We embarked the Stockholm pilot at 0730 yesterday and started our 55 nm passage through the Swedish Archipelago. Sunrise was at 0844, so it made for a tranquil and beautiful setting for my Passenger breakfast - particularly up in the Verandah, as we made our way into ‘town’.
We had secured a berth ‘in-town’ so that we could watch the NY firework celebrations. I parked portside alongside with the stern, Verandah and open decks facing the source of the Fireworks display. Passengers in the starboard side balcony cabins were very pleased!
Berthed at just after 1200, the first of the tours was going ashore- including me. I was off to the Vasa Museum. Unlike Oslo at Christmas, Stockholm was busy - a lot of people out and about getting geared up for the New Year celebrations.
There was a super line-up of entertainment for the evening, not to mention the gargantuan dinner, courtesy of George and his team, dressing the haggis and all that festive stuff. What a fabulous night. We had a great view of the Fireworks, and the atmosphere was absolutely fabulous.
This morning, the ‘morning after the night-before’, I met a lot of passengers just taking a morning 2018 stroll ashore - clear their heads and looking to the future.
At 11.00 we were ready to sail, and off to Bremerhaven, with a pleasurable afternoon sailing back out amongst the Swedish Archipelago. I'm told there are 24,000 islands, not that we sailed around all of them - well not today anyway!
After a fun-packed 3 days around from Stockholm to Bremerhaven we arrived off the Weser Pilot station at 0400 to be advised that Pilot service had been suspended. The sea was reasonably lumpy, but I was surprised that the Pilot boat wouldn’t come out - they are BIG pilot boats at the Weser!
After some discussion it was agreed to fly the Pilot out by helicopter. A great idea. We set to as a lot of shipboard preparation is required to execute this. Awnings down, decks secured, fire-party standing by. The Pilot was overhead just before 0500 and after a very effective ‘drop & go’, the Pilot was on the bridge and we were on our way in to Bremerhaven.
The challenge now was to get alongside soonest, as we were now running late, and fighting an uphill ebb tide to boot! I had Tours to get away. Fortunately the parking was ‘straight in’ and we able to use the tide to ‘drop’ the ship onto the berth. That is to say we used the power of the tide, with the ship angled across the stream, to push the ship on to the berth. All in all not bad. Shortly after 0900 our passengers were away on their shore-excursions.
I hosted my Farewell Cocktail party after a ‘rapid’ departure from Bremerhaven. It’s a good job my commute time, Bridge to Britannia Lounge, is a mere 3 minutes and 30 seconds!
So with the Pilot disembarked at 2130 we set course for Southampton, with a day at sea to enjoy tomorrow.
Happy New Year everyone, it's Captain Julian returning from his 8 week leave. Although the weather in the UK was not great, well at least compared to what I am used to, it was a very busy but enjoyable time in the UK. You see last Christmas and New Year I was aboard Saga Sapphire with my wife and 2 daughters sailing round the Mediterranean with the most amazing weather. Anyway time at home is always good, especially during the special festive period and with my daughters on holiday for part of it.
On Sunday 7th January I re-joined Saga Sapphire in Southampton and the first thing that caught my eye was the newly painted funnel and logo. I love the yellow funnel and for those who sailed on Saga Rose and Saga Ruby you will be very familiar with its look. When you return to a Saga ship you always get that special welcome and a feeling of returning to the “family”.
With a full handover from Captain Stuart Horne I took the “helm” once again on a windy and chilly January afternoon. After leaving our City Cruise terminal berth at 1700 we headed down Southampton Water and the Solent en route for the Canaries. As we cleared the Nab Tower pilot station on the east side of the Isle of Wight one got that sense of adventure that we were off to warmer climes. It was very satisfying to feel the ocean under the ship once again.
We are off on a 14 night Canary Island Constellations cruise with a real theme of Stargazing and Astronomy.
After a few days at sea with an excellent crossing of the Bay of Biscay, the 3-4 metre swell we experienced reminded me what a great Sea Ship Saga Sapphire is - cutting through the sea and swell like the fine cruiser she is.
I always enjoy arriving in Madeira as it’s such a spectacular setting, and this lunchtime was no exception. As we approached the pilot station at 1145 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.
