Thursday, 22 September 2011
SAGA PEARL II - Gallic Getaway
Friday 26th August 2011
This is the day I join my very first SAGA cruise – it’s pouring with rain, puddles are everywhere, and the views from the train are limited. On the platform at Dover Priory station however I am met by a man wearing a sky-blue blazer, who takes my small suitcase and escorts me to a coach outside the station. My name is taken by another member of staff, and I sit on the coach for 43 minutes waiting to be taken to the ship. If it hadn’t been raining so heavily, I would have left my case on the coach and walked to the cruise terminal, as I often do for ship visits arranged by the Ocean Liner Society. The coach gradually fills up with people who mostly look decidedly older than me, and we finally set off for Dover Cruise Terminal. The guide welcomes us to SAGA Cruises and my home for the next 4 nights: SAGA PEARL II.
Check in was fairly quick, and in my case enlivened by a telephone conversation with grandchild number 3, aged 2 and a quarter. Then I could board, and discover my inside single cabin 339, the last one astern on A Deck, starboard side. It was very spacious and comfortably furnished and I’m looking forward to my 4 nights on board. When we leave Dover we will head for Zeebrugge for the day, then Honfleur for a day, and finally St. Peter Port, Guernsey, for a day, before returning to Dover.
Tea was being served in the Discovery Lounge so I headed there, and met another couple of friends; our group is to be six, arriving from various parts of the south of England. We had to attend Lifeboat Drill next, and then there was time to explore some of the seven passenger decks before meeting at the Sundowner Bar aft for pre-dinner drinks.
The Card Room
We were fortunate enough to be allocated a permanent table for six in the Dining Room so we enjoyed our first meal together on board. The menu was good and the food and service excellent so we had a happy evening. We sailed from Dover at 9 p.m.
Saga Pearl II was built in 1981 in Hamburg, Germany, as HAMMONIA for Hadag Cruise Line at 18,853 tons. Her name then changed to ASTOR and in 1984 she was sold to Safmarine, to sail between Southampton and Cape Town. By one of life’s coincidences, last Monday I was with some friends (all of us ex-sea-going people) when one engineer produced an old brochure from Safmarine. My friend had been employed by them and given the brochure to tell him more about the company when he started. Inside was a double-page spread coloured picture of their ship ASTOR! I had to smile and tell him that I was going on her in 4 days time in her latest guise of SAGA PEARL II.
Her days as ASTOR lasted just a year, before she was sold on to an East German company and re-named ARKONA. She was then chartered out by Transocean Tours in 2001 as ASTORIA, arrested in Barcelona in 2008, and finally sold at auction to Saga Cruises management in mid-2009. Saga currently runs her as a cruise ship, but she is due to become their QUEST FOR ADVENTURE early in 2012.
Ships seen: Saga Pearl II, plus various ferries seen distantly through the rain, in Dover Harbour.
Saturday 27th August
We arrived in Zeebrugge, Belgium, at 8 a.m. and after a pleasant breakfast took the free shuttle bus, running every half hour, into the town of Blankenberge. It soon started to rain which became torrential so after a wet walk along the promenade we decided to take the shuttle bus back to the ship. It was a distance of at least 3 miles through docks and ISPS fencing so walking back was probably an impossibility; the coach drivers were on their lunch break so we chatted with the Cunard QUEEN ELIZABETH passengers who had arrived in port soon after us.
The rain had finally stopped so the wait became pleasant, and eventually our Saga-hired local coaches started running again. It was a little frustrating to see the numerous Cunard-hired coaches running such a frequent service. I think Saga perhaps expected most passengers to take their excursions.
Back on board we could enjoy an afternoon preparing for this evening’s highlights – at 6.15 all passengers were invited to the Captain’s Cocktail Party; at 7.15 pm the six of us had been invited to join a small party in Shackleton’s Bar, prior to having dinner at the Captain’s Table in the Restaurant.
The Restaurant on Gala Night
The Restaurant laid up for Gala Night
The SAGA PEARL II Master is Captain Wesley Dunlop and the group included two other guests (June and Stuart) and a member of the Cruise Staff (Rebecca Ward). That was a huge honour for us and it was an absolutely delightful time, with a delicious menu including a particular wine to accompany each course. Captain Dunlop had arranged for a group photograph to be taken and a copy was sent to each of us with his good wishes, which I thought was a very kind touch.
