tug of war competition with teams from across the ship’s departments. The “Horizon Hunters” as we were called won the first round – mind you it was against the Cruise Staff whose team was made up of mainly our female dancers. Despite their impressive pulling power we scraped through. For our next round we came up against the “Sea Donkeys” which consisted of a very “beefy” engineering team. They wanted revenge after losing to the Deck team back in October last year. With 3 substitutes and a significant weight advantage they got that revenge and ended up as the winners.
Today I’ve just come back from the Saga Pancake Race, where my Senior team and I ended up a respectable 3rd. Another great event with lots of tossing, cajoling and the occasional dodgy walk. You’ve got to make the most of these sea days!!
We had been heading towards the Cape Verde Islands, but against exceptionally strong trade winds, associated bow seas and the prevailing current. For the comfort of our passengers we weren’t able to make best speed, so we took the decision to proceed direct to the Canaries and replace the call at Porto Praia with a full day call to Tenerife. That’s one of the many great things about Saga, in that if we have to cancel a port for weather then we always look to find a replacement. Tenerife was a great success as we caught the last day of a week-long Carnival – but more about that later.
With a few more days at sea before Tenerife we had a fantastic Valentine’s Ball. To kick things off the Officers, Entertainments Team and Spa Staff were on stage with a great dance routine. After this it was time to meet up with our first dance partner as listed on our “dance card”. All those participating in the dancing were given a dance card with names drawn out of a hat. Well it really was an excellent night and wonderful to see so many of my team joining in – our Guests certainly appreciated it.
So back to Tenerife, and we shaped up for the Pilot, embarking him at 0645. We then proceeded direct our berth to be alongside at 0715 in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is one of the two largest metropolitan areas in the Canaries and is second only to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
There were a couple of tours on offer today “Guimar Pyramids & Candelaria” and “La Laguna and Tasting” . The pyramids tour was a new one for Saga and thoroughly enjoyed by our Guests, as of course was the Laguna and Tasting!! For those that headed into Santa Cruz they had a real Carnival experience with just about the whole Island attending and everyone dressed up. I headed ashore in the afternoon to “soak up” the atmosphere of the Carnival before I headed off for a 25km cycle ride.
With everyone on board by 2000 we slipped our lines, “backed up” all the way out of the harbour and then with the pilot disembarked as we were moving astern, we swung the ship round and headed for Lanzarote.
I arrived on the Bridge at 0645 this morning and just as dawn was breaking for our approach to Arrecife, Lanzarote. I love mornings and the first glimpse of this new day with light NE’ly winds had the makings of a great call. We embarked our pilot at 0730 approx 2 miles from the harbour entrance and just as the sun was rising. After a swift swing in the harbour we glided astern towards our berth and were all fast shortly after 0815. Another docking without tugs.
Lanzarote is a volcanic Island designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with a dramatic landscape shaped by an “explosive” past. The photos attached give a good representation of that. Most people though think of its pretty beaches, white-washed houses and the very dry climate providing the perfect winter retreat. Our tours today took guests to “Fire Mountain”, “Scenic Lanzarote”, “Tequise Market” and the “Lanzarote, Yesterday and Today Tour”.
After our morning Crew Emergency Drills I headed ashore with 2 colleagues for some Tapas and a small beer. We found a lovely restaurant where we could dine Alfresco and enjoy the views across a small inner fishing harbour as shown in the colourful photo. In addition to the Tapas I could not resist a plate of grilled squid. Whilst the food on board is outstanding it’s always good to get ashore for a change of scenery and try some local cuisine.
All on board was set for 7.00 pm, and with everyone back 15 mins before this we slipped our lines bang on the hour and Staff Captain Franko “drove out” and took the ship to sea. He was going to have a busy evening as he was also to make 2 appearances in the Saga Sapphire Crew Show - one as a solo artist and one as a member of the “If I were not upon this ship” routine. It was a superb night. There is so much talent amongst the crew – if you have not seen the crew show on board you really have missed out. For many Guests this is a real highlight of the cruise.