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23rd July, 2017


Turku was a fabulous call this weekend, and we had orchestrated a bit of a surprise for Saga Sapphire’s enthusiastic Guests.

Arrangements for both days were superb and gave as many Guests as possible the opportunity to participate, to get in the mix, of the Tall Ships event. The actual race would start on 24th July from Turku down to Klaipeda, but the ships were amassing from the week before in Turku, hence this ‘Tall Ships in the Baltic' cruise.

Our skulduggery started a few days before as we began to source information to give us the best 'participation' opportunity. Accepting, of course, that Saga Sapphire is not strictly a 'Tall Ship'! Many of our Guests were asking, "will we see the Tall Ships under sail?”. As we would be berthed for both days that wasn’t going happen - the Tall Ships undertake a Parade of Sail out at sea, not in the confined waters of the Finnish Archipelago!

Drawing together key-players from the shipboard team, including Amanda Butcher our Maritime & Aviation Guest Speaker, we hatched our plan. I do like a challenge!

With our Finnish Pilot and the Harbour Master on side, and using my spies on the Royalist [one of the participating ‘Tall Ships’] the cunning plan started to come together. During each broadcast over three or four days I drip-fed the possibilities, one could feel the excitement build.....

Getting clearance to sail early, we backed the ship up to the main channel and slowly swung the bow to port. The plan was to wait in the swinging circle until we could see the first tall ship coming close astern. We had been advised which frequency to listen in on, so could hear the Harbour Master’s office giving the Tall Ships permission to sail.

I invited the Guard ship, a Finnish Minesweeper, to come past whilst we continued our 'departure manoeuvre'. The Minesweeper crept past and the first Tall Ship, a Romanian, crept around out of the river and into the main fairway - with the Yards fully manned it was a breath-taking sight. The benefit of having a friendly local Pilot onboard was paying off.

After an hour or so slow steaming we had gotten to the point where the Parade of Sail was due to start - the horizon was a mass of small craft and spectators. Talking of spectators, as we proceeded out of Turku and through the Archipelago the banks were lined with spectators. The outlying fields were filled with vehicles as farmland became ad-hoc car parks.

So there we were, at the point at which we planned to sit to the side of the main navigation channel to watch the Tall Ships parade past, and not a square inch of free sea room! Sounding the ship’s 'influencing' whistle, and gaining the support of the Guard vessel to clear a path, sea room was found.

Having to reposition several times to keep the Portside of the ship aligned with the channel - maximising viewing, the Tall Ships came past. There were 97 participants from large to small. With the champagne flowing on the aft deck, and Amanda Butcher sharing her well-honed knowledge, it was a fabulous day.

As a real plus, once the Tall Ships were aware we, Saga Sapphire, had positioned ourselves to watch them, one by one the big square-riggers saluted. The Royalist even broke ranks and sailed alongside Saga Sapphire, saluting Saga Sapphire’s passengers before her 'cadets' entertained us with a dance routine. In return, we saluted them with a caps-off 'hoorah'.

Time was ticking, now 1800, we needed to get going for Ventspils, our next port of call in Latvia. Our passage out through the Archipelago was the same route as that of the Tall Ships, thus we spent the early evening navigating past them, continuing the spectacle.

What a day, what a day we had. As one passenger remarked, a 'once in a life time experience', and so it was.

Continuing to the south we cleared the Finnish Archipelago at 2230 and debarked our Finnish Pilot.

Captain Stuart Horne

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.