Ships seen: Pauline, Queen Elizabeth, Norstream, Melusine, Charlemagne
Sunday 28th August
We arrived in Honfleur, France, near the mouth of the River Seine, and had time to admire the seamanship involved in counteracting the swift tide and gusting wind to get us alongside the passenger ship quay near the town.
View aft in Honfleur
More ISPS fencing seems to be in place since my last visit, so the walk to town was on a different route, under a grey sky which threatened rain. I was glad to see the vast quantities of wood from Northern Europe at the premises behind the quay, as this is one of the products that helps the local economy.
View of Honfleur
The sun struggled through and so it was decided to do a harbour tour on a delightful little vessel called JOLIE FRANCE.
Where we bought the tickets
The Jolie France
Our every movement was watched...
We sailed through the harbour lock and out into the River towards the road-traffic-carrying Normandy Bridge and had wonderful views of this amazing piece of engineering, high above the water and surrounding countryside. An hour and three quarters later we returned to the harbour, well-satisfied with our views of the Bridge, SAGA PEARL II and distant views of the port of Le Havre.
A little local lunch called and was satisfied. We met up with our other friends and then further walking led to one of the town’s ice cream shops. Some had 3 scoops each, to sample the amazing choice of flavours, but I was happy with one of nougat. A slow stroll along the street and back meant that more ice-cream (but not for me) could be tried before heading back to the ship.
The new routine of afternoon tea, a swim in the indoor pool, pre-dinner drinks and an excellent dinner continued and ensured another enjoyable day.
Ships seen: Saga Pearl II, Jolie France, Jop, Maersk something invisible
Monday 29th August
This is a remarkable day for me as we are actually anchored off the port of St. Peter Port in Guernsey, Channel Islands. I’ve been here, or tried to be, several times over the years but weather conditions have usually stopped a visit. Today though the sun is shining brightly and there is no fog or anything to prevent a trip ashore in one of the ship’s tenders. HMS DARING is anchored nearby on a visit and it is interesting to see how our taxes have been spent in helping to guard our realm; I’m full of admiration for all our Armed Services. The strong sun was directly into my camera when I tried to photograph DARING, so I gave up.
My favourite deck
The smell of local cheese and other produce lured us along the quayside after we left the little tender, and we walked to see the sights of this hillside port and town. Castle Cornet was out on a promontory and provided another interesting goal for views of the ship and surrounding harbour. Whilst we were there we could see the fast ferry CONDOR VITESSE coming into port.
Condor Vitesse in port
The fine weather continued during a pub lunch, and the eventual return to the tender and the ship; an enjoyable day continued with the on-board routine of watching us sail. This time however we had been invited onto the Ship’s Bridge by Captain Dunlop – what a wonderful treat. We were greeted with Champagne and canapés and made most welcome.
The Captain on the Bridge
The Pilot was there to take us safely out of the port and between the islands on our heading for Dover. I asked to see the charts and yes, they still have them in the chart room drawers.
The flags were up in the little flag loft and when I asked about sextants, I was told that they were indeed available for use even though the ship carried all the necessary up-to-date electronic equipment. Good-oh, glad to know the Deck officers still know how to use one.
After the Bridge visit we sat in the sun and enjoyed being at sea on such a glorious day, with clear blue sky overhead.
Sailing by (but not on Radio 4)
Soon it was time to prepare for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party for all passengers, and then dinner, so another day on the ship came to a happy end.
Ships seen: HMS Daring, Condor Vitesse, Pilot Boat, Ambulance Boat (not in use), Herm Trident VI, Spirit of Guernsey lifeboat
Tuesday 30th August
Next morning and back in Dover, the cloud cover was still low and it was almost raining.
Pride of Kent
Spirit of Britain
Ships seen: Pride of Kent, Delft Seaways, Spirit of Britain, Seafrance Rodin, DHB Doughty
Early breakfast was cheerful and we all waited for our departure groups to be called. Three of us were to travel by train from Dover so we were off the ship by 9.10 a.m., collected our luggage in the terminal building and were soon on board a coach to the station. Three hours later I was home again, after my interesting time on SAGA PEARL II.
I’d been told that on the other Saga ships there was usually one lounge for afternoon tea or parties, and another one for shows and evening entertainment – that was not the case with this ship, and presumably why she is to be transferred to a new role within the company. I enjoyed my 4 nights on board a Saga ship, especially as I was with good friends, but I thought it was expensive for an inside single cabin. The ships and itineraries are certainly attractive and the food and service are excellent. Maybe I’m not ready for this style of cruising, or want all the facilities and excursions on offer, but I would certainly recommend it for those who do.