Over the years I have covered many thousands of miles on scheduled shipping services. However, I had until August 09, 2008 not been on a long cruise. Any cruising had been confined to day coastal jaunts on WAVERLEY and BALMORAL.
In 2005 I set my sights a little further a field and undertook the first longer distance voyage on Brittany Ferries PONT-AVEN between Plymouth and Santander a round trip of approximately 950 nautical miles. Quite a few trips on this superb vessel have followed since!
The next logical progression would be to undertake a trip on a cruise ship. This is something I had been threatening to do for some years but some how I never managed to get round to it.
However, in early July 2007 I became aware of a round Britain voyage scheduled for August 2008 on the BLACK PRINCE. Several years previously I had visited the ship during a turn over call at Langton Dock, Liverpool with a group from the Merseyside Branch of The World Ship Society and she appeared to be a very interesting vessel.
BLACK PRINCE is an old, but none the less interesting ship. Weighing in at 11,209grt she was built by Lubecker Flender Werke, Lubeck, Germany as yard number 561 for Fred. Olsen Lines as one of a pair of sister ships – the other sister being BLACK WATCH.
BLACK WATCH was jointly ordered by Fred. Olsen Lines and Bergen Line to serve on the Bergen Line North Sea routes in summer and offer cruises for Fred. Olsen Lines from London to the Canary Islands during the winter along with BLACK PRINCE. When operating on the North Sea for Bergen Line BLACK WATCH became JUPITER and BLACK PRINCE VENUS.
In winter BLACK WATCH assumed her Fred. Olsen identity and offered cruises from London to the Canary Islands along with BLACK PRINCE.
Both BLACK PRINCE and BLACK WATCH offered significant ro/ro cargo and vehicle space and had the facility to side load. In the recently published Carmania Press book “Fred. Olsen Line Passenger Ships” a photograph of a then new BLACK PRINCE reveals the extensive side loading capability.
On the Canary Island cruises the ships returned with cargos of fruit destined for the UK. Back in the late 1960s BLACK PRINCE and BLACK WATCH were state of the art ro-pax vessels way ahead of any similar ships operating in UK waters. Very much the PONT-AVEN of their day!
The Bergen Line – Fred.Olsen Line agreement ended in 1986. BLACK WATCH / JUPITER reverted to Bergen Line ownership and later passed into Greek ownership and a lengthy period of lay-up.
A different future beckoned for BLACK PRINCE. She was dispatched to Wartsila, Turku, Finland for conversion to a cruise ship. This primarily involved the installation of 125 cabins on what had been the vehicle deck and the installation by McGregor-Navire of a “Marina-Park” facility in the aft area of the former vehicle deck.
In recent years, many of BLACK PRINCE’s cruises have operated out of Liverpool and she obviously attracts a large number of passengers from Merseyside and the North-West who are saved the long journey south to the main cruise departure ports. She also operates some cruises each year from Greenock, Scotland.
However, the future of BLACK PRINCE is not assured beyond 2010. She is a rather old vessel and unless significant upgrade work undertake she will not survive the SOLAS 2010 cull. However, there are rumours doing the rounds that given her flexibility and the lack of similar sized small cruise ships the company might decide to upgrade her to meet the new requirements - one hopes these rumours prove to be accurate.
Therefore, BLACK PRINCE faces a somewhat uncertain future and with that in mind it was time to travel on a ship which I had photographed many times in the past. Cruise BP819 was booked in July 2007 via Captain Peter Corrin, late of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, who is now a cruise booking agent.
Now whilst I often book holidays a good while in advance, I have never booked anything as far ahead as 13 months – but an early booking discount was a great incentive!
Time passed surprisingly quickly between July 2007 and August 2008 due to a hectic year at home which included a house move.
Eventually August 09, 2007 dawned and in pouring rain I drove down to Liverpool docks in typical British summer weather!
The directions received with the ticket suggested that one should not arrive before 14:00, so I considered myself early at 13:30 and discovered that a lot had already arrived and parked up in the car parking facility which is operated by YA Auto Logistics and bookable in advance.
I parked up, emptied my bags out of the car, these were quickly taken up and put into the luggage hold of a shuttle bus and within a few minutes the bus was on its way round to Langton Cruise Terminal. As I disembarked from the bus cases and luggage were already being off loaded from the coach and taken through to the ship.
Quite a lot has been said in the local press and discussed in online shipping forums about the inadequacies of Langton Cruise Terminal, but the fact is, it works well and the staff are very efficient.
