After a high speed run down the Portuguese and Spanish coasts we made an Easterly approach to the pilot station just as another beautiful sunrise was developing. This was my first call at Huelva so I was on the Bridge extra early and was immediately “greeted” with what appeared to be the entire Spanish fishing fleet, no doubt heading out for the morning catch. Fortunately the boats were well lit and the vast majority had AIS which stands for Automatic Identification System – this is a great Navigational aid and assists greatly with identifying ships/boats along with their course and speed.
Our 2nd Officer Hugo was again holding the “con” and after slowing down to embark the pilot he headed for the buoyed Odiel river. Once the Master/Pilot exchange was completed Hugo handed the con to the pilot and he then guided us up river towards our berth. With a 2 knot flood tide running and limited turning room, 1 tug was ordered to assist with the manoeuver. We actually used the tug to slow us down whilst keeping one engine running ahead ensuring we a had a good flow over the single rudder to enable us to steer at slow speed. We passed the berth, swung in the slighter wider section of the river and then proceeded back down river to the berth making use of the flood tide to “push” us towards the berth. With us all fast by 0845 and a shore gangway rigged soon after, the Immigration and Custom Officials boarded to clear the ship.
Our first tour group who were heading to Seville for a full day were flowing down the gangway at 0900 sharp and I took the opportunity to wish them well at the foot of the gangway. We had three other tours that day which included a trip to a Rio Tinto Mine, Donana National Park, and Local Wines & El Rocio. Attached is a photo of Seville and one of the Rio Tinto mine.
Huelva is a busy port in the extreme SW corner of Spain along the Gulf of Cadiz. The city has been inhabited since 3000BC and has always been a location of maritime importance. It has been ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. In 1755 it suffered substantial damage after the Lisbon earthquake. During WWII the city was a hub of espionage activities led by the large British and German communities. Most famously the city was the location of the audacious British plan “Operation Mincemeat”, when a body carrying false information washed ashore.
Along with a couple of the deck crew I took to the road with my bike and had a great workout cycling 15km into Huelva where we “whizzed” round the town's narrow streets , sampled some ice cream and then headed back along the river to the ship.
With everyone back on board by 1800 we made our preparations ready to sail. With the ebb tide I had hoped this would be enough to ease the ship naturally away from the dock. Unfortunately the wind freshened just before sailing so we had to engage the services of a tug. By 1900 we were clear of the river and with the pilot away we set course for Palma, Majorca with an early morning transit of the Gibraltar Straits.
After a relaxing day at sea cruising through the Mediterranean we made our approach to Palma, Majorca. It was yet another fabulous start to the day and we were expecting 23’C - not bad for December.
There was a very minor delay with embarking our pilot as we had to wait for a ferry to go in ahead of us. Once the pilot was on board we went through the Master-Pilot exchange, a detailed process to ensure the pilot is fully aware of the manoeuvring characteristics of the ship, and we discussed the passage plan for arrival. After this discussion it soon becomes clear that the pier we were docking at had changed!! Fortunately it was a new pier where the tour and shuttle buses could stop right by the ship.
This conversation with the pilot reminded me of our call at Palma in January when we again had a change of berth at short notice, only to discover that the berth allocated was not deep enough for a ship with a 8.6m draft!!! After much discussion over the Spanish “airwaves” we very quickly had another berth.
Anyway back to today, and by 0745 we were all fast with Staff Captain Franko “putting” the ship alongside.
Palma, the cosmopolitan capital of Majorca, is the most popular and largest of the Balearic Islands with its host of bars, restaurants and stylish shops, a palm-shaded seafront promenade and attractive Old Town. Past settlers have left their mark on this vibrant city, and it retains a wealth of attractions including the Beliver Castle which has dominated the skyline since the 14th century.
There were some fabulous tours here including “ Scenic Palma & Valldemossa”, “Caves of the Dragon & Porto Cristo”, “Narrow-Gauge Train to Soller” and “Simply the Best of Valldemossa and Deia”. I have visited Valldemossa, high up in the hills, and it is a delightful town.
Today I headed ashore with our Shore-Ex Manager Jacqui and new Hotel Director, Jan. We had an excellent 25km ride out to the east of Palma following a dedicated cycle path that went on for miles beyond where we stopped. We found a lovely little taverna and sampled some deep fried squid, garlic prawns and some wonderful black paella. The black colour comes from the “ink" squeezed from the cuttlefish. One of my favourite dishes. After the leisurely lunch we headed back to the ship and I took the opportunity for a few snaps. One is of Palma Cathedral, a Gothic Masterpiece which took over 400 years to complete.
