After departure from Bilbao, I was informed that the doctor was concerned about one of the passengers. While not an emergency, it was decided that a short stop in Vigo Bay would be the sensible option. Overnight the bridge team arranged for the local coastguard in Vigo to come out to the ship in a rescue boat and the passenger was taken ashore.
This diversion did not affect our ETA to Malaga and we resumed our voyage south down the coast of Portugal towards the Straits of Gibraltar. As we passed Lisbon the sea and swell started to rise and the ship started to move around a little more until we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar in the early hours of the 1st March.
During our arrival into Malaga the wind was gusting to 30 – 35 knots with heavy rain, and I took advantage of the local tug to assist us alongside at the Palmerol Berth near the city centre.
The rain carried on till around midday, but feedback from the passengers was that the tours were enjoyed despite the weather. The excursions included a visit to Picasso’s birthplace and to the Picasso Museum where 285 pieces of his work are displayed. There was also a walking tour through Ronda and visits to the Flamenco Museum, local wine cellars and one tour entitled Paella and Countryside.
At 1800 we set sail, this time for Barcelona. The forecast is for a following wind and seas, so our passage should be a comfortable one.
Arrival into Barcelona was uneventful this morning, and I swung the vessel so that departure would be easy tonight. It looked like it would be a pleasant day.
Barcelona fits into the premise of this cruise perfectly with its many artistic and architectural sites. The main artistic influence of Barcelona was undoubtedly Antoni Gaudi, with many buildings showing his influence.
There were a number of tours to the main sites, including Park Guell and Sagrada Familia – both on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. There was a new tour to the Gran Teatre del Liceu which was very well received by those who went. There was also a Simon Coll Chocolate Experience for those chocoholics amongst us!
Most of our guests were back onboard for Dinner, although it wasn’t until 2230 that we set sail for Palamos.
After a short sea passage overnight we arrived into the resort of Palamos and its small harbour full of yachts and fishing boats. It was warmer today and there was less wind.
Two of today’s tours focused on Salvador Dali, with visits to The World of Dali and Dali’s Castle. But there were also tours to the historic city of Girona, a scenic tour giving a glimpse of the Costa Brava, and a visit to the archaeological site of Empuries which was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC.
We sailed at 1930 for Sete, and tonight Staff Captain Franko took the ship out of port.
After a short sea passage overnight we arrived at Sete. The Pilot had already decided we should take 2 tugs to control the ship into the tight berth allocated to us. After discussing the situation with him, we agreed on the best manoeuvre and continued with our approach. Chief Officer Emmeline took the ship through the breakwater and aligned her nicely for the Captain to make the approach to the pier and dock. We made fast the tug aft to assist with approach. With good team work, and cooperation with the Pilot, docking was smooth, although we did all get wet.
The port of Sete is situated in the Bay of Lions, just south west of Montpellier. It’s a very nice town to take a walk in and enjoy a cup of coffee.
As we docked I recognised the familiar sign on the pier, bringing back memories of my previous visits to Sete. During the day the weather cleared, but the wind remained. Again, to be on the safe side, for departure we asked for the assistance of a tug. As we got everything ready, the rain came again. I did ask the pilot if he was arranging it on purpose, as he came on board with his full rain gear on, while the Captain and I had only our jackets!
I was hosting a table at dinner after departure, so had come dressed and prepared. By the time we left the pier, swung around to starboard and walked from the Bridge wing inside, I knew I would have to change again before meeting our guests - I was wet once again.
Staff Captain Franko Papić
There was another great selection of tours available today, going to nearby medieval towns and cities of Carcassonne, Aigues Mortes, Arles and Montpellier.
Also, there was a scenic drive around the Thau Lagoon with vermouth tasting for those wishing a less energetic day.
Italians are loud. So are Croatians. And Greeks. So it felt almost like home when I came to the Bridge early in the morning with all the chatter over the radio on the Bridge. It gets loud and busy on one channel. In Livorno, you have to listen to three. The port is always busy, as many ferries that connect Sardinia and Corsica depart from it.
Everybody likes to come here as it’s the closest port to take a tour to Florence. Beautiful scenery as you drive through the countryside which is lovely and pleasant. Unless you have a bus driver who mistakes the bus and local road for Imola race track and Ferrari! But no bus drivers like that for our passengers.
For us that decided to stay in Livorno, a shuttle bus drive to city centre was the option. Some guests wanted to go for a walk, but they were directed to take the bus as no walking is allowed in the port area.
I spoke with some guests before going ashore and acted as a quick tour guide as I have come to Livorno quite a lot. I recommended two taverns at the port gate with seafood specialties; fried and grilled calamari or pasta with vongole and mussels accompanied with focaccia bread and a glass of white wine.
My other recommendation was to go and have a walk around the Piazza della Repubblica and Cathedral of San Francesco and just sit down in one of many pizzerias. Which one to choose is always a challenge. My advice, go to one that has no English menu available. Usually no one speaks English either, though. However, rdering food and drinks is still easy. Pizza is Pizza. Beer is birra. Add prego as please and all you have to do now is wait.
