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18th November, 2018

Funchal, Madeira

Seems a few days now since I last wrote a blog, it has been ‘one of those’ periods of busyness!

The Biscay crossing from Southampton, given the low pressure weather systems coming across the North Atlantic, was good - one could even say relatively calm on the south end before rounding Finisterre and steaming down the Portuguese coast. Thursday afternoon we were on the ‘catch-up’ with the Saga Pearl II on her way down to Lisbon. I have attached some photographs taken by each ship on our ‘close’ sail-by. It quite likely this may be the last time such an occurrence happens.

As we progressed down the Portuguese coast on Friday, the weather worsened and the swell grew, whilst a reasonably high swell, the length of the swell made for more of a comfortable slow roll; I was more focused on the storm brewing off Newfoundland and the forecasted swell that may bring. Yesterday morning we arrive into Funchal, but not without another weather event. A cold front, stretching from south of the Canaries reaching up to Norway, latitudinal-wise was march across the Atlantic. I could see from the surface analysis that this could be heavily rain laden with squalls possibly affecting our arrival.

At 0415, or thereabouts the front passed over, the wind whistled up to 55knts in no time at all and the rain, well the decks were awash with rain water as the ship scuppers [drainage system] struggled with the deluge. What a down pour! In preparedness, the night before we had adjusted the ‘manoeuvring’ time to allow for more thinking and situational assessment before making the approach to the harbour wall at Funchal.

One mile offshore, as we approached Funchal; the wind was still doing its ‘thing’ as a result of the passing cold-front: west, then east, south and north, anything from 20 knots to 35 knots – and no tugs available; this could be interesting... Funchal has its own ‘micro-climate’ at the best of times, but the wind yesterday morning on the approach was more varied than usual. The Pilot was not available until I was a beam of the breakwaters – then, at 0715, with the pilot on the bridge, I manoeuvred astern allowing for an ‘on-berth’ breeze, so keeping the ship up towards the shallows, it’s quite a tight port in anything other than a ‘sniff’ of wind. Approaching the berth slowly whilst I was waiting for the shore linesmen to be on station, they had been attending another cruise ship that entered just ahead of us, the wind flipped from north to south, thus pushing me off the pier; ah I love these minor challenging moments.

Alongside in good time and, behold the sun rose in relatively clear blue skies - between the warm sprinkling of passing precipitation it looked to be a good day. A great selection of Shore excursion offerings here in Madeira, I do love the island - I used to holiday here a lot many moons ago.

To the main business of the day - what to do about the impending heavy storm swell due to pass through overnight for our next passage to La Palma; it wasn’t looking pretty. After much deliberation, consulting with various Meteorological forecasters and sea-condition assessments from those reports I felt it prudent not to put to sea that night. By letting the storm-swell pass overnight, it would make the next passage south a little more comfortable. The down side was that by delaying departure would impact on the port rotation and it require me to drop one port, that being La Palma - not a popular decision, I suspected.

I made my first broadcast at 1400, updated at 1800 and then ’lettered’ all my Guests with a full explanation and reasoning. My walks around decks drew a few comments, but largely supportive of the decision to make life more comfortable! So, it was such a peaceful night on-board with the ship gently surging to the increasing ‘ground-swell’ creeping into the harbour overnight.

This morning I was up bright and breezy at 0530 to check on forecast, albeit, making a dash for Tenerife was my only option without dropping yet another port…. In fact, I awoke thinking how to get the ship out of Funchal, we were boxed-in by ships ahead, astern and one on the other side of the harbour and tugs were at 11 hours’ notice… Waiting for a tug would really mess things up!

Wandering along the quayside early morning, I notice the Chief Purser, Rebecca and Assistant Cruise Director, Maja going for an early morning walk, hmmmm, that’s healthy I thought, then I saw little Rico, one of my Quarter Masters, go running by, now that is healthy! I suspect Rebecca and Maja were just walking up to the local bread & coffee shop whilst Rico likes to keep fit.

As I was saying, I was on the quayside inspecting the fenders to see if I could spring the ship out as a departure manoeuvre later in the day, but the fenders were just not suitable for that kind of operation. So, what to do? I have known the Ships Agent in Funchal for at least 25 years, so an early Sunday morning a friendly “Hi Hugo, how are you” phone call to his home resulted in the local ‘tug’ being available at three hours’ notice. It’s who you know and not what you know!

What a glorious morning, blue skies and lovely sunshine, sunrise was fabulous. Many Guests took the opportunity to go ashore in the morning and were back in time for our 1300 departure. Julian, HD and Dirk, F&B, along with his team put on a fabulous Verandah deck lunch “Spanish Tapas & Sangria”, as a Sailaway event and I hear it was a marvellous event in such lovely conditions; I could not be there, I was driving, great shame, but good news for my waistline.

So, now were at full speed downhill to Tenerife, the weather is ok, the sea-swell is increasing, but hopefully my guests will find the rolling a comfortable caressing experience.

Captain Stuart Horne

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