With everyone on board we slipped our lines shortly afterwards, with Gwyn our 2nd Officer taking the ship to sea. He carried out an excellent manoeuver by moving astern to clear the berth and then swinging off the harbour entrance. Our overnight passage, in very calm seas, sees us heading for Barcelona.
Buenas Dias. Today’s arrival took us into Barcelona. It is one of my favourite cities, and where in 1995 I had my first date with my wife.
With the pilot on board at 0645, Peter our 3rd Officer kept the Con (control, of course, & speed), and took us all the way into the harbour and close to the berth before I took over and docked the ship. 99% of ports in the world now require a pilot as ports make sure each and every ship is under the guidance of an expert. Not every ship has the level of manning and ability we have on Saga Sapphire. With a swift manoeuver we were alongside by 0750 and the ship was cleared by the local authorities ready for 0800.
Barcelona has so much to offer with its spectacular Mediterranean scenery, open air cafes, the famous mosaic paved Ramblas with all the street entertainers and of course some spectacular architecture, the most notable of which is Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. I have attached a few photos taken by our photography team headed up by Rodrigo as I wanted to capture good images for you.
The Shore Excursions team had a very busy morning with 6 tours heading off around the city, or further afield to Montserrat with the Rack Train. I have not been to Montserrat, but certainly will now that I’ve spoken with a number who went on the tour. “Spectacular Scenery” and a beautiful mountain area was what I was hearing time and again –I think I’d better head to Montserrat next time I’m in town.
After seeing off many of the guests going on tour I agreed that our Staff Captain Franko could go ashore today. I needed to sit down and start writing my handover notes ready for my relief Captain Stuart Horne, who takes over on the 13th November in Southampton. It was a very productive day, and with my fingers burning from “crunching” the keyboard I took an hour out during the afternoon to video call my wife and 2 girls. How wonderful modern technology is that I could press a few functions on my phone and see and chat to my daughters in an instant. I remember my first trip to sea in 1980 when I had to book a phone call through Portishead Radio at vast expense, and then get used to the delay either end as we were trying to talk. In those days I used to write long letters, yes letters!! on air mail paper to my parents, and of course wait weeks to receive one.
With everyone on board we were ready to sail shortly thereafter, but had to wait for the Pilot to board. At 1815 we cast off our lines and Hugo our 2nd Officer took the ship to sea with myself in a coaching role. You may be starting to wonder if I still drive the ship with all this coaching!! Well I get great pleasure in coaching the Officers and giving them the opportunity to “handle” Saga Sapphire. With Hugo having done a great job we were clear of the harbour by 1900 and then set course for Valencia.
As I finish this Blog we are getting a free wash-down with the heavy rain associated with a front moving through. There is spectacular lightening too which I always think is extra special whilst at sea.
When the Bridge team called me at 0545 it was rather windy at the ship with 25-30 knots from the North-West. However we were informed that the wind at the berth was 10-15 from the NW which was manageable without a tug, even with the wind off the berth. At 0645 the pilot boarded and shortly afterwards we entered the large harbour, swinging the ship through 180’ and then “backing up” a distance of 1 mile to approach our berth.
As we got closer to our dock the wind freshened to 20 kts with gusts to 25kts so with this wind I altered our berthing plan. We brought the stern to within about 10 metres off the dock, “fired” our heaving line rocket to the linesmen and then ran our first lines to hold the stern. Once we had 2 lines out aft I then thrust the ship through approx 70 degrees as our team on the aft mooring deck held the stern – I hope this makes sense to most of you!!! Anyway we got the ship safely alongside and several members of the Bridge Team commented “Captain, you certainly earned your money today!!” A great compliment I thought.
Valencia is Spain’s 3rd largest city after Madrid and Barcelona, and was founded as a Roman Colony in 18 BC. Situated on the banks of the Turia, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, its historic centre is one of the largest in Spain. The collection of ancient monuments, diverse scenic sites and cultural attractions makes Valencia one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations for both Spaniards and World travellers.
With 4 tours on offer whether the City Tour On Foot, by coach, the “Flamenco in Valencia” or “Vall D’Uxo & San Jose Caves” there was something for just about everyone.
