Saga Sapphire 2012
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The recently refurbished Saga Sapphire departing Dover
Itinerary Show Map
= ports at anchor
Friday 24th August-Dover, UK
Saturday-at sea
Sunday-Dublin, Ireland
Monday-Cobh, Ireland
Tuesday-St Peter Port, Guernsey
29th August
-Dover, UK

See the full Ship Report at the Saga Sapphire Gallery >>

This was an opportunity, not only for me to return to Saga after 6 years but also to sample the latest addition to the fleet, making her debut in March this year. Moreover, this short trip would visit Dublin, for the last day of the annual Tall Ships' Races, involving sailing ships from around the world.
(right) The Mexican sail-training ship "Cuauhtemoc" during the River Mersey Parade of Sail in 2008
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The photos of Saga Sapphire, the Tall Ships & ports visited on this cruise can be found on my account at Captain Martini >>

Show Picture Full Size Friday 24th August
To Dover & Saga Sapphire
In addition to travel insurance, the Saga price includes a shared car-hire service, so my journey was shared with 2 ladies from Welwyn. The driver wasn't perfect but at least he got us there on time and in one piece! With just 700 passengers, boarding was swift and my first impression of the ship was plush and spacious.
(left) The spacious new 3-deck high Atrium of Saga Sapphire

My cabin (P-grade Standard Cabin no.4566)
However, my single cabin on Deck 4 proved a bit rudimentary and disappointing, with an old-fashioned wardrobe in the corner and carpet & linens that were clearly some years old.

There was a nice new shower in the small bathroom but the sink was tiny and the metal cabinet was probably an original. I later discovered that the cabin air-conditioning controls didn't work, thanks to an unhappy ship's refit in Sicily 4 months ago!
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Show Picture Full Size Boat Drill - and our first "Code Alpha"!
In a fine example of poor planning, Boat Drill had already begun when it was delayed for 20 minutes because 40 passengers still hadn't boarded the ship! This news did not go down well but when the drill finally commenced, one elderly lady arrived, wearing her life-jacket and clearly in distress, demanding "Get it off me!"
The Attendant did so but moments later, she fainted in our midst, collapsing in a heap and banging her head on the deck in the process. What a commotion! The poor woman was wearing glasses and the sight of blood caused a "Code Alpha!" to be announced over the PA system and she was soon surrounded by staff; even the Captain came down off the Bridge to investigate, as she was brought round. Taken away in a wheel-chair by the Nurse & Doctor, she was seen later with a plaster over her nose!

One of the few advantages of being on a low deck was that my luggage arrived quickly, so at least the unpacking was soon done, after which, exploring a much smaller ship than I've been used to of late didn't take long either and I soon found my "Lounge of Choice" up on Deck 11!

The Drawing Room (Deck 11)
Tastefully redecorated and furnished with a range of comfy chairs and sofas, this Observation Lounge incorporates the ship's small Library, a Bar, the Card Room and a small Internet Centre. There's some really interesting and unusual art here and it even has a section whimsically called "The Pantry" for pastries in the morning, cakes in the afternoon and all-day tea & coffee facilities.

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The Drawing Room (Deck 11)
A comfortable all-day lounge, library & card-room
Carved tree-root
Dragon Wall-Sculpture
The Pantry

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The main restaurant has also been refurbished well, with scenes from around the World characterising each section. The layout is pleasantly uncrowded and service is brisk, if a little impersonal, because while there are a few fixed seating tables available, meals are generally in one "Open Seating", so unless you are with friends, you take "pot luck" with who your table companions will be.

Compared with 6 years ago aboard Saga Rose, the Menu had fewer choices but no-one seems to have noticed, as most of the "old favourites" are still in evidence. Tonight I settled for Shrimps, Pumpkin Soup and the Rib-eye Steak, which was actually pretty good! Welcome Dinner Menu >> French Dinner Menu >>
(right) Part of the Pole to Pole Restaurant, here set for the self-service Continental Breakfast Buffet
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The Britannia Lounge (Deck 8)
The main lounge is the traditional heart of the ship and it has been refurbished in the same soft tones as the Drawing Room, with a variety of comfortable chairs, cushions and practical tables.
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Traditional "Afternoon Tea" takes place here and, as there is no Show Lounge on the ship, it's also the setting for the evening entertainment, with a large stage and dance-floor. Cabaret shows are geared to a largely British audience but when the room is full, sight-lines are not ideal and the whole atmosphere is reminiscent of days long gone. Indeed, the production shows I saw were the same old "Singers & Feathers" routines I recall from over 25 years ago aboard Vistafjord!

