After sailing late from Southampton, due to the high winds, we finally dropped the Southampton Pilot on the Wednesday at 0200 in the morning. I was aware of the storms coming in across the Atlantic and had set up a passage plan that would, so far as possible, keep the ship movement down to the minimum on the crossing of the Biscay.
However, it was clear by the late evening hours of that Wednesday that conditions were far worse than forecasted. I was up on the bridge most of the night as we adjusted speeds and courses to keep the ship as comfortable as possible. At one point on the Thursday, still only in the northern part of the Biscay, I was down to 5knots, a term called ‘hove-too’ or ‘minimum for steerage’. The attached photograph depicts the conditions. On the morning of the 30th, the Friday, conditions were improving, and I was steaming almost westward along the northern coast of Spain, I had come all the way down the Biscay, well east of the intended track. In the afternoon, it was a different day, full speed south off the coast of Portugal, a few fully clouds and blue skies!
The first port had been planned to be Almeria, but I was over a day late, having lost so much time in the Biscay. Whilst a Mystery cruise, there were certain dates and ports of call I needed to protect, firstly because we had arranged some marquee events and secondly we were due to have Her Royal Highness, Princess Michael of Kent, on-board.
On the 1st December we had a ‘plan’ and the first port was to be Cartagena on the following day. You can imagine the effort required to arrange a port of call for a Sunday, on the Saturday. Shore excursions, coaches, port authorities et al.
For a bit of fun, that evening, passing through the Gibraltar Straits, I crossed the traffic lanes and entered the Bay at sunset giving the illusion of berthing at Gibraltar, lovely jubbly, that teased so many! A dusk-time spectacle as we sailed around Europa point and had close in views of the ‘Rock’.
So here we are, Cartagena; embarking the Pilot at 0930 this morning , with the sun-up, what a glorious day. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, but I do believe my seasoned-sea-leg guests were glad to step ashore after a long wobbly sea-passage. We were berthed at 1030 and the excursion was off after lunch. One excursion for all the Guests is quite a logistical challenge, over 500 guests at venue and ‘500’ can’t fit down the gangway at once!
It was late night sailing and we had a sumptuous feast “ Alfresco under the Stars” on the veranda deck aft with local entertainment. That was well received, but the tour, some ‘improvement’ observations shall we say, were received - mind you, with so many roads closed in town for a local event, was a little beyond my control.
Leaving the berth at 2200, the pilot was off by 2245 and we set course for, who knows where!
After departure from Cartagena, we struck out eastward across the Balearic Sea, south of Ibiza, Mallorca and then Menorca.
The sea day was a delight yesterday, so a change from a few days ago.
This morning we closed on the south end of Sardinia and raised the lights of Chia, a town on the southern point of the island, at 0600. Altering course to a NE’ly heading, we transited the Bay of Cagliari.
The entrance to Cagliari is a challenge, hard right followed by a hard left to get around the southern and then the northern breakwaters. Where’s the Stig when you need him!
The pilot always embarks late here and, indeed, true to form, we were almost passing the first breakwater as we met the pilot.
My preference was to be ‘stern-in’ today and with Matt, the Safety Officer driving, we swung nicely inside the harbour; before backing down towards the pier. The ship was alongside for 0800, as scheduled and ready for the ‘big’ tour. This is my first Mystery cruise, and what a challenge it is - particularly keeping communications limited and putting in various miss-leading bits of information and managing to keep the ‘secret’!
Here we are then in the second, non-scheduled port of call of the cruise, one after the other, fortunately it’s all a Mystery! But what a testimony to short-notice organisational skills of the ships team and what a team I have. The key drivers of delivering the services and bring together ideas; we met daily and sometimes twice a day to ensure we were getting it as right as we could.
Cagliari is a lovely old town; the port is a bit industrial, but it is clear the authorities are intent on improving services to attract more cruise business. The weather, although with a brisk wind, was reasonable all day. It does make you think, why do I live I the UK in the winter? Cartagena was 24 degrees in the shade and Cagliari 22 degrees, in December? Something to ponder further, I feel.
A good day for all, so feedback came. Sailing at 1800, my ‘new’ Safety Officer, Alen, took the ship out, his first-time ‘driving’ the Saga Sapphire. Once clear of the breakwaters, the pilot disembarked and we set course across the Tryrrhenian Sea towards, what had intended to be a magic moment.