We were alongside by 1215 and by 1245 our Guests were heading ashore to sample all the delights of this great port. With a 24 hour overnight call there was plenty of shore excursions for our Guests to sample. For those going ashore independently there was a also complimentary shuttle bus service which took passengers into the heart of Funchal. With this being a stargazing themed cruise there were 2 very popular tours during the evening!!
I was invited ashore for dinner by some guests I had previously sailed with – they have a lovely apartment overlooking the sea. The ship's doctor was also invited and we dined out on chateaubriand in a small restaurant called “Moby Dick” near their apartment block. A fun evening was had by all. We walked the 2 km back to the ship in the balmy evening breeze – it was all downhill which was a bonus.
An overnight in port is always well received and I particularly enjoyed waking up in the same location, just for a change!!
With everyone back on board by 1230 we slipped our moorings and moved the ship astern to clear the berth. Once clear of the port, and with the pilot away, we set a southerly course for our 0800 arrival into Santa Cruz, La Palma.
Having sailed off into a beautiful afternoon from Funchal we had a smooth run down to La Palma with plenty of stargazing from the ship. We turned off our fwd upper deck lights to improve the view which really helped. It was quite interesting the early morning before when I was walking round the top deck before sunrise to suddenly see a singular dark shape pop up in front of me – I don’t know who was more surprised!!
Back to the navigational side of things - we made our approach to La Palma from the north and soon discovered that a little cruise ship called the Ocean Majesty was on our previously assigned berth. Despite a few exchanges with the pilots it became clear she wasn't going to move!! Anyway after returning the blood pressure back to normal we slowed down to embark our pilot at 0700. We passed the breakwater approx 150 meters off before swinging and then backing up to our berth. For a change the wind was rather light which made for a “calm” arrival as we worked the ship in towards the dock. We were all fast alongside by 0730 and then it was straight down to see the Ship's Agent to “discuss” the change to our berth. He was very apologetic and said that to compensate the port had laid on a free shuttle bus - not normally provided in La Palma.
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. The shore excursions on offer today included Sabro Wine, Salt Flats & Volcanoes; La Hacienda & Silk Museum, Taburiente, and Stargazing at Night.
With a sailing time of 2230 Jo Boase, our Cruise Director, arranged for a local folk dance and singing group to entertain our guests. There was about 25 of them, all dressed in historical costumes and many playing traditional instruments. The Britannia Lounge was packed. At 2220 the group filed off down the gangway and twenty minutes later we slipped our lines and headed back out to sea. Once the pilot was away we set course for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
With sunrise at 0806 we had a more leisurely arrival into Gran Canaria after our late night sail from Santa Cruz, La Palma. Shortly after 0900 hrs we embarked our pilot. Staff Captain Tom conducted the manoeuver onto the berth, the main passenger pier at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. We were all fast by 1000 and guests were proceeding ashore soon afterwards.
I always enjoy Gran Canaria as everything is so convenient. There's a very short walk to the Tour buses, and those going ashore independently can easily stroll to the town centre or to the beach. The tours on offer today included “Essence of Gran Canaria”, “Puerto Mogan on Your Own Transfer”, and “ Island Discovery”.
With temperatures around 20’C it was a very pleasant day, even for those who are sun worshippers. There are of course a few passengers who just prefer to stay on board and be looked after by our attentive staff. In fact during a port day morning they usually have the ship to themselves.
Las Palmas, the capital of Island of Grand Canaria, was founded in 1478 and named for its abundant palms. The city was the headquarters for the Spanish conquest of Tenerife and La Palma, and was later a major supply port for ships bound for Spanish America. The oldest houses dating back to the 15th century can be found in the colonial quarter, along with the cathedral of Santa Ana and the house of Christopher Columbus. The Island is often considered the prettiest of the Canary Islands. It is almost a circular isle with the peak of Pozo de Las Nieves, its highest point, right at the centre.
With a busy morning over I headed to the Verandah for a sumptuous BBQ lunch. These are a regular feature on Saga Sapphire, and in fact when the weather is good they are just about every day!!