Show Picture Full Size Deadlights, Blue Lights & Engineers!
With heavy seas promised, the deadlights were locked over my portholes for the night but it was freezing cold and when they sent an engineer at 11.30pm, I learned that the air-conditioning controls didn't work, thanks to the Italian refit; but there was still a piercingly blue glow all over the cabin from the ineffective control-panel!

Saturday 25th August
Crossing the Irish Sea
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I awoke early but couldn't see a thing because of the deadlights; the sea wasn't rough but the decks were still closed because of strong winds and the ship was pitching slightly. Unused to the motion of a smaller ship, I was wearing my wrist-bands but was still obliged to retreat from my position in the Drawing Room to a midships spot Poolside in the sun, which thankfully lasted into the afternoon.

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Promenade Deck
No water in the pool!
The Beach Club
No beach either but....
Fish & Chips!
In the "local" newspaper!

The Beach Club (see photos above)
The Poolside Grille has been refurbished by Saga with kiosks offering free "seaside-style" sweets and ice-cream on a "help-yourself" basis and in addition to the usual fayre of burgers and hot-dogs, the Deck Stewards do a brisk line in Fish & Chips, freshly prepared and served in the local newspaper "The Sapphire Times". It was popular and really good!

Show Picture Full Size By contrast, tonight's Welcome Cocktail Party was held 30 minutes before Dinner and service was so patchy that while I managed to get one drink, I missed my only chance of a canape! Captain Alistair McLundie's rather brief speech then left me thinking that public speaking was not his forte!
(left) The Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party was held in the Britannia Lounge

As so many people then wanted to eat at the same time, Formal Dinner itself was hectic and something of a mixed bag; I had Bouillabaise (which tasted of pilchards), Avocado Salad (with very little avocado) and Loster (which was served on crushed mash for a change and actually very nice) but the Mint Chocolate Souffle was soggy and didn't taste of mint! Tonight's Welcome Dinner Menu >>

Sunday 26th August
Dublin, Ireland
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Arriving at 6.00am, almost in the heart of the city, we were greeted by the sight of the Tall Ships moored along the River Liffey and the highly distinctive Samuel Beckett Bridge see better photo >> designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2009, while south of the river was the Aviva Stadium, opened in 2010 and seating 51,700 spectators.

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Dublin's River Liffey
The Tall Ships & the
Samuel Beckett Bridge
The Aviva Stadium
(2010) Seats 51,700 people
Aida Aura (2003 - 42,289grt)
The Germans get the best viewing-spot in the dock!

However, the best spot in the dock (for viewing the Tall Ships Parade later) was taken-up by the German ship Aida Aura, which came in behind us. How do they always seem to manage to do that?!

Show Picture Full Size The Tall Ships
Rather than queuing for the first shuttle-bus at 9.30, a few passengers (me included) took the 30 minute walk into town to enjoy the Waterfront before the real crowds arrived later. The weather was glorious.
(left) Smaller boats along North Wall Quay and the Tall Ships moored along Sir John Rogerson's Quay

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Danish Fully Rigged Ship
Danmark (1932)
German Youth Sail-Training Ship
Alexander von Humboldt II
British Sail-Training Ship
Stavros S Niarchos
Italian Navy Fully Rigged Ship
Amerigo Vespucci

I had last seen the Tall Ships in Liverpool in 2008 and the number of ships participating this year seemed lower but amidst street theatre, musical events and food stalls along the quays, they were still attracting the crowds. Having concluded the last of the annual "Tall Ships Races" in Dublin on Friday, the ships were now preparing to depart at mid-day, for their traditional "Parade of Sail", so I found myself a good viewing spot to take photos as they left.

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Mexican Navy Training Ship
Passing the East Link Bridge
The Ecuadoran Navy Sail-Training Ship "Guayas"
Putting on a display as she departs Dublin
Alexander von Humboldt II
departs Dublin

Unfortunately, the ships didn't put up their sails until they were further out to sea, so many people watching were disappointed but the crews of some of the bigger ships did put on some pretty impressive displays from their high rigging as they passed out of the harbour.