Passenger check-in was well organized there were different queues depending on which deck one’s cabin was located on board.
On presentation of tickets and travel documents ship account swipe cards were issued, these are dual function operating as a security pass and an onboard charge card. Additionally each group of passengers were issued with a numbered boarding card.
Boarding commenced after only a fairly short wait with passengers being called forward in groups. Passengers filed through security for the usual sampled search under the gaze of a policeman with his sniffer dog.
Then it was through to the transit shed. Much of the open space within being hidden by screens. On the way the ship’s photographer took everyone’s photographs.
Prior to ascending the steps to the shell door on deck 4 all passengers had their hands disinfected with antibacterial foam to ensure the novo virus or other unpleasant bug didn’t get on board. The hand sprays being a feature of all dining and embarkation times during the cruise.
Once on board, swipe cards were shown to the security officer and everyone was photographed by web-cam – their image going into a database which showed the photo each time the card was swiped.
Finding my cabin 342 on Marina Deck (deck 3), just below. Marina Deck is the old vehicle deck I was advised when booking by some “old hands” who regularly sail with Fred. Olsen that the cabins in this area of the ship were better having dated from the 1986 refit.
Cabin 342 was quite spacious and deep with four wardrobes, a bed, a convertible Pullman berth, dressing table and some storage lockers above the Pullman berth. Being used to the big cabin windows of the PONT-AVEN and the still quite large windows of cabins fitted to various Irish Sea ships the traditional small port hole window did initially come as something of a surprise but one which one became accustomed to quite quickly. Looking out of the port hole one is aware of being quite low down and close to the water this is something which one doesn’t experience on modern ro/pax vessels with their high accommodation.
The view out of the window into Langton Dock was obscured by WHITTASK the Whittaker Oiler. After spending a while unpacking my bags, which had been delivered to the cabin, and stowing clothes I went off to find some friends who were also travelling and we rendezvoused in the attractive ‘Aquitaine’ lounge forward on deck 5. This is a quiet wood paneled piano bar which is divided up into an inner and outer area by a slatted screen.
At 16:00 passengers were assembled in their muster stations for lifeboat drill. Though I have never had cause to wear a lifejacket on my various short sea sailings, the countless demonstrations observed on Isle of Man Steam Packet fast craft meant that the process was quite straight forward. However, some passengers nearby did managed to do some strange things with them – however, these were quickly put right by attentive crew members.
Once again the often present ship’s photographer was around snapping away. Photographs are posted in the gallery near the ‘Royal Garter Restaurant’ in this day and age of the ubiquitous digital camera one wonders if there is much sale for photos taken by a third party, given that they are not particularly cheap at around £8.50 each! As well as photo sales a DVD of the cruise is available – but from the clips which were being shown it was probably not the sort of DVD which would appeal to ship enthusiasts.
With lifeboat drill and a safety brief out of the way a good time before departure there was plenty of time to head up onto the outside decks to observe departure. The rain by now had gone off!
There is much outside deck space on the BLACK PRINCE and being a small ship it is very easy for anyone trying to photograph passing ships, landscape and seascape to move from side to side and also end to end if necessary! Virtually all outside deck space is available to passengers though at night the top deck around the funnel is closed until around 05:30 to stop footsteps disturbing the officers and passengers occupying the suites behind the bridge.
BLACK PRINCE shares a rare feature in these security conscious times with Waverley Steam Navigation Company’s BALMORAL. That is the bridge wings comprise part of the open passenger deck – therefore only a waist high barrier separates passenger from crew. One presumes it won’t before this feature succumbs to pressures of security!
Promptly at 17:00 Captain Olav Sovdsnes eased BLACK PRINCE off the berth at West Langton and we moved slowly into Langton Lock where we made fast at 17:16. With a high tide on the River Mersey the lock did not detain us long and by 17:26 we slipped out into the river swinging to starboard with a little assistance from tug ASHGARTH.
There was a leisurely run down Crosby and Queen’s Channel behind the tanker NARIVA. After dropping her pilot at Q1 PV DUNLIN came across to BLACK PRINCE and removed the pilot at 18:34.
There are two sittings for dinner one at 18:30 the other at 20:30. I had originally opted for 18:30 but switched it to 20:30 which turned out to be wise as the early sitting can be rather close to departure time – usually when one wants to be on deck.
Three restaurants can be found on board. The small – ‘Fleur de Lys’ with distinctly green décor, the larger restaurant ‘Royal Garter’ and the conservatory style ‘Balblom’ on deck 7 aft. However, the ‘Balblom’ named after a former Fred. Olsen Lines ship is only used for lunch and breakfast. It is a conservatory style structure which was added in the late 1990s.