Just back on-board, having been to a fantastic event ashore. More of that later.
Sailing from Cagliari on Tuesday, we closed onto the Western tip of Sicily at ten o’clock yesterday morning. From there we coastal-cruised along the islands southern shore until just aft 13.00, when we peeled off to head for Malta. The cruising was lovely, lots to see, but, so funny that I could not tell my guests where we were or what we were doing. It’s a Mystery…right! Enjoyed more for the beautiful day, calm seas and blue skies.
It was a formal night last night, by design, with the intention to slip away from Dinner for me to drive the ship into Valetta; without the Guests being aware. So, I slipped away from my table, after a pre-arranged ‘bleep’, and up to the bridge for 2045. Whilst the Guests finished their dinner and went to the Britannia Lounge show ‘especially’ early, as other mysteries were afoot. During the show I slipped the Saga Sapphire into the Grand Harbour, whilst the Syd Lawrence Orchestra set up on the Veranda deck aft.
The show finished just as we completed our ‘swing’ in the harbour and slowly went astern into the berth. Michelle, our Cruise Director from the Emerald Isle, broadcast for all Guests to proceed up to the Veranda where a deck party awaited. Backing down towards our berth, right in the centre of town, with a live-open phone line from the Bridge to the Firework organiser ashore, the Firework display launched at the perfect time and just meters from the ships stern. What a show, a perfect warm evening, SLO playing away and the fireworks, by Jove it was loud.
To top it all, we “poor” workers on the Bridge were treated by Dirk, the F&B manager, who had organised some posh ‘steak-sandwiches’ for the Bridge team. Very nice. The picture is of me ‘parking’ amongst all the noise. Fab evening last night.
This evening, after another day of great shore excursions; we had a Royal event! Her Royal Highness, Princess Michael joined the ship for a dinner ashore in the Sacra Infermeria; a 450 year old Hospital steeped in history. What a venue. All the Guests came ashore in coaches, a huge logistical exercise, but what a venue. The photo does not do it justice really.
We were all there for 1900hrs and carriages were called at 2200hrs. Actually, by the time we poured out, it was nearer 2300hrs, what an evening. Something to remember, that’s for sure.
After sailing from Malta yesterday afternoon, we set course, almost retracing our steps back towards the western point of Sicily. The initial sea-conditions were good, perhaps moderate, but by 2000hrs the swell had increased considerably and it was necessary to put out a ‘take-care’ message whilst my guests dined in the serenity of the various restaurants.
At 0400 this morning we were heading East along the North shore of Sicily – passing a port named Trapani, an old haunt of mine; and lovely spot. The weather had freshened considerably and by the time I rounded Mondello, the north shore of Palermo Bay, I was starting to doubt the ability to get the ship into Palermo. It’s a narrow, small port to the West and exposed for Westerlies. Guess what? Yep, we had Westerlies!
Staff Captain was driving this morning and we agreed to hold off outside the port, to properly assess the condition. Even with a tug, it was a tight manoeuvre. Assessing options, I felt that a swing and stern-in manoeuvre could be achieved. As Tom, Staff Captain, approached the breakwaters, divine intervention changed the conditions. Still brisk, but somewhat more manageable conditions prevailed as we entered the ‘swinging’ basin. Berthed at 1030, and would you believe it, the wind dropped, the clouds broke and a hot sun shone through, all in 30 minutes!
The first tour was away promptly. The tour today was a rather special Saga-bespoke event.
After being ‘chained’ to my desk all day, it was time for sailing. The Tours were back and the feedback was really positive. Lifting off the berth at 1800, the Safety Officer, Alen, manoeuvred out of the port; pilot was away by 1830, we set course westwards, back along the north shore of Sicily. The forecast was for a brisk Force 7, however once clear of Marsala, on the west coast of Scilly, the seas were steep, 50knots of wind and the ship started to move about; at least sufficiently for me to do a broadcast to my Guests about taking care moving about the ship.
En-route for La Goulettte, I was having severe doubts about getting the ship into the port, or if I did get in, if we would get out. La Goulettte is not a good port to be weather-bound!
Another early morning tomorrow, so for now, night night….