After a “big lunch” it was time to work off all those calories so I hopped on my bike and headed for the road!! There is a superb cycle route down the east coast of Gran Canaria which goes on for miles and miles. I have cycled 15 miles along it before and the path just disappeared into the distance. Today I managed 20 miles in total, the outward 10 were easy but it took twice as long to cycle back as I was straight into the wind!!
Departure was scheduled for 1930 and Tom our Staff Captain was once again given the opportunity to “drive”. This time we needed a tug to help us out. By 2030 we were clear of the harbour and heading south to stay in the Lee of Gran Canaria en-route to Tenerife.
After a comfortable passage in the 'lee' of Grand Canaria and the SE'ly shores of Tenerife, we shaped up for the Pilot, embarking him at 0645. It was going to be a busy day in port with our little sister Saga Pearl II, and the Queen Mary, in port with us. We took early doors and arrived first, of course!!
It was an interesting arrival as the pilot had originally been allocated to Saga Pearl II, also due in this morning, and told us we were docking at their berth which was too shallow for us!! After a quick chat and clarification that he was on the mighty Saga Sapphire, all was resolved and after swinging on arrival we were promptly alongside at 0730 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. Tenerife is a great destination for excursions. Whether doing one of the half day experiences or the longer tour up to Mount Teide, it's a great stop. We actually had 5 tours on offer that day so definitely something for everyone.
Saga Pearl II arrived very shortly after us, berthing directly astern and within easy walking distance. It was a wonderful opportunity for both Guests and Crew to visit each other’s ship, and even better sample the afternoon tea. Captain Kim Tanner came over from Pearl, along with the Chief Officer from the Queen Mary, and we had a most enjoyable lunch catching up and spinning a few yarns.
We had a slightly delayed departure due to the late arrival of our re-fueling barge and then just as we were ready to go two ferries arrived, and as they always have priority we waited patiently for them to depart. We got away at 1945, and once clear of the port headed for Vigo on the NW corner of Spain.
After leaving Tenerife on Monday and having 2 days at sea with some fairly lumpy seas we made our way towards Vigo. This was not on the original itinerary, however with the long Atlantic NW’ly swells this port offers some excellent protection from the weather with its sheltered natural harbour.
There are two entrances into Vigo and we took the Canal Del Sur or Southern entrance. The swell was running at 3-4 meters but with this great sea ship and our stabilizer fins we made a comfortable approach through the 1M wide southern entrance. It appeared as though the entire Vigo fishing fleet had come out to meet us. Once inside the bay the seas eased very quickly and just before the pilot embarked we were able to bring our stabilizer fins in. With the pilot on board at 0745 we then proceeded at slow speed towards our berth, passing the berth ½ m off and then conducted a large swing to stb’d before docking alongside at 0830. It was lovely to be alongside, and we were going to have an overnight in port.
Vigo is a city and municipality in the province of Pontevedra, in Galicia on the NW coast of Spain. Vigo is actually one of the largest and most important fishing ports in all of Europe, and is also a regular stop for cruise ships with tours to Santiago de Compostela, and Bayona. Vigo also has some interesting history as it was attacked by the English Admiral Sir Francis Drake in 1585 and 1589. In 1702 a British-Dutch fleet under Sir George Rooke and James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, destroyed a Franco-Spanish Fleet in the bay.
I had not been to Vigo for about 3 years so was delighted to catch up with a very good friend who is in charge of the port agency for Vigo, and the rest of Spain. When asked out for lunch I could not resist as I love Spanish food. With Empanadas, grilled Pulpo (Octopus), Pimientos de Padron (local small peppers shallow fried in oil and rock salt) and some beautiful monkfish I was totally spoilt. Of course we had a small glass of Spanish wine to wash it all down which was excellent as well.
With an overnight stay in port we had a special dinner with our “Diamond” club members who have sailed with us for more than a 1,000 nights – yes more than 1,000 nights. There were 14 on board so the restaurant team created a special table to accommodate a total of 18 of us. After the 3rd course of a 7 course menu I was beginning to regret having eaten so much for lunch!!! Fortunately the first 2 courses were more like tasters. A fantastic evening was had by all.
The following morning we slipped our lines quietly and gently manoeuvred off the dock to retrace part of our tracks out of Vigo harbour, and then exited via the North Channel en route for Southampton.