After a beautiful sail out from Saguenay we then had a 160M overnight passage in confined waters en-route for Quebec.
I was on an early call at 0400 and shortly after sunrise we saw some amazing “sea smoke”. I have attached a great photo of Saga Sapphire taken from the pilot on another ship that passed us – hope you enjoy.
With our harbour pilot on board at 0740 we then proceeded towards the Paquet berth at Levis, Quebec. Saga HQ and the Town of Levis had been planning this day for approximately 2 years as we were to be the first ship ever to dock at this new pier. There was a 4 knot current running and a strong wind on to the berth, and with hundreds of people watching this maiden arrival I was very cautious and eased very slowly towards the dock assisted by a tug. As we got closer there was lots of cheering and singing, sounding of car horns and a real air of excitement. With hundreds of Guests on deck we had a few rousing tunes on the ship whistle to liven events up further.
As we moored alongside at 0835 history was made and we had officially become the first ship to dock at this wonderful new pier. The hundreds of well-wishers then congregated at the gangway to greet our guests as they stepped ashore. It was an amazing welcome and one I will never forget. I decided to be one of the first ashore and immerse myself in the excitement. Suddenly there were photographers everywhere snapping away and I was casually chatting to a couple of the locals when it soon became apparent that one was the Mayor!!
Talking of the Mayor – at 1030 there was a VIP reception in one of our lounges named the “Drawing Room”. I made a speech along with the Mayor of Levis and the CEO of Quebec Port – we then had numerous photos with local dignitaries. I felt honoured to be the Captain of Saga Sapphire on such a special day. Levis is located on the opposite side of the St Lawrence river and without doubt has the best views of Quebec City. It is only a 5 minute ferry ride to Quebec city centre so we will hopefully be using this pier again when we return in 2018.
The crown jewel of French Canada, Quebec is one of North America’s oldest and most magnificent settlements. Its picturesque Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a living museum of narrow cobblestone streets, 17th & 18th century houses and soaring church spires with the magnificent Chateau Fontenac towering above it all. It is set on Cap Diamant and is a very cosmopolitan destination rich in culture, heritage and atmosphere. There is more than a glimmer of Old Europe in its classic bistros, sidewalk cafes and manicured squares.
As the sun went down the fountains on the quayside came to life with music and lights – this was definitely something to see. Whilst on deck our guests had the best evening view of Quebec with Chateau Fontenac and the whole town lit up. Paquet berth in Levis has definitely been a winner.
At 2230 we slipped our moorings and headed upriver towards Trois Rivieres.
The great weather continued this morning with a delightful autumnal morning as we made our approach to the port of “Trois Rivieres”( The Three Rivers). With only a 1 knot current running this morning it was more “relaxed”arrival than yesterday’s maiden arrival to Levis, Quebec. The ship glided gently towards the dock and landed so gently on the fenders no-one would have known we had arrived!!
Founded in 1634, Trois Rivieres is the 2nd oldest French speaking city in North America and is located at the confluence of the Saint Maurice and Saint Lawrence rivers, and opposite the city of Becancour on the south side of the river. It is part of the densely populated Quebec City Windsor Corridor and is located halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. It was founded on July 4th 1634, the 2nd permanent settlement in New France, after Quebec City in 1608.The city’s name, there rivers, is named for the fact that the Saint-Maurice River, which is divided by two small Islands at the river’s opening, has three mouths at the Saint Lawrence River.
There were 4 tours on offer today including the Maurice National Park Scenic Drive; Religious Heritage of the Region; and Historic Trois Rivieres Walking Tour. For those not on a shore excursion the city lends itself admirably to discover on foot. The central business district bustles with activity while the adjacent historic quarter beckons visitors to step back into the fascination of a bygone era. Parisian style cafes, quaint boutiques, writers bars, artists workshops, unconventional museums and National Historic sites are all within a short walk.
With everyone on board by 1230 we made our preparations for departure and continued our passage up river towards Montreal. Once again we had a great turnout from the locals who waved us on our way and to have a relaxing afternoon and evening sailing up the St Lawrence river. The two pilots we had for the river transit commented that most cruise ships sailed overnight to arrive in Montreal in the morning and what a great idea of Saga Cruises to enable our guests to experience the river transit in the daytime.
After a 65 mile passage up the St Lawrence River from Trois Rivieres we started to make our approach to Montreal. We had a minimum 1.5 knots of outgoing current against us at all times and at times we had up to 6 knots. The two river pilots were excellent and gave us great comfort with such strong currents running!! Although French was their first language it amazed me how quickly they switched to English when asked a question.
