Skip to navigation Skip to content
< Back to Saga Sapphire blog

29th June, 2017


Yesterday around lunchtime we had the most amazing close cruise-by of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides.

One of things I love about Saga Cruises is that they “trust” their Captains, and give us a level of autonomy that I never experienced with my previous 3 cruise lines. As such our Head Office is happy to support us when we look to surprise and delight our passengers. We were en-route from Reykjavik to Belfast, and I was looking to see if we could do this.

After scanning the electronic charts we established that St Kilda could indeed be an option for a cruise-by, and we would arrive around lunchtime on the sea day before Belfast. Working with the Navigator we “mapped” out our route to cruise down the east coast of St Kilda about 1 mile off. A full assessment was made and shared with Head Office.

St Kilda is an isolated archipelago situated 64 kilometers (40 mi) west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. It contains the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. As we approached the Islands the skies cleared and the wind dropped, so we had idyllic conditions for our cruise–by. Looking at these “rare” conditions for St Kilda I re-briefed the team and said we would go in closer and swing the ship through 360’ off the main bay of Hirta, the largest and highest Island in the group.

With an announcement through all areas, the decks were quickly swarming with guests. We slowed down to about 5 knots and then carried out a calculated “pirouette” off the bay much to the delight of everyone. For many this turned out to be a highlight of their cruise, as getting to or seeing St Kilda is rare. However, it reminded me that Saga Pearl II will actually be visiting St Kilda during her National Trust for Scotland charter in September.

With the cruise-by complete we resumed our S’ly heading towards Belfast.

Due to tidal restrictions we were asked to be at the pilot station for 0600. Charlotte, our 4th Officer, had the “Con” again this morning and kept the control right up to the harbour entrance when she handed it to me. The pilot was particularly helpful and gave us great support, despite us keeping the con throughout. We swung on arrival and then “backed down to the berth”. I prefer to approach the berth stern first to take best advantage of our bow thruster. We were all fast alongside with the gangway ready at 0730.

We had 5 tours today starting at 0815. We muster our tours guests on board in the comfort of the Britannia Lounge where they are entertained by Resty, our superb Assistant Cruise Director, before being escorted to the dockside. The main tours today were visiting the Giant’s Causeway, Titanic Exhibition and the City Tour.

Belfast (from the Irish Beal Feirste meaning “The sandy ford at the river mouth”) is the capital of Northern Ireland and the largest city. The city is flanked to the northwest by a series of hills, including Cave Hill, which is thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels. He imagined that it resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city.

Belfast was famous for its shipbuilding industry, and by 1912 when Titanic was built at Harland & Wolff it had the largest shipyard in the world.

With crew emergency drills that morning, and phone calls to Head Office, I got ashore around 1500 hrs and went directly to the Titanic Exhibition. Wow what a fantastic experience and one I would highly recommend. The few photos I took don’t really do it justice.

We sailed shortly after everyone was on board. Dan, our Safety Officer, executed the manoeuver in some strong winds off the berth. A good job was done and 1 hour later we had dropped our pilot and set a SSE’ly heading towards Liverpool.

Captain Julian Burgess

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.