Opposite the ‘Royal Garter Restaurant’ is the ship’s shop. It isn’t very big perhaps a touch bigger and a different shape to that on the BEN-MY-CHREE. There is a fair range of goods but as a friend commented 90% of products are aimed at the female market. There were a few souvenirs of interest to ship enthusiasts – though the mugs were not very good. The line drawing looked like BLACK PRINCE had been crossed with the present BLACK WATCH to produce a strange looking vessel something like a shipping “Super Lamb Banana”. Something better is required! Also on sale was the new Carmania Press book Fred.Olsen Line Passenger Ships. But that was the only shipping book available.
To avoid delays if one wishes to have wine with a meal, one pre-orders from cards which are left on a table outside the Royal Garter Restaurant. The systems works well, but if like me you are a creature of habit and imbibe the same wine each night – the wine waiter will soon remember – after the first few days! Joseph, the waiter on my table was very thorough.
Dinner on the first night was in casual dress code. Service was excellent. I won’t into detail but it would be what one would expect at a decent hotel and almost as good as that served in the main restaurant on Brittany Ferries – PONT-AVEN.
At the end of the meal – Reuben the Captain waiter for the table thoroughly explained the dining arrangements for the rest of the cruise and dress codes.
Breakfast and Lunch are offered open sitting in all three restaurants – though the choice in the ‘Balblom’ is a little restricted when compared to the other two. On port calls – apart from when I was at Kirkwall and busy sailing on one of the Orkney Ferries – I returned to the ship for lunch. As it is inclusive it wouldn’t make sense to stay ashore and actually buy a lunch! One really has to remember that unless one wants to drink heavily, go shopping or take advantage of some of the charged activities or excursions there is nothing more to pay!
Dinner was unhurried and after leaving the ‘Royal Garter’ it was back to the ‘Aquitaine’ bar at the forward end. A quite spectacular electric storm was in progress. At 22:30 a light house could be discerned – Chicken Rock off the Calf of Mann.
It was quite clear we were not sailing particularly fast as four hours had elapsed since leaving the Liverpool Bar. As the captain later revealed in a talk – for much of the cruise the ship was operating on one engine for reasons of economy and given that some of the sectors of the cruise were quite loosely timed one engine provided enough speed – around 13 knots.
At around 23:30 each evening stewards pass through the ‘Aquitaine’ and ‘Lido’ lounges bringing late snacks. There are two other snack times during the day – 10:45 to 11:15 for morning coffee etc and in the afternoon 15:45 to 16:15 when again stewards pass through the lounges and around the open Lido deck. The latter time I began to refer to as “bun time” after the first few days.
Around midnight it was time to turn in for the night. Whilst away at dinner cabins are made up for the night – it all being done unobtrusively as is the conversion back to day time configuration – done during breakfast. One occasionally saw the cabin stewardess – but everything was done quietly and with minimum fuss.
Extracts from the Cruise Log presented to passengers at the end of the cruise are shown in boxes at the end of each day. It should be noted that the weather conditions / sea conditions did not prevail for the whole day but are shown as recorded.
Cruise Log Record: Saturday:
Wind Force 4 to 5, moderate to fresh breeze, overcast skies. Moderate to rough seas. Barometer 1000mbs
Sunday August 11
After a good night’s sleep it was up to breakfast in the ‘Balblom’ restaurant, then out on deck for much of the day as we took a leisurely sail through the Hebrides.
Skerryvor lighthouse 11 miles SW of Tiree was observed around 09:45. Unlike most rock lighthouses it has not been disfigured by the addition of a helicopter landing platform. This being provided on the nearby rocks
At 10:45 a timber ship – ANITA passed southbound.
At 12:00 the Captain gave his report – we were 16.5 nmiles SE of Barra.
Shortly afterwards there was an adjournment for lunch in ‘The Royal Garter Restaurant’ which was quite busy. After this future lunch breaks were taken at the ‘Balblom’ which didn’t appear to get quite so busy.
At around 15:15 we were around three miles west of Neist Point Lighthouse on the west coast of the Isle of Skye.
Rhuba Re lighthouse was passed at 18:45.
Sunday evening was the first formal dress night of the cruise and the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party in the ‘Neptune Lounge’. However, due to some confusion I went to the ‘Aquitaine’ and missed it! Dressing up sounds like it can be a bit of a chore and though I tend to dress less casually than most seldom being without a tie – I did view the idea of “formal black tie” with some trepidation. However, once done and realizing that almost everyone else has done it there is nothing to it. Once you have bought the gear one is equipped for future cruises!