I took off on my bike again over the lunchtime period and following the dedicated cycle paths. Spain is very geared up for cyclists and I headed initially for the coast, following the line of the beach for about 5 miles. I then turned in-land and using “Google Maps” headed for the park situated on the former bed of the River Turia which was diverted after a flood in 1957. It’s a beautiful park with many attractive gardens & bridges and the very impressive Museu de les Ciencies de Valencia (City of Arts and Sciences Museum) which includes an aquarium, planetarium, opera house, concert hall and IMAX cinema. It is considered one of the 12 treasures of Spain. I also stopped at the futuristic “Assut de l'Or Bridge” – a dazzling white single-pylon cable-stayed bridge, designed by Valencian architect and civil engineer Santiago Calatrava, and completed in December 2008. After 25 km on the bike I decided it was time to head back, but not before a small bowl of Paella, which Valencia is famous for.
With everyone on board we sailed shortly afterwards, and Staff Captain Franko took the ship to sea using the wind to best effect to “assist” us off the berth.
A very windy start to the day for our call at Cartagena. When called at 0545 the Bridge informed me the wind was 35 knots from the North, so I instructed them to order 2 tugs for arrival. I was contemplating ordering up to 5 tugs as were informed it was the same price regardless of the number requested. Can you imagine 5 tugs guiding us in!!!
Anyway the pilot boarded at 0700, two miles from the port entrance and after the normal Master-Pilot exchange we agreed to make the stern tug fast before entering the harbour. Cartagena is one of the ports I always enjoy “driving” into as you have to make an “s-bend” approach swinging first to port, past the outer breakwater and then swiftly swing to stb’d past the inner breakwater. You then head across the middle of the harbour and swing 180’ to go alongside. I guess you have to be there to fully appreciate the whole manoeuver. By the time we got into the main harbour the wind had dropped, however I used the tugs anyway as I’d paid for them!!
Cartagena is a major naval station located in the region of Murcia and its sheltered bay has attracted sailors for centuries. It was founded around 227 BC by the Carthaginians and they named it Cartago Nova. It later became a prosperous Roman Colony and a Byzantine trading centre. The city has been the main Spanish Mediterranean naval base since the reign of King Philip II and today is still surrounded by walls built during this period. Cartagena’s importance grew with the arrival of the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century, when the Navidad Fortress was constructed to protect the harbour. In recent years traces of the city’s fascinating past have been brought to light, particularly the well preserved Roman Theatre that was discovered in 1988 and is now open to the public.
There were 4 shore excursions on offer today included “The Best of Murcia, “Elche & the Huerto del Cura”, “Cartagena by Trolley Train”, and a “Walking Tour & Roman Theatre”. The other great thing about Cartagena is that you can walk straight into town – a mere 500 meters.
A busy day for me catching up with paperwork, updating my handover notes and preparing for dry-dock in a week's time.
With everyone on board we sailed shortly afterwards with Chief Officer Igor driving out. A very good and swift manoeuver ensured I was on time for the Britannia Club cocktail party. The wind was light and in a perfect direction to assist.
There were 428 Britannia members for this special cocktail party and just about all were there, or it certainly appeared that way. We had 4 guests turning “Sapphire” at the party, having cruised with us for over 500 nights – amazing!!
It was a beautiful calm morning as we made our approach to Motril, located in the Andalusian region of Spain on the Costa Tropical. I was last here one year ago when I joined the ship for my first command of 4 days whilst Captain Rentell “disappeared” to London to receive his Merchant Navy Medal. It was one of Saga’s mystery cruises where Guests join but do not know where they are going!!! Anyway this morning there was no mystery, our guests knew exactly where they were.
With the pilot on board at 0715 I guided the ship slowly in to port, as the depths on the chart indicated we had to keep close to the line of the breakwater although the Pilot confirmed the main part of the harbour had been dredged to 14.5 metres. This was comforting and gave us “more room” to play with. We docked head in and when we were approx 75 meters from position the pilot blurted out “stop the ship”. Well after a good kick astern on both engines and bringing the ship to an almost instant stop, I asked the pilot why we needed to stop so quickly and we were heading into shallow water unexpectedly. No it was just the pilot thinking we could not stop within the next 75 metres!!! Pilots - sometimes they're bad for your health!!
With us all fast by 0745 and clearance at 0800 we were keen to get our full day tour away – The Alhambra & Flamenco excursion. At 0830 and 0845 our other two tours to “Frigiliana” and “Pionono Show Cooking & Tasting” were dispatched. There was the usual Saga complimentary shuttle bus to the town centre.
We had our weekly emergency drills at 1030 and part of the drill was to fill a lifeboat to capacity with 110 crew members. After drills and at 1145 The Harbour Master and few of his team arrived on board for a Plaque exchange. It would appear that this exchange of courtesies did not happen during the mystery call last November. Having welcomed them on board we had an interesting conversation in broken Spanish and English before the official exchange of Plaques. I must say the Plaque presented was very nice and will definitely join our existing collection.