The full collection of photos of The Tall Ships in Dublin can be seen on my account here at Captain Martini >>

Returning to the ship on the free shuttle-bus, I had lunch in the Verandah Grill where you help yourself to a buffet of starters and the waiters serve you a main course from the limited selection of the day. My morning's exercise had given me an appetite, so I had Prawn Skewers with Fennel, which was really good but then, tempted by the Apple Crumble, I then fell asleep on deck for the afternoon until our departure at 5.30 was delayed while we waited for the Germans to leave first!

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The Verandah Grill Aida Aura
Keeping us waiting!
French Dinner More bad weather, so...
Deadlights on Again!

Tonight's French Dinner was by far the best so far, with all my favourites; Snails, French Onion Soup and Coq au Vin followed by Pavlova! I also had an interesting and chatty table, which made it all the more enjoyable. However, with a Force 8 gale promised, the port-hole deadlights (which had only been opened this morning in port) were back on again when I turned in for the night!

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Monday 27th August
Cobh (Queenstown), Ireland
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On an island in the harbour that eventually leads inland to Cork, Cobh was the major embarkation-point for millions of emigrants to North America and from 1850 to 1922, it was known as Queenstown, after Queen Victoria.

The worst of the weather was in the early hours, when the gale reached Force 10 (apparently) but I couldn't see a thing because of the deadlights again! Amazingly though, we arrived on time but as it was still grey and miserable outside and I didn't have any plans, I decided to have a lazy morning.

No Breakfast before 7.30am!
Aboard Saga Sapphire, there's no cafeteria as such and breakfast is served in both Pole to Pole and the Verandah Grill - but not until 7.00am. On sea-days however, breakfast isn't until 7.30 (either they think the passengers want a "lie-in" or the crew do!). So if you are an early riser, apart from a tea-station off the Verandah, there's nothing for you!

However, you can have Room Service from 6.00am, so I opted for this most mornings. The Cabin Breakfast options are limited but it's ideal if all you want is something quick & simple and I found Room Service to be prompt and quite reliable.

The Indoor Pool & Spa (Deck 2 forward)
Originally a crew pool, it was taken into passenger use some years ago and extended to provide a small gym, sauna and massage rooms. The pool has two aqua-jets (which are fun!) and no shallow-end but it's been made smaller by the relaxation bars at one end and the water-level was always too low to reach them! The hours of 8.00am-7.00pm could also be improved!
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By mid-day, the weather had improved and I went ashore to explore the town, which is dominated by St Colman's Cathedral on the hill. Right by the waterfront, the Cobh Heritage Centre tells the history of Irish emigration by sea via Cobh (or Queenstown as it was called from 1850 to 1922). Outside is a statue of Annie Moore & her brothers, believed to be the first immigrants processed through the new Ellis Island Immigration Centre in New York, when it opened on 1st January 1892.

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Saga Sapphire
& the old White Star offices
St Colman's Cathedral
towers above the town
Heritage Monument
Annie Moore & her brothers
Reproduced 3rd-class Ticket
The Titanic Experience

The Titanic Experience
Queenstown was the last call of RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage to New York in April 1912 and this interactive museum now occupies the old White Star Line Ticket Office on the waterfront. Upon entry, you are given a named passenger's ticket from the voyage and you are told that you can find out (your) fate at the end of the tour. However, one little girl took it all quite seriously and burst into tears when she was told by our guide that not all of us would survive the journey!

The "Titanic Experience" had a few interesting exhibits, including a mock-up of a First-class cabin. Also, learning the fate of the passenger named on your ticket was quite touching. Mine was that of Denis Lennon (age 20), a labourer from Ballymahon, travelling with Miss Mary Mullin. It is believed that they were eloping and he was pretending she was his sister. Neither of them survived.

However, the "interactive cinema" involved us getting into a poor immitation of a lifeboat while we watched an equally poor video montage of the ship sinking. While it was all too shoddy to be taken seriously, I did consider this to be in rather bad taste for an afternoon family outing!
The Sinking of the Titanic

Show Picture Full Size However, Titanic is not Cobh's only claim to historical fame as it was here, just 3 years later in 1915, that the survivors were brought ashore following the infamous sinking of the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania by a German torpedo, with the loss of 1,195 lives. The memorial to this tragedy is also in the town centre and forms part of its Heritage Trail.

