Very shortly after disembarking from my first cruise on BLACK PRINCE in August 2008 I decided that BLACK PRINCE was a ship I must sail on again and I quickly booked the BP0919 "French Sojourn Cruise" Not only would this cruise allow another visit to St. Peter Port, Guernsey but would allow me to visit France and Brittany. Once again I made my reservation via Peter Corrin who I would recommend as a cruise booking agent see bottom of page for details.
At the time of booking it was expected that BLACK PRINCE would operate at least until the end of the 2010 season, when the requirements of SOLAS 2010 would result either in her withdrawal or a major rebuild.
However, within a month the bombshell dropped - the planned cruises for later 2009 and early 2010 had been cancelled and the venerable 1966 north sea ro/pax would make her last sailings as a cruise ship in the autumn of 2009 with a revised programme of final cruises.
A special brochure was despatched to members of the Ocean's Club listing the special farewell cruises. Unfortunately, work prevented me from signing up to any of these, but at least having booked on BP0919 I knew I would be sailing on her in her final months of service which was some consolation.
For anyone who felt at home on traditional passenger ships such as the LADY OF MANN - BLACK PRINCE was home. She was not pretentious, she may have been built as a ro/pax in an age which was yet to use the term but she was essentially that. Her rebuilding in the 1980s had seen additional passenger cabins fitted on most of her vehicle deck but she still had the ambiance of a small passenger ship with cosy, but not luxurious accommodation.
Yes there was engine noise and vibration but that is expected of her ilk and part of her charm - you felt as though you were on board a ship! Therefore my August 2009 trip was highly anticipated - but tinged with sadness as this would be my final voyage.
SATURDAY AUGUST 22
Time passed by and soon the morning of Saturday August 22 came round. I have by now realised that the recommended arrival and check in times for cruises were probably best ignored from and an early arrival is preferable.
Thus I made a point of arriving very early at Liverpool Langton Cruise terminal. Rather than park the car and trundle the bags to the shuttle bus a different approach was taken - take the bags to the terminal and hand them in then head off back to the car park. Much better.
There was quite a wait before check in commenced and gradually more and more passengers arrived. Unlike the "Round the British Isles Cruise" last summer on BLACK PRINCE which appeared heavily loaded with senior citizens, this cruise appeared to have a much wider age spread of passengers from primary school children through to the senior generations. As both last year and this year's cruise both took place in the Summer School holidays one can only presume families with young children prefer to sail overseas rather than sail around the British Isles!
One of the benefits of having arrived and checked in early was being able to board quite early and I was soon on board and in my Cabin 345. This was located on Marina Deck 3 starboard side. My cabin last year had been 342 on the port side. BLACK PRINCE being a single handed (starboard side) ship when it comes to quayside boarding meant that my window would look onto the quay at Rouen and St. Malo.
Being on the port side also meant that access aft whilst loading at Liverpool was restricted. The BLACK PRINCE still retains one of the a side loading doors from her days on the Canaries service and this is used for provisioning and bringing baggage on board. Passageway being closed off whilst this operation is in progress.
With passengers on board by 16:00 the safety drill was undertaken and lasted around 15 minutes.
Following completion it was back outside for departure. The weather was glorious in comparison to that which had accompanied my departure on BLACK PRINCE in August 2008 which was cold and grey.
SVITZER BIDSTON was in position with a stern line to help manoeuvre the stern of ship into position to ensure and easy run into the lock. BLACK PRINCE was let go from Langton at 16:35 and was secure in the lock at 16:52. After running down, lines were let go at 17:20 and the ship headed out into the River Mersey. Mersey Radio being notified that 435 passengers and 109 crew were on board.
Sailing down Crosby channel MANANNAN passed by inbound from Douglas, followed by MERSEY VIKING from Belfast and CLIPPER PACE from Dublin.
PV PUFFIN collected the pilot at around 18:07 and BLACK PRINCE headed off west bound passing Q1 at 18:13. I headed off down to the Royal Garter Restaurant for the first sitting of dinner at 18:30. Being the first evening of the cruise dress was informal. We passed along the north Wales coast just to the north of the Douglas Platform.