After dinner it was back to the ‘Aquitaine’ lounge for drinks. The captain made an announcement around 22:36 that we had rounded Cape Wrath on the North West tip of Scotland.
Bed followed after late snacks – but it was going to be an early start! Arrival times are indicated in “The Daily Times” Newsletter which stewardesses leave in the cabins when they make them up for the night. Arrival at Kirkwall was indicated as being 07:00 – but the captain had advised that the pilot would be picked up around 05:45.
To get full value from a trip like this it is important to be on deck during arrivals which usually means an early start! So with late nights and early starts there isn’t that much time to sleep unless one wakes to a sea day or an overnight in port.
Cruise Log Record: Sunday:
Wind Force 5, strong breeze, cloudy skies. Moderate seas. Barometer 991mbs
Monday August 11
The Orkney Pilot was on board at 05:51 being delivered by the KIRKWALL BAY – quite a substantial pilot vessel considerably larger than those which operate on the Mersey and other Irish Sea Ports.
BLACK PRINCE was all secure at the Northlink Hatston Quay terminal on the Orkney Mainland at 06:46 almost a quarter of an hour ahead of schedule. On the ro/ro berth was Northlink’s HASCOSAY looking to be of a similar design to that of the former IoMSPCo PEVERIL. She apparently overnights Sunday to Monday at Hatston Quay. Around 07:30 Streamline Shipping’s container ship DAROJA arrived at the container berth, containers being handled by a road crane.
After breakfast it was down to the quay for the free shuttle-bus to take passengers into the Orcadian Capital the City of Kirkwall. Did I say city? – Well think more City of Peel, Isle of Man than City of Liverpool – though it is about twice the size of Peel and with a larger selection of shops.
Whilst quite a few passengers undertook organized coach tours it really does make sense to do your own thing when on a cruise. The cost of coach tours booked as part of the cruise is quite high. With the internet on which to do research and obtain timetables it makes much more sense to “do your own thing” and this is what I chose to do.
The shuttle bus conveniently dropped passengers off at Kirkwall Harbour adjacent to the Orkney Ferries booking office. Tickets were obtained for a round trip to Eday and Sanday before an hour or so spent browsing round the city.
Once back in the harbour the former Isle of Man Government patrol vessel ENBARR was discovered now in private ownership – but still registered in Douglas some 10 years after her replacement.
The EARL SIGURD – a McTay built ship operated the 10:30 circular sailing which called at Sanday between 12:00 and 12:10 and Eday between 12:30 and 12:40 before returning to Kirkwall Harbour for around 13:45. Then it was back on the shuttle-bus back to Hatston Quay. By now HASCOSAY had started to load up including some interesting double deck animal carriers built on Mafi trailers.
BLACK PRINCE cast off at 15:45. As we departed Klyne Tug's ETV ANGLIAN SOVEREIGN was on approach for Kirkwall.
We headed southwards again between Shapinsay and Mainland before dropping the pilot at 16:12 and heading off in a south easterly direction for the east coast of Scotland.
A North Sea Rig was clearly visible through the cabin port hole at 19:15.
Dinner followed at 20:30 with an informal dress code (normal jacket / blazer and tie). After dinner the lights of the east coast of Scotland were visible which was judged to be around Peterhead.
Cruise Log Record: Monday:
Distance sailed – Liverpool to Kirkwall: 519 nautical miles
Wind Force 1, calm air, calm sea, partly cloudy skies. Barometer 989mbs
Tuesday August 12
I awoke around 06:15, the timber baulks visible through the porthole indicated that BLACK PRINCE was in the lock at Leith. Quickly up and dressed I was on the top deck in time to see us make fast in the lock around 06:25.
Ahead of us was Leith Docks, with the preserved RY BRITANNIA and a rather shabby looking RFA LARGS BAY berthed ahead of her. Both BRITANNIA and LARGS BAY were berthed outside the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre part of which provides access to the former Royal Yacht as well as associated reception and shop facilities. Looking astern the ALBATROS of Phoenix Reisen could be seen heading up the Forth bound for Rosyth. She is a sister ship to Fred. Olsen Lines BOUDICCA and BLACK WATCH a trio built originally for Royal Viking Line.
BLACK PRINCE cleared the lock and headed off across the basin to the Cruise Ship Terminal were the ship made fast at 07:15. She was assisted by Forth Port’s tug FIDRA.