If you doubt your Italian skills, use your hands. Italians all use hands when they talk, so blend in…. Be loud. It helps. For reference, google Hugh Grant and his movie Mickey Blue Eyes or Billy Crystal in Analyse This.
Staff Captain Franko Papić
The tours continued with their artistic theme with trips to Pizza, two trips to Florence including a guided walking tour of Renaissance Florence, a Walking Tour of Roman and Mediaeval Lucca and an Easy Taste of Tuscany with a scenic ride in a horse drawn carriage.
It was a very windy departure from Livorno with a storm brewing to the north of Corsica. Therefore, for the comfort of our guests, I made the decision to change the voyage plan to Palma and we would transit the Bonifacio Strait.
Due to the storm north of Corsica, I had made the decision to change the route on departure from Livorno, and sail through the narrow scenic Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia.
I had adjusted the speed through the night so that we arrived at the Straits during breakfast time to give as many passangers as possible the chance of seeing the white chalk cliffs at the southern end of Corsica. The Sun played its part, and even though a number of showers passed through as we made our passage, we were rewarded with a shaft of sunlight on the cliffs.
This passage gives an excellent view of the medieval old-town of Bonifacio, the oldest town in Corsica that has many tall houses along cobbled streets in a spectacular setting along the top of the cliffs of the white limestone peninsula.
Once we left the straits we were in calm seas for the rest of our passage to Palma.
After a comfortable and relaxing day at sea we sailed into Palma in a mist. It was virtually calm so there was nothing to blow the mist away. No tugs today and we swung around and berthed portside to the quay and the airbridge was connected on time.
Palma’s skyline is usually dominated by the Gothic Cathedral, but today it’s grandeur could only just be seen through the mist.
The main artistic tour of interest today was to Valldemossa, one of Majorca’s most picturesque villages and an inspiration to many creative artists.
There was a tour to the Caves of the Dragon, one of Majorca’s top attractions. There was also a journey on the narrow gauge train through 13 tunnels to Soller, a quaint little town set on a hillside which dates back to the middle ages.
During the day the mist cleared and we ended up with a fine, sunny day.
We departed on time to our last port of call for this cruise, Cadiz.
This morning we arrived at our last port of this cruise, Cadiz. Soon after our arrival some of our passengers set off on a visit to visit the historic city of Seville.
There was also a tour to watch some exhilarating Flamenco dancing. A number of our passengers even joined in, and all enjoyed the wine and Tapas.
I spent the day watching the weather forecasts as I wanted to avoid the worst of a storm off Portugal, but to get far enough ahead to avoid the next low coming in across the Bay of Biscay.
We left Cadiz on time and headed out into a rough head sea. The next day (12th) the wind had almost completely gone and as the swell slowly died away we increased speed to try and run ahead of the next low.
We entered the Bay of Biscay the next morning (13th) in relatively calm conditions, which was good for the Farewell Cocktail Party and formal Dinner.
By the morning of the 14th we had crossed “The Bay” avoiding the low and entered the western approaches. It was windy but as the wind was from behind us it was still comfortable. We then slowed down to arrive at Nab Tower to pick up the pilot at 0500 on the 15th.
May I say that it has been a real privilege to be the Master of Saga Sapphire for this cruise, but in Southampton I hand over the reins to Captain Stuart Horne.
Hello Blog Readers, it’s Captain Stuart Horne back on-board after my rather wintery leave! It’s always nice, for many reasons, to get back on-board. The welcoming faces of the marvellous crew and the friendly chats with Saga guests being notable goodies.
I opened my Welcome Cocktail party last night with the phrase “Nice to see you, to see you……” and our guests retorted with “Nice”. I didn’t know Saganauts were such avid Brucie fans!
After a rather lumpy ride down across the Bay of Biscay on Friday, the headlands of the North Western coast of Spain were a welcome sight. Embarking the Pilot at 0800 this morning - what a sensible time to arrive, we were alongside just after 0900, just a tad late.
The run in to El Ferrol port is entered via a narrow 5 mile-long navigation channel. Narrow but pretty spectacular, and the weather held out for us all to enjoy the vista.
After a forecasted short hail storm early in the stay, the afternoon cleared up beautifully. It was my first call here and, whilst not getting ashore, it was a really pleasant call which our guests seemed to really enjoy. The day tour to Santiago de Compostela was particularly well received.
With the Pilot on-board just before 1800, it was a simple manoeuvre off the berth before swinging the bow to the west and making our way out. Being a Saturday we attracted quite a crowd as we made our way through the narrow channel. The Pilot debarking inside the breakwater, we set a westerly course for some 90 nautical miles before rounding Cape Finisterre at just before midnight, then making for a southerly heading towards the Canary Islands.
Two enjoyable days at sea now - see you on Tuesday in Arrecife.