Having excused myself after the exchange I headed down to get changed as I was meeting the Doctor and one of the 2nd Officers. It was such a beautiful day we had decided to walk into town rather than take the shuttle bus. 40 minutes later we were sat at the Harbour Master’s recommended restaurant having some delightful seafood. An amuse bouche of fresh anchovies was followed by a gorgeous Seafood soup and only surpassed by the amazing grilled Pulpo (octopus).
Just before sailing we arranged for a local show of Spanish Guitar and Flamenco dancing to entertain our guests. “Brisa Flamenca” were a huge hit and very well received by all. As soon as they disembarked we set sail for Gibraltar.
It was the turn of Dan, our Safety Officer, to bring the ship in today and as usual there were many ships arriving and departing from both Gibraltar and Algeciras. Both ports share the Bay of Gibraltar and there is an awful lot of VHF reporting to be done to cover both ports.
Once the pilot had embarked it was a case of weaving our way through the anchored ships and getting lined up for the berth. It was another successful docking, which was great as it was Dan’s first time to manoeuver a ship onto the berth. He has “driven” the ship off the berth a few times but never carried out the docking, which is a very different “ball-game” . We were all fast by 0745 and clearance was granted by 0800.
Gibraltar, a favourite for many cruisers, has long been known as the gateway to the Mediterranean. Gibraltar has been held by the British since 1704, covers an area of 2.5 sq. miles and is home to the barbary apes as well as a myriad of caves and tunnels which were made during the Great Siege of 1779-1783.
Five tours were on offer today; Fortress Gibraltar, Dolphin Watch, The Rock, Alameda Gardens & Cable Car Ride, and Europa Point & English Tea. I know speaking with Guests they really enjoyed their shore excursions and particularly the Dolphin Watch where they saw lots of activity. Although not available in Gibraltar, swimming with Dolphins with my family is definitely on the “bucket list”!!
It was yet another day of sunshine which was absolutely perfect for all the tours, and especially the tour to the top of the rock via the cable car with views across to North Africa.
I managed an hour on my bike, and cycled round the rock stopping briefly at Europa Point to take a few snaps. I have not done this since they temporarily closed the tunnel some 6-7 years ago. As I headed towards Europa Point I couldn’t believe how much construction is underway with apartment blocks going up everywhere.
At 1800 all our Guests were back on board ready for a grand Sailaway Party with the Cruise team. Next port is La Coruna.
En route to La Coruna there was an interdepartmental tug of war on the aft end of the Verandah deck. Well what fun that was with about 6 departments contesting, from the deck department “Rope-Draggers”, the technical team “Sea Donkeys”, “Wine & Dine” from the restaurant to “Let's Hang On” from the Cruise team, to name but a few. With a knock-out format the “rope-draggers” managed to take the glory and they even had space for an Old Sea Dog – see who you can spot in the photos??
With sunrise not until 0821 it was very dark when we embarked the plot at 0700. The winds from yesterday had subsided significantly and we only had a low swell to contend with as we approached the port. We kept the stabiliser fins out until the last minute making sure they were fully housed and locked before approaching the berth!! Back in the 1986 I did observe a Captain bringing his ship alongside in San Francisco with the fins still out! Fortunately it was an open dock with wood pilings and the ship came in sideways such that the fins were between the uprights – a lucky day!!
Anyway back to our own arrival and we were all fast alongside for 0800 with the early stages of twilight taking hold. By 0815 the ship was clear and the first of our tours to Santiago de Compostela was soon marching down the gangway, followed by the “The Way to Santiago”. There were 4 tours on offer which also included “Transfer to Santiago”, “La Coruna on Foot” and “Scenic Estuaries”.
I had a day of writing reports and completing my handover notes, as on our return to Southampton on 13th November I go on leave for 8 weeks, returning on the 7th January. My relief, Captain Horne, joined today and he will take command from Southampton, initially taking the ship into dry-dock in Bremerhaven for a 3 week overhaul and service. Apart from some cosmetic uplifts, and various engineering works, the ship will get her “bottom” scrubbed and re-painted.
At 1100 we observed a 2 minute silence as today is Armistice day, 11th November.
With All on Board set for 1700 we departed shortly afterwards and for a change for a change I thought I’d drive out myself, and especially as tonight we have our farewell cocktail party at 1830.
This will be my last Blog for a couple of months so I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy & Healthy New Year.