After breakfast it was off to the shuttle bus for a run into Edinburgh. Unlike the call at Kirkwall and the later call at Harwich there was a nominal charge for the shuttle-bus of £4 for unlimited use
Disembarking passengers were greeted by serenades from the musicians who marched up and down the quayside playing well know airs on the pipes and drums.
However, it is regrettable that it was not made clear that the Lothian Transport Majestic Circular Tour Bus also stops outside and runs to a 20 minute frequency – this fulfils the shuttle bus function and provides a tour. Various tickets are available (admittedly costing more than the shuttlebus) but including one which includes all Edinburgh Tour bus routes.
It is a long time since I visited Edinburgh around 1979. Since then I have never felt a need to return! Perhaps because it was a grey morning things just looked depressing, but it wasn’t helped by the large crowds attending the Edinburgh Festival. As with London which has the same effect I don’t think I will be back in a hurry!
Anyway I found what I was looking for - the Firth of Forth Tour Bus this connects with the modern “pleasure steamer” FORTH BELLE at Hawes Pier, South Queensferry - the former terminal for the Firth of Forth Car Ferries. From here an interesting cruise to Inchcolm Island followed and I was just in time to see BLUE STAR 1 pass beneath the Forth Bridges! Unfortunately the weather broke and it started to rain, at the least FORTH BELLE had a semi open stern with a canvas awning. If it had been nice it might have been tempting to go ashore for 90 minutes on Inchcolm Island and catch a later sailing back. However, I returned to Hawes Pier and took the tour bus back to Edinburgh. The rain continued so back to the BLACK PRINCE for lunch – it was nice to escape the damp masses!
After lunch – it was time for a visit to the former Royal Yacht Britannia. Well worth a visit it is too. However, though she is well presented the usual problem of decay which occurs to statically preserved ships was apparent. Recent wet weather had caused water ingress into the Duke of Edinburgh’s suite and the area was hidden from public view whilst above work appeared to be in progress to solve the problem.
RFA LARGS BAY, despite being a new ship was externally looking rougher than the former Royal Yacht, with rust streaks and patches of non matched grey paint!
Dinner arrangements on Tuesday were different. There was an early dinner for those going to Edinburgh Tattoo at 17:30, followed by open sitting with casual dress code for everyone else in the two main restaurants.
The original itinerary for cruise BP819 has suggested that BLACK PRINCE would depart around 23:00 allowing time for those attending the Edinburgh Tattoo to be back on board before sailing. Two nights and a day were to be allowed for the comparatively short run down to Harwich.
However, this was revised to an 06:00 departure on Wednesday August 13. This was probably planned all along though it was understood some maintenance was going on with one of the ships engines over night.
Cruise Log Record: Tuesday:
Distance sailed – Kirkwall to Leith: 231 nautical miles
Wind Force 2, light breeze, smooth sea, cloudy skies. Barometer 989mbs
Wednesday August 13
A quiet night was spent in Leith Docks. I awoke, without the aid of my alarm at 05:52 as I dressed the vintage Pielstick’s kicked into life and within minutes I was up on deck fortunately the previous day’s rain had eased off.
Ropes were let go at 06:02 and with the help of the tug OXCAR on the stern BLACK PRINCE made her way to the sea lock. Gates were closed at 06:46. After running down in the lock she departed the lock at 07:10.
The morning remained grey and misty. After breakfast with things not looking too promising on deck I decided to go to the Port Lecture in the Neptune Bar on Isles of Scilly and Cóbh.
Personally I thought it rather half hearted – appeared to be made up with some identifiable postcard shots and some facts appeared confused with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan being buried on Scilly (it was Harold Wilson). As far as Barry’s Court Castle was concerned there appeared some confusion as to its location as well!
Captain Olav Sovdsnes presented his report to the passengers at 12:00 – by then we were 11 miles east of the Farne Islands, Northumbria.
A talent show had been planned for that day – but an announcement was made that it had been cancelled due to only one passenger declaring an interesting participating! It should be said that onboard entertainment on BLACK PRINCE is not very sophisticated and the highlight of the cruise is probably the metal dolphin racing. However, to someone who prefers the fresh air what is going on inside isn't of particular interest anyway.
Fortunately the weather improved somewhat enough to sit outside on the Lido Deck for most of the day and watch the seascape slide by. Some ships were visible but nothing of much note.