Show Picture Full Size The Sinking of the Lusitania in 1915
Built on Clydebank for Cunard Line in 1906, Lusitania and her younger sister Mauretania were smaller than Olympic & Titanic but faster, holding the "Blue Riband" Atlantic speed record at over 25 knots. On 7th May 1915, Lusitania was 11 miles off the coast of Ireland heading for Liverpool when she was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat. She sank in 18 minutes, with the loss of 1,195 lives.
The tragedy resulted in considerable controversy. It was claimed by Germany that she was carrying munitions and was a "legitimate target", a claim vehemently denied at the time. However, it wasn't until 2008 when exploration of the wreck finally discovered and photographed cases of ammunition aboard that the original claim was proven to be true.

Unlike Titanic, Lusitania had more than enough lifeboats but because of a severe list and the speed of her foundering, she was only able to launch 6 of her 48 boats. Although her passengers included only 128 Americans, it has been claimed that the sinking of Lusitania was one of the factors that contributed to America entering the First World War 2 years later.

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Departing Cobh A View at Last!
The Pilot Boat
The Verandah Grill

Tonight was our second formal night of the cruise but there was no cocktail party, so no chance of a free drink! However, tonight I had Dinner in the Verandah Grill which, quite surprisingly, serves exactly the same menu as in the main Pole to Pole Restaurant; it's just printed differently! The only real difference seemed to be that the restaurant is smaller and with more of a Bistro atmosphere.

After 3 nights with the deadlights over my cabin portholes, I was beginning to feel like a trapped rat in a box and my heart sank when the Captain announced that we would again be experiencing bad weather. However, when he said that "the weather-side" would this time be to starboard, so only those cabins would have their deadlights on, I was overjoyed! At last I was allowed to see out!

Tuesday 28th August (am)
A Morning at Sea
After some rocking and rolling in the early hours, the sea settled down and the weather improved to give a glorious morning, promising a pleasant afternoon tendering at Guernsey. After a swim in the indoor pool, I enjoyed a leisurely late breakfast in the Verandah Grill.

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Observation Deck The Verandah & the new Suites
Looking out over the Verandah Cafe
View From the Top
Sundeck & al-fresco Cinema!

The main midships pool used to have a sliding roof but this was removed in the recent refit. Also removed was the ship's other outdoor pool, located where the Verandah is now. Meanwhile, the previous Cafe has been converted into balcony cabins and 3 suites overlooking the Verandah below.

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Tuesday 28th August (pm)
St Peter Port, Guernsey
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The Captain said we would be late arriving at Guernsey because of last night's weather but I was suspicious that we were actually only making 16 knots when we could easily have gone faster. Perhaps he was restricted by busy shipping traffic in the English Channel or maybe he just didn't have enough fuel?
(left) Preparing the boats for tendering and (below) Castle Cornet & the harbour of St Peter Port

Whatever the reason, our late arrival was followed by even more delays while the boats were prepared, or so we thought. Eventually the Captain announced that there was too much swell to allow safe boarding of the ship's tenders and he was cancelling our call. This was all the more annoying as the sea was quite calm and I have tendered in far worse conditions! Show Picture Full Size

The Saga Punch!
I was so fed-up and disappointed that I went back to my cabin, chucked everything in my suitcase and then went and sat on deck. I was just wondering, "What will they do to make up for our disappointment on the last day of such a short cruise - maybe we'll get some free drinks?", when it was announced that, while we would enjoy the sunny afternoon cruising around the island (hadn't we done that this morning?) there would be a party on deck and everyone was invited to have a complimentary glass of Punch on the Verandah! I was dumbfounded - what, one glass - and only Punch? Is that the best Saga can do these days?

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Wednesday 29th August
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The final insult came when, after I had enjoyed a pleasant early breakfast, I returned to my cabin at 7.00am to find that my key-card didn't work! I had been "locked-out" already! Not surprisingly, I was furious!

Eventually, I managed to locate my stewardess and she let me into my cabin. Later, as I waited for my disembarkation call at 9.45 and watched the luggage slowly being packed into containers and winched off the Verandah Deck (just like in the "old days"!), I reflected that my expectations of Saga Sapphire had perhaps been too high and that this cruise had simply been too short to withstand the number of disappointments it had produced. Should I give it another try......?

Read more about Saga Sapphire in my full Ships Report at The Saga Sapphire Gallery >>

Meanwhile, the full collection of photos of Saga Sapphire can be viewed on my account at Captain Martini/Saga Sapphire >>
& photos of the Tall Ships & all the ports visited on this cruise can be found on at Captain Martini/2012 Tall Ships Cruise >>

See Detailed Mileage Log for this cruise >>

Cruise Mileage: 1,183 nautical miles
Total Mileage to date: 166,582 n miles

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