Our first view of Montreal was the tower at the Olympic Park which was built for the 1976 games, the only summer games to have been held in Canada. One of our tours included a funicular ride to the top of the tower. We then caught a glimpse of Mount Royal, the triple peaked hill in the heart of everything from which the name of the city was derived. As we made our approach to the inner harbour the current reached 6 knots and the ship was drifting sideways towards the clock tower which a P&O ship had hit in the 70’s in thick fog!! With some skilful piloting and full manoeuvring speed we glided past at a safe distance and then shortly afterwards put the brakes on before we swung and backed down to the berth.
We were all fast by 2030 and then made final preparations for a Saga “Magical Moment”. Shortly after 9.00 pm I gave the 1 minute signal to start the firework display. WOW –what a fantastic 7 minutes it was, with a feeling that you could almost reach out and touch them. All Guests were on deck for a “party”and the fireworks certainly set things off with a huge bang!! Our Guests had a wonderful night and so many commented that it was the best fireworks display they had ever seen. “Better”than Madeira on a New Year’s Eve was mentioned numerous times. What helped to make it so impressive was our close proximity to the “launch pad”WELL DONE SAGA CRUISES. With the fireworks over the night had just begun for many as they danced under the stars and with the Montreal skyline in the background. There was no rush to get to bed as were in port until 10.30 the following evening.
Montreal is the world’s largest inland port and the 2nd largest in Canada. Founded by the French in 1642, it was not until the mid-18th century that the British controversially entered the city. However, today Montreal remains one of the world’s largest French speaking cities with a population over 3 million, while the British influence is evident in much of the old town’s architecture. Montreal is a very cosmopolitan city renowned for its charming and relaxed atmosphere with numerous museums, galleries and theatres.
Many of us were very busy during the 2nd day as we had a full 8 hour Canadian Public Health Inspection –I’m glad to say that despite the ship being 36 years old we passed with flying colours. I literally had 45 minutes to jump on my bike and wizz round the main part of the city to get a “feel”for this great place. However I soon realised I had better return on board as I had no lights on my bike!! After a quick shower, shave and change I headed off to sample some French Canadian cuisine –all I can say is tres bien!!
With everyone on board at 2230 we slipped our moorings and left the Montreal skyline in our wake. We then had a 350 mile run to Baie Commeau with the whole of the daylight hours spent cruising the St Lawrence River passing Quebec City around 1030.
After an excellent day time transit of the St Lawrence River we disembarked our Canadian pilots at 2100 hrs and then headed towards our next port Baie-Comeau. We arranged pilot for 0615 and to be alongside at 0700 so that we did not arrive at Low Tide. It was another stunning morning as we made our “gingerly”approach to the berth and we soon discovered there was little fendering on the berth, so we had to “land”very gently. All went well and we had our shore gangway rigged and ready for 0730 not that anyone was rushing ashore. It has been a hectic schedule with 7 ports in a row and a day of river cruising so our Guests seemed to be having a lie in, and why not - they are on holiday!!
Baie-Comeau is a city located 260 miles northeast of Quebec City in the Cote Nord region and located near the mouth of the Manicougan river. It is named after the adjacent Comeau Bay which in turn is named in honour of Napoleon Alexandre Comeau, a Quebecois naturalist. There were 4 tours on offer today including a Historical Walking Tour; The Best of Baie-Comeau; The Garden of Glaciers and Shell Valley, and Manic 2 –Hollow-joint Gravity Dam. I would have liked to visit the Gravity Dam, however we had our weekly Crew Emergency Drills which must come first of course. Although I did not visit I read that the Manic-2 gravity dam is the size of a Boeing 747 and was the first of its kind to be put into service at the Manic-Outardes complex. In 1965, Hydro-Quebec operated the first 735,000 volt line in the world.; this line has now become the international standard for high-voltage transmission. The line is linked to a generating station powerful enough to supply electricity to a town of 250,000 people.
With everyone on board by 1300 we set sail shortly after as we had a high speed run to Gaspe, our final port in the St Lawrence seaway.
Stand-by engines was at 0630 this morning and as I arrived on the Bridge it was yet another fabulous start to the day. When I had gone to bed around 2200 hrs the Viking Sea was ahead of us and to my delight was now 4 miles astern as I wanted to arrive first and “beat the Vikings”. As it was a boat port I was keen to get the prime anchorage position with the shortest run possible for the ships tenders. One of our 3rd Officers kept the control (con) this morning and took the ship all the way to the anchorage position controlling the course and speed of the ship. It was a very smooth arrival and we dropped anchor at 0720 sending our 1st tender ashore shortly afterwards to secure the best pier in Gaspe and set up our shore party operations. By 0800 we were all ready to go and begin our full day of “boating”.