That evening the captain Olav Sovdsnes gave an informative talk – interview style with the cruise director Stein Dyb in which he spoke about his job and the ship. Some interesting points mentioned were the fact that there are 16 nationalities working on board; Pielstick want the engines back when the BLACK PRINCE is finally retired as examples of longevity of their product. He also indicated that the future of the ship post SOLAS 2010 remains uncertain at present until the company decides whether to upgrade her or withdraw her. Such a decision has not yet been made.
Cruise Log Record: Wednesday:
Wind Force 4 to 5, moderate to fresh breeze, moderate sea, and cloudy skies. Barometer 993mbs
Thursday August 14
With arrival at Harwich scheduled for 08:00 it was obvious another early rise was called for to ensure one was on deck for the run into Harwich Harbour and up the River Stour to what used to be known as Harwich Parkeston Quay (Named after a former director if the Great Eastern Railway) and now known as Harwich International Port. Harwich Harbour is of particular interest as on the north side is the very busy international container port of Felixstowe
I came on deck at around 06:20 off Orford Ness lighthouse; it was cold but sunny and bright.
The Haven Ports Pilot was taken on board at 06:45 and we commenced our long approach to Harwich. There was much to see. STENA TRANSPORTER outbound, various container ships anchored off awaiting their turn. BLACK PRINCE powered past a couple of red inbound freighter’s and Norfolkline’s MAERSK EXPORTER passed outbound. Her sister, MAERSK IMPORTER was to be seen later that day at Felixstowe.
In Harwich harbour there are a number of laid up lightships, one of which appears to be a radio station. Harwich is of course the HQ to the English and Welsh lighthouse authority Trinity House. THV PATRICIA was noted on the berth at the Trinity House HQ as was one of the light vessels deployed on the Sevenstones station.
We were secure at Harwich at 08:15 – 15 minutes behind schedule. Harwich is a typical railway port and it was noticed that on one of the now unused container cranes a Sealink logo dating back to the Sea Containers – Sealink British Ferries – era was still in place dating from before the Stena Line acquisition.
Also visible was the now partly dismantled HSS berth – the linkspan and gangways have been removed, however, the walkways, pier and dolphins remain. A poignant reminder of an evolutionary dead end in ship design!
Also awaiting our arrival was the town crier! STENA BRITANNICA was on the next berth and departed around 09:00.
A crane was used to position the port’s gangway and passengers disembarked into a new and spacious terminal where a free shuttle bus went into Harwich. Now I have never visited Harwich before. To be honest I seldom visit the east coast – partly because those places on the east coast I have visited have proved to be rather unattractive. However, Harwich is a delight! Many old buildings, a small pier, some interesting pubs one of which the New Bell Inn was sampled and the Maritime Museum in the old lower lighthouse which whilst tiny hosted a stack of exhibits from both Royal and Merchant Navies.
A sign hanging from the ceiling caught my attention – HMS GANGES. A large white mast had caught my attention over looking Harwich port situated on the peninsular at Shotley opposite. So this was the location of the stone frigate, now long closed, which performed the manning the mast ceremony! Those of my generation who used to watch BBC TV's BLUE PETER must surely remember the time when “action man” John Noakes went to the HMS GANGES naval training establishment and took part in the manning the mast ceremony but failed in his attempt to become “button boy” and climb to the very top of the mast. The final part being done by shinning up the timber over 140ft above ground level. Whilst the Naval establishment may have closed the landmark mast survives.
Harwich is certainly an nice, quaint, little town and nothing like I had perceived it to be. A fine view across the harbour makes for easy photography of the many ships visiting Felixstowe or passing through to Harwich. There is also a cross harbour ferry – which unfortunately resembles a yellow floating shed!
After a pleasant time ashore it was back to BLACK PRINCE in time for lunch.
However, there is one black mark against Harwich and that is at the cruise terminal. Two friends disembarked after lunch to take some photographs. They were jumped upon by a security ‘jobs worth’ for attempting to take photographs of the BLACK PRINCE from the coach parking area - usual health and safety rubbish even though there was not danger! Of the ports visited only Harwich appeared to have enthusiast unfriendly security - some didn't appear to have any security at all - though what the half hearted block 'n' mesh at Kirkwall was supposed to do is still a puzzle!
After lunch it was a case of getting a seat on the Lido Deck. However, the cruise director appeared and decided he would have the ship’s band assemble outside to play us out. – Time for a quick exit forward to the upper deck to get away from the noise!
Ropes were off 5 minutes ahead of schedule at 15:55 and we set off back into the North Sea, another chance to photograph the ships at Felixstowe some of which had changed since our morning arrival.
