It was good to get out of dry-dock and get this lady of the seas earning her living once again.
After an on-time departure from Bremerhaven dry-dock we stretched her legs and whistled down to Southampton in no time. I thought I was driving my Jag XKR-S.
Arriving in Southampton late evening on the 2nd, the ship's fabulous staff had time to switch off for a few hours before 'fine-fettling' Saga Sapphire ready for Embarkation the next day.
Slipping our moorings a little later than planned we were off on our Continental Christmas Market jaunt around the southern North Sea. Dropping the Pilot off at 2115 at the Nab we set course for, yes, for Bremerhaven.
It was a comfortable day at sea yesterday and a good opportunity for me to meet our Guests, many of whom are first time with Saga Cruises.
We reached the Pilot on time at 0430 this morning and then proceeded upstream on the Weser to our berth at Bremerhaven. Full moon was a day away and we had 150% spring tides meaning we were fighting an ebb stream of over 4 knots, not helpful.
Approaching our berth at 0730 it seemed we had never been away! The air-bridge secured at 0800, the first tour was ashore by 0815. This first tour was going to the Meyer Werft shipbuilding yard, as this is where our new ship, Spirit of Discovery is being built.
Seemingly a good day was had by all. We were away late, firstly because of late returning tours [road congestion] and then by traffic on the river. There's traffic and there's traffic! Staff Captain Tom was driving out this evening. Requiring the services of two tugs to drag us off the berth in very brisk conditions, he swung the ship into the stream and then we proceeded back outwards to the North Sea.
The weather was getting up so the Pilot decided to debark by helicopter. A slick operation and safer than trying to use the Pilot boat service.
With the Pilot away at 2300, we were on passage to Ijmuiden in rather windy conditions. It was prudent to close the open decks, as I was expecting a total wind speed of over 60 knots overnight. But this lady of the seas just drives through.
It was a breezy night and with our late sail from Bremerhaven we were pushing Saga Sapphire as much as we could, given the conditions. The Pilot was due at 1130 for a 1300 berthing and I was only 20 minutes late. Not bad considering the conditions.
With the Pilot embarked we discussed the manoeuvre plan - I was only ever going to go in stern first. Why? Firstly it's easier to control the stern in the wind, and secondly I needed a get out plan. The weather was set to deteriorate during the afternoon and I wanted to make my evening easier, not more difficult!
The Pilot understood my point of view but did not quite understand the sailing on the wind bit. Having swung in the reasonably tight navigable water I placed the ship beam-on to the wind. That is to say, the ship's side became a large sail. Sailing sideways in a controlled manner down the harbour, at the right time I pushed the engines astern and slipped neatly into the narrow cut of the berth.
The tours were off promptly, at the most only a few minutes late and I sighed a sound of relief. When I spoke with guests later the tours seemed to have been very well received, with no comments from anyone about the weather.
We had a large amount of fuel to take in Ijmuiden so our stay was extended to facilitate that. The speed to Zeebrugge from Ijmuiden was high but my navigator, Chief Officer Richard, found me some value miles to save.
Slipping our lines Staff Captain Tom took us to sea in, yet again, rather brisk conditions. As soon as the Pilot was off I was away down to the Pole to Pole. I enjoy hosting [my waistline however does not!]. Saga Guests are so easy to engage with, so many interesting life-stories. You can see why on a Saga Cruise you make friends for life, not just for the holiday...
A benefit of Zeebrugge is the harbour area is wide and open, navigation wise, so plenty of room to manoeuver.
I embarked the pilot off the breakwaters, and had taken the option to take two tugs as it was far too windy to get Saga Sapphire's stern through the brisk 45 knots. I dropped the stern toward the berth at a fair rate and then used the wind to allow the ship to fall onto the berth - using the tugs as my brakes.
All done just 10 minutes later than planned, despite our later departure from Ijmuiden last night.
Our guests enjoyed their shore excursions, nearly everyone took up the opportunity, but it was not a great day weatherwise. Some guests came back a little like the proverbial drowned rats, but happy in their wetness!
All on-board and we were off to Southampton, clearing the berth at just before 1800 and dropping the pilot at 1900. Meanwhile I was on the run again, down to the Britannia Lounge for the final event of the cruise.
We had a lot of first time with Saga cruisers on-board for this cruise. I do hope they enjoyed their time with us as much as we enjoyed their company, and we look forward to seeing them back on-board again soon.
A good day was had yesterday in Madeira and getting into port early was well received by my passengers. It was even moderately warm, in fact positively balmy compared to the ice-age in the UK. Sailing as scheduled Matt, my Safety Officer, drove out. Nice job, particularly as it was his first 'drive' of Saga Sapphire.
It was a fast passage south to La Palma and that irritating swell was still evident. There was just enough 'tiger in the tank' to adjust to a course taking us West of La Palma for long enough to give a comfortable evening.
La Palma was a half day call, but given the weather and exposed nature of the port and the current wind direction and strength, I needed some 'thinking' time - and so I arrived one hour early at the Pilot station. Having embarked the Pilot, and discussing the options available, an approach was made and the ship backed into the port with a Tug on stand-by. We were all tied up for 1130, as with many things - quality over quantity.
The day was fresh, but out of the wind the temperatures rose to 22 degrees and it all felt rather pleasant indeed. Although a half day, it's a great port of call and the shore excursions on offer were very popular.
All our guests were on-board in good time for dinner, however I delayed departure to ensure all were seated in the dining rooms before we launched into the open sea.
Leaving at 2000, the pilot being on-board for all of 3 minutes, we set out on the revised 'south of Tenerife' track. The original tack, and shortest, was north-about, but would take the ship beam-on to the sea and make it quite uncomfortable. The revised passage took the ship between La Gomera and Tenerife, around the south-west to 'hide' from the swell...