Along the Upper St Lawrence, the Gaspe Peninsular provides some of the oldest and most intriguing attractions in the world. At 8,500 square miles Gaspe is roughly the size of New Jersey. The region’s unique geography –lush arboreal forests, 350 million year old glacier burnished mountains and hundreds of crystal-clear rivers that team with popular sport fish such as salmon and trout –gives rise to a subtle tribute: many simple call it “The Gaspe”. Vikings may have been the first visitors, but officially Jacques Cartier discovered it for France on 24th July 1534, taking possession by planting a wooden cross with the Kings coat of arms and the sentence Vive le Roi de France (meaning long live the King of France)
There were 6 tours on offer today focused around trips from Gaspe to Perce, and tours to the Forillon National Park. Both Gaspe and Perce are very attractive towns and the one hour transfer between the two is a beautiful journey. A visit to Forillon National Park is a unique adventure and includes geological features that are up to 450 million years old, and its majestic landscapes cover an area of 94 square miles where the land joins the sea.
I managed to get ashore for an hour and the port agent kindly drove me round Gaspe in her car. It certainly is a delightful little town and the true fall colours were very evident. During a chat over coffee she mentioned that after sunset there would be fireworks at the marina which would time perfectly with our departure. So with everyone on board at 1745 we “weighed”anchor, secured our tenders and then maintained position for 10 minutes to watch the fireworks. After a slow start they gathered pace and it was a very good display –nothing of the magnitude of the Saga Magical Moment in Quebec of course!!!
It was an interesting sailaway as having “beaten”the Vikings in the morning we agreed to follow her out of the anchorage in the darkness. Once clear of Gaspe bay we set course for a day at sea en-route for Halifax
After a very calm and sunny day at sea yesterday, our early morning approach to the Halifax pilot station saw us encounter some light fog. With the pilot on board at 0645 the mist miraculously lifted and we then had 8 miles to weave our way to our berth. The pilot took the con for the transit and I then took over a couple of miles before the dock. With the aid of a tug this morning due to the strong SW’ly winds, we spun the ship through 90’and then glided astern towards our berth. The team on the forward and aft mooring decks were under strict instructions not to throw any line ashore until after 0801 as the local longshoremen charge significant overtime if you do, and especially on a Sunday!! With the first line at 0806 we were well in the clear. By 0830 we were all fast with the gangway read. An overcast start to the day was superseded by sunny spells through the afternoon, but with no rain it was perfect for our Guests to explore Halifax
Halifax is a lively, vibrant city and the capital of Nova Scotia. It has a fascinating Maritime Heritage and features the World’s second largest natural harbour which stretches for approximately ten miles. The city was integral in the rescue operation of the Titanic in 1912, and was again at the forefront of a Maritime Disaster when five years later in 1917 they had the “Halifax Explosion”.
Halifax has lots to see and there were 6 shore excursions on offer today including; The Best of Halifax, Halifax Highlights by Harbour Duck or Vintage Double Decker, A History of Halifax Walking Tour; and The Titanic Connection.
I decided to take to the road and head for Mount Pleasant Park, cycling round the many trails and tracks and enjoying the coastal views. With 10M covered I felt I deserved a cup of Earl Grey and some Banana Cake at a local café–lovely!!, but not the ambience of afternoon tea on board. In fact in the Britannia Lounge today it was a French afternoon tea with a fine selection of French pastries and music by our resident duo, and all in memory of Titanic A La Carte Pastry Chef, Henri Jaillet.
With all on board at 1930 we slipped our lines and headed out leaving the skyline of Halifax in our wake. 90 minutes later we were clear of the port approaches and set an E’ly course for the start of our 2590 mile Transatlantic Crossing back to Southampton
Greetings everyone, and we are now heading south on our Madeira and Canaries cruise.
With the passage of Tropical Storm Ophelia, and its affect on the western approaches to the English Channel, we took the decision to delay our sailing by 5 hours and let the worst of the weather pass. As we cleared the Nab Tower on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight, this proved to be the right decision and ensured we had a reasonable passage towards and through the Bay of Biscay. With the residual swell I was reminded what a great Sea Ship Saga Sapphire is. Cutting through the sea and swell like a fine cruiser we were able to maintain our scheduled arrival into Madeira on Friday 20th October.