Dropping of the Haven Ports Pilot took place at 16:45. A large number of ships, mainly “box boats” were to be seen in the waters off Harwich Harbour.
We headed off in a south easterly direction and entered the Dover Straits traffic separation scheme. The weather was great with both sides of the channel clearly visible. There was plenty of shipping to photograph but some of it just a little too far away for capture effectively.
Another pleasant night on board followed with much food and drink!
Cruise Log Record: Thursday:
Distance Sailed - Leith to Harwich 404 nautical miles
Wind Force 4, moderate breeze, moderate sea, clear skies. Barometer 1006 mbs
Friday – August 15
It was an early start again the next morning. As with Harwich, the Channel Islands are new to me. I made deck after we had passed Alderney, but in time to sail past Sark, and see the stately home of the business tycoons the Barclay Brothers on the adjacent private island of Brecquho.
The Guernsey pilot was taken up from the PV GOLDEN SPUR at 07:52 which led us to the anchorage just off St. Peter Port Harbour where the anchor was dropped at 08:17.
The captain later informed passengers that 400ft of anchor had been deployed.
After breakfast it was time to go ashore in the tenders. The landing stage carried on the port side of the ship being deployed. The initial departures were controlled by coloured ticket to ensure those on excursionist were ashore first.
After a browse around St. Peter Port it was time for a trip. The bus routes 7 and 7a run right around the island – the flat fare of just 60p makes for a very cheap tour!
Returning to the ship for lunch it was back ashore in the afternoon for photographs around the harbour. There is much shipping interest to be seen and though the harbour is probably a little smaller than Douglas on the Isle of Man it is very busy with shipping and it was possible to observe a number of movements from Condor Ferries, CONDOR EXPRESS, COMMODORE GOODWILL, CONDOR 10 and COMMODORE CLIPPER as well as other operators including HD Ferries' HD1.
I was back on board by 16:40 the engines were fired up at 17:45, the anchor wound up and we were off at 17:55. We sailed out of Guernsey waters, dropped the pilot and then headed off towards the Isles of Scilly.
The weather remained fine though the Captain announced that winds of up to 30 knots were expected after 22:30.
With our next call being the Isles of Scilly and from my own knowledge of the seas around the islands I was beginning to wonder if we would be able to get ashore in tenders.
Friday evening was a little different - it was "British Night" with passengers encouraged to dress up in "Red White & Blue" or other national colours - perhaps a bit strange on what is a Norwegian ship! I thought I would represent my Cornish ancestors and donned a Cornish tartan tie!
Cruise Log Record: Friday:
Distance Sailed: - Harwich to St. Peter Port 266 nautical miles
Wind Force 4, moderate breeze, slight sea, partly cloudy skies. Barometer 1014 mbs
Saturday – August 16
Once again I was awake early, looking out of the porthole the sea was rough and like the sky very grey. Up on deck it became clear that the captain had aborted the approach and had swung and headed off to roam around outside the Eastern Isles.
Around 08:00 the Captain announced that indications were that weather conditions would not ease until around 14:00 which would give passengers little time ashore. Instead he announced that he would set course for our next and final port of call -Cóbh at full speed.
After breakfast it was possible to go out on deck as the grey clouds broke up and by the time we sailed past Roche’s Point Lighthouse at 15:43 whilst it was still quite windy the sun was shining and Cork Harbour looked fantastic. The pilot was picked up just off Roche's Point - the TITANIC's last anchorage - from the PV GLEANN MÓR.
As a regular visitor to Cóbh, on many occasions I have stood on Deepwater Quay watching the cruise ships berth and always vowed that I would sail into the port one day. Now around 10 years since I first made that promise to myself – here I was in bright sunshine standing at the front above the bridge of BLACK PRINCE sailing past Roche’s Point and into the harbour past the familiar landmarks of Fort Davis, Fort Meagher, Spike Island and Cóbh’s beautiful cathedral. To cap it all just approaching Deepwater Quay from Ringaskiddy was PONT-AVEN on her once weekly sailing to Roscoff. Things just couldn’t have been better, perfect weather, an unexpected encounter with one of my favourite ships – all due to the fact we had arrived early. We were helped on to our berths by the Port of Cork tug GERRY O’SULLIVAN and the diminutive SHIELA.
A pleasant late afternoon was spent in Cóbh and a few Murphy’s drunk at the Commodore Hotel were I stay when on holiday. Then it was back to the ship for the the Captain’s Farewell Party – formal dress again. The Captain introduced some of the back scenes crew to the passengers. I made it to the correct location this time!
