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5th October, 2021

Aspects of the Baltic

Our voyage began with a confetti departure from Dover and a water cannon escort… a nice start. We were headed eastward, bound for Skagerrak. A breezy, but pleasant first sea day. I have sailed the Baltic many times before, so I was confident that I knew where we were going. We swung on arrival, just outside the breakwater and backed in to position on our pier, making for an easier departure.

The following morning brought us to Gothenburg. We knew it was going to be windy, and our pilot advised us to expect gusts of up to 25 kts of westerly winds. If only! Just as we were making our final approach to the pier - stern in with a swing to starboard - gusts increased to 35-40 kts! We were being set to the pier with the bow thruster and pods counteracting the drift. We settled safely alongside, but this was an “earn your wages” arrival. I did ask the pilot what happened to the 25 kts gusts! We knew the day would be a challenge with gale force winds in the afternoon, and just before lunch the front arrived. Wind changed direction from SW to NW and we had to start our engines to keep our ship alongside as we were being blown off. That lasted for 4.5 hours, so we delayed departure until the winds started to die down, which was just in time for the sunset.

By the next morning we were in Copenhagen. After our windy experience in Gothenburg, I was not pleased to see 40+kts on our anemometer as I stepped onto the Bridge. We slowed down to pick up our pilot, and I was in no rush to proceed further until I got all the information from the pilot to enable me to build a full picture of the port approach and the conditions inside the port. Our pilot was very confident and knowledgeable, with a Plan B if required. Plan B was not required, as the information from the pilot was accurate. A less stressful arrival than in Gothenburg! We swung on arrival and came port side alongside. Staff Captain Denis was our designated driver upon departure from Copenhagen.

Our original plan included a route through the Drogden channel as on our previous Baltic cruises. However, with westerly winds of 20 kts and a swell of 0.7m, it would have been unwise, so I decided we should go the long way to Stockholm through the Belt. I mentioned this detour during my departure announcement, but that evening I was informed a guest had called Reception concerned that we were heading in the wrong direction (he had been following our route on the cabin TV navigational map). I called our keen-eyed guest to reassure him that we were in fact heading to Stockholm, albeit taking an unexpected route and explained why. I am pleased to say he felt much better after my call.

Arrival into Stockholm this time around was different to our previous call a few weeks ago. This time the Port Authority allowed us to use the Southern approach. A beautiful sunny day with very little wind and 4 hours of scenic cruising. After our arrival I went for, what I thought, would be a short stroll. The majority of guests were on the open decks and it took me nearly two hours to complete my walk from deck 14 down to deck 6, as I stopped for a number of pleasant chats. Seeing how guests were enjoying the sun I decided to do the same. The sun happened to be on the correct side for me to use my balcony for sunbathing for the first time! I had every intention of reading a book, but fell asleep in the pleasant sunshine for over an hour instead.

Our overnight stay brought with it an opportunity for our guests to party in the Britannia Lounge, as well as a food truck event arranged for the crew in front of the terminal. Our designated driver for departure from Stockholm was Kirill, our Safety Officer.

Our next port was Helsinki, the eastern-most port of this cruise, where Kirill and Julie (Cruise Director) disembarked. We were graced with Safety Officer Richard, who had just come back from his vacation, and Jake who took over the role of Cruise Director, his first time with Saga. Denis was once again the designated driver on departure.

For our arrival to Tallinn, we were asked to arrive 15 minutes earlier than planned, as we were not the only cruise ship in the port that day – they were expecting another ship to arrive at the pilot station at the same time. The Pilot asked whether 15 minutes between ships would be sufficient enough time for us to dock as we had to swing on arrival. To this I responded that our Spirit class is like a racing car. I maintained speed and approached the swing circle with a speed of 6 kts and swung her 180 degrees. The diameter of the turn was 140 meters and the rate of turn was 40+ degrees per minute. Those “15 minutes” between our arrivals became 40... not that we were counting.

Departure was in the hands of Safety Officer, Richard. We set sail west toward Rønne. The following sea day morning I received an unpleasant surprise from our agent in Rønne. The forecast was windy and pilots deemed the weather conditions to be unsafe for our call. We considered Kristiansand and Stavanger as alternative ports, but weather conditions were forecast to be even worse in both those ports. So, we were left with only one option – to sail directly for Oslo with an overnight in the port. We were greeted with a rainy sail-in. Our pilot, Lars, did a good job of getting us from the pilot station to the harbour. Denis then took over once we arrived at the harbour and docked the ship.

Due to the weather expected en-route to Tilbury, we decided to move our final formal night to coincide with the overnight in Oslo. The main show featured Peter Howarth (lead singer with The Hollies). The show took me right back to 1993 when I accompanied my family to Munich to visit my aunt and cousins. Both my sister and I got a ‘Walkman’ as a gift from our parents. My savings allowed me to buy 2 cassettes…one of which was “The Air That I Breathe – The Very Best of The Hollies”, which had just been released! I l would listen to the album, rewind, then listen again…over and over again. I’m not sure how that cassette tape still ‘lives’ to play another day in the attic of my parents’ house, along with all the others I collected before the more convenient MP3 was introduced.

Kind Regards

Captain Franko Papić

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.