I have always enjoyed arriving in Madeira as it’s such a spectacular setting and today was no exception. As we approached the pilot station the seas were calm, the sun was shining and lots of Guests were on deck to watch our arrival into Funchal.
Formed by a volcanic eruption, Madeira lies in the Gulf Stream, about 500 miles due west of Casablanca. Discovered by Portuguese explorer Joao Goncalves Zarco in 1419, this beautiful Island became part of Portugal’s vast empire and was named for the dense forest which cloaked it- Madeira means wood in Portuguese.
Once alongside it was but 15 minutes before our Guests were heading ashore to sample all the delights of this great port. Our Shore Excursion Team headed up by Jacquie and Cindy offered a variety of tours, including the light and easy excursions Cabo Girao and Madeira Island Delight, and by contrast the more active excursions like the ‘Levada Trail Walk’, the ‘Four-wheel Drive Safari’ and the RIB Adventure – this has got to be a must for another call. For those going ashore independently there was a also complimentary shuttle bus service which took passengers into the heart of Funchal.
I took a short stroll into town with the Ship's Doctor for a small coffee and Portuguese Custard tarts – Pastel de Nata. After a few days at sea its even good for the Captain to put his feet on terra firma!!
With everyone back on board we slipped our moorings and Staff Captain Franko took the ship out to sea. Once clear of the port, and with the pilot away, we set a southerly course for our arrival into Santa Cruz, La Palma.
Having sailed off into the sunset from Funchal. and with a morning at sea before arriving in La Palma, I met up for dinner with some ex-cruising friends I hadn’t seen for 20 years!!
We last met in 1997 when I was Safety Officer with P&O Cruises and my girlfriend (now my wife) was working on board with me. It was wonderful to catch up after so many years and what made it extra special was dining in the “East-West” Asian-Fusion restaurant. With a salmon sushi “amuse bouche” to wet our appetite, we then all chose the Atlantic seared Scallops as our starter. The main course of sizzling roasted duck breast with fresh ginger sauce and lychees was just superb, and is always served on a hotplate that creates a dramatic burst of aromatic smoke as the sauce is poured. I’m not going to describe the entire menu, just in case there are a few of you reading this who have not yet experienced this fabulous restaurant.
After our fantastic dinner we all headed to the Drawing Room to hear our Staff Captain Franko perform his “for one night only” medley of 60’s and 70’s hits. The room was packed and for many it was a trip down memory lane. I slipped quietly away before the end of his “gig”, as I like to rise early and start the day with a workout.
A couple of hours before arrival we had the third presentation by our Celebrity Gardener Chris Beardshaw who was on board as part of our special “Gardens” themed cruise. Chris has had 15 years in broadcasting including regular filming for the BBC. He is most recently known for his part in the much loved weekly gardening programme “Beechgrove Garden” which has been running for 35 years and is broadcast on BBC2 each Sunday morning from April to October. The Britannia Lounge was packed for each of his presentations. Saga does attract some wonderful speakers.
Back to the navigational side of things, we made our approach to La Palma from the north and slowed down to embark our pilot at 1100. We passed the breakwater approx 150 meters off before swinging and then backing up to our berth. The wind freshened to 15-20 knots just as we approached which always adds a little extra “excitement”. With the wind near the stern we “backed up” to the berth and worked the ship in towards the dock. With extra lines out due to the strong winds we were all fast with the gangway ready by 1200.
La Palma is also known as ‘La Isla Bonita’ – the beautiful Island and is typified by lush forests of pine, laurel and fern which contrast with the rugged splendour of the gigantic Taburinete crater. The island is dotted with attractive villages, which are a delight to discover, and the capital Santa Cruz is perched on the edge of the volcanic crater of La Calderata. There were 6 shore excursions on offer today with something for everyone depending upon your agility and desire to have a great walk. Tours included Scenic La Palma, Off the Beaten Track Adventure, Volcano & Wine and the Los Tilos Forest Walk.
Whilst our Guests were ashore our crew set up the top deck for our evening “Floating Garden Party” with a wonderful arrangement of Planters and Parasols etc ( photos attached). With a 6.30 start we had an excellent turnout to join Celebrity Gardener Chris Beardshaw and the Cruise team, and of course a glass or two of Pimms and Lemonade to befit the special event.
We slipped our lines shortly after 1900 hrs and used the wind to best effect to ease us off the berth and then head back out to sea. Our Safety Officer Dan was driving out, and under my watchful eye he did a very good job. Next stop is Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.