There was also an opportunity for formal night photographs outside the 'Fleur de Lys' restaurant. The photographer had unrolled a large photographic background which, though it looked a little out of focus, looked just like the grand staircase on a White Star Olympic class liner! Perhaps appropriate for an overnight stay in TITANIC's last port of call or perhaps a little insensitive and tacky - depends on one's point of view!
The evening concluded with an excellent "Troll Buffet" in the Royal Garter Restaurant - open for photographs at 23:15 and dining at 23:30. Why Troll? well there were several statuettes of the mythical little creatures holding Norwegian flags!
Cruise Log Record: Saturday:
Distance Sailed: - St. Peter Port to Cóbh via Isles of Scilly 302 nautical miles
Wind Force 6, strong breeze, rough sea, partly cloudy skies. Barometer 999 mbs
Sunday – August 17
A quiet night was spent in Cóbh and it was possible to have a lie in after all the early starts. This wouldn’t have been possible if we had sailed over night from Scilly with an early arrival. The disappointment of Scilly was more than compensated for by the extra time in Cóbh.
Unfortunately though shortly after disembarking around 10:00 it started raining an it continued to rain for the remainder of the day. Myself and Ship’s of Mann editor Adrian Sweeney were the only persons to take the Harbour Cruise over to the Irish Naval base at Haulbowline Island operated by Marine Transport Services most sensible people were in doors!
Back to the ship for around 13:00 we were away at 14:30 assisted by tug GERRY O’SULLIVAN again.
Unfortunately it continued to rain so once clear of Cork harbour it was necessary to retreat inside. Casual dress was the code for the final night as luggage had to be packed and placed outside cabins ready for it to be collected up for disembarkation in the morning, only hand luggage being retained for overnight use.
Following a final evening I retired to my cabin, having sailed passed the Bar many times I thought I would give it a miss and catch up on the sleep I had missed due to so many early rises.
Cruise Log Record: Sunday:
Wind Force 2, light breeze, calm sea, partly cloudy skies. Barometer 1000 mbs
Monday - August 15
I awoke just as finshed with engines must have been rung down from the bridge and quiet prevailed. We were back in Langton Dock and alongside - ASHGARTH had finished pushing us onto the berth and could be seen through the port hole moving away.
On the final morning I had breakfast in the ‘Royal Garter Restraurant’ and noted the much wider range of food available – whilst the ‘Balblom’ is light and airy, the ‘Royal Garter’ offers the best selection I discovered on a par with that offered in ‘La Flora’ on PONT-AVEN.
After breakfast it was a case of getting bags together and await the call for disembarkation. This is well organized with different coloured disembarkation cards being issued, with priority given to those that have urgent connections.
The captain presented himself at the gangway to bid farewell to every passenger a nice touch. He was actually about to start his own holidays and was also going ashore, being replaced by Terje Ulset the new master who had also been on board for the cruise and would be taking BLACK PRINCE off to the Western Mediterranean.
As for the rest of the crew – they can be summed up in one word – excellent, very obliging, very helpful – a credit to the company.
Cruise Log Record: Monday:
Distance Sailed: - Cóbh to Liverpool 253 nautical miles
Wind Force 4, moderate breeze, slight sea, cloudy skies. Barometer 999 mbs
Once disembarked luggage was quickly found, loaded onto the coach and back to the car park.
Did I enjoy this trip?
Of course I did I disembarked very reluctantly!
The brochure blurb that the BLACK PRINCE is the “Little Ship with the Big Heart and Soul” is no idle claim!
As the coach bounced back to the car park I wondered why it had taken so long for me to go on a cruise. I should have been doing this years ago!
Within a short time of getting home I was on the phone to Peter Corrin to book a trip for next summer on this delightful, classic ship for August 2009.
However, the cruise bug continued to eat away at me for a couple of days and next August did seem such a long time away. [Though BLACK PRINCE is operating quite a few cruises from Liverpool over the next twelve months nothing tied in with my work holiday dates!]
Perusing the Fred. Olsen brochure again I found something for spring 2009 – but that is on BLACK WATCH out of Southampton – just to tide me over and of course sample one of the bigger ships in Fred. Olsen’s fleet.
If like myself you have been a regular traveler on scheduled shipping services but have not yet jumped the gap into cruising – give it a try!
Incidentally, if you are considering a cruise and are looking for a competitive deal not just with Fred.Olsen but other operators as well - why not get a quote from Peter Corrin? Click Here for his web page and contact details. You will find Peter very helpful and obliging.