At dinner it was interesting to note that our captain waiter on this trip was Joseph - he had been the wine waiter in the Royal Garter the previous August and he soon let us know that last year we had sat on table 21! Now given that the restaurant must have seen a few thousand passengers since the previous August such attention to detail was impressive! He and his young assistant being very efficient.
After dinner some time was spent in the pleasant Aquitaine Lounge. Sat by the port side window in the Aquitaine Lounge we appeared to be abreast of Point Lynas at 21:02. By now BLACK PRINCE had dropped down to one engine and she was ambling along at a sedate speed of around 8 knots - no point in hurrying as we were not due at the St. Peter Port pilot station until 07:00 on Monday.
Skerries Light was passed around 22:45.
Last August at around 23:00 some stewards would pass round the ship with evening snacks, this year each evening a more formal buffet arrangement was organised in the Royal Garter. Having selected the first dinner sitting on this cruise, to ensure dining didn't clash with departures from Rouen and St. Malo, one felt one could indulge a little on the late buffet. I didn't find this possible on my BLACK WATCH trip on April as insufficient time had passed between dinner and buffet!
After the buffet it was time to head outside again by now off Holyhead ULYSSES could just be made out through the binoculars already on her berth whilst the brightly lit STENA ADVENTURER was heading inbound.
BLACK PRINCE then commenced the run around South Stack to head off south. As the ship changed course there was a noticeable increase in the wind speed. By now it was time for bed.
Cruise Log Record: Saturday August 22 13 – Liverpool to St. Peter Port 439NM
Wind: West North Westerly force 2, light breeze, clear skies, calm sea. Air temperature 20°C
SUNDAY AUGUST 23
Sunday was a sea day - thus no need to get up too early. I made it up to the Lido Deck around 07:48 - the weather had certainly changed for the worse - it was cold and grey and the there was a bit of a swell running. GPS confirming a position of 21.47nm west of St. David's Head.
I was greeted by a grumpy fellow passenger coming down from the upper deck "Very rough this morning isn't it?". "That is not rough I replied only a bit of a swell. Have you ever experienced the Irish Sea in a Force 9?" He hadn't - but he did - a few days later probably sooner than he would might have wished for!
Breakfast in the conservatory style Balblom restaurant on deck 7 followed and then it was back to the Lido deck to find a sheltered space to watch the passing scene. Unfortunately visibility was very poor, grey sea, grey sky, drifting banks of showers. At 09:25 a large cruise ship broke through the murk briefly a mile or two to the east - it was Carnival - P&O's OCEANA en route between Southampton and Dublin. If conditions had been better a longish range photo would have been possible. But within moments the ship had vanished into the grey murk.
Sunday was rather disappointing as nothing but seabirds were observed until 15:45 when an unidentified Eitzen Gas tanker could be seen on a SW course presumably heading from the Bristol Channel. This passed to BLACK PRINCE stern. Around the same time a north bound freighter could be seen a long way off.
Approaching from the west was the profile of a Royal Navy "River Class" patrol vessel - just as the weather and visibility started to clear a little and the Cornish appeared along with improved chances of seeing other ships it was time to get ready for the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party held in the Neptune Lounge.
Captain Tom Odne Hansen introduced himself and the senior members of crew. It was interesting to find out that the hotel manager Ragnar Lervold had served on board BLACK PRINCE since 1975! Quite a record of service.
During dinner BLACK PRINCE rounded Wolf Rock Lighthouse west of Land's End. Back on deck after dinner the RN River Class had caught up and was running on a parallel course about a mile to the north, but failing light and still less than poor visibility made it impossible to ascertain her pennant number let alone her name.
At 20:34 BLACK PRINCE was 17:75 SW of Lizard point. At 21:39 Lizard Light could be identified and by 22:20 BLACK PRINCE was 24.46nm south of Falmouth.
After returning to the Aquitaine Lounge for a few drinks and participation in a quiz it was time for bed - need to be up early the following morning as we were due at the Guernsey Pilot Station at 07:00.
Cruise Log Record: Sunday August 23 - At Sea
Wind: Southerly force 6, string breeze, cloudy skies, rough sea. Air temperature 17°C
MONDAY AUGUST 24
I was up bright and early on the Monday morning. The weather had cleared somewhat and it was much brighter - but varying levels of cloud kept one wondering what weather would be experienced that day. Overall it turned out to be quite good.
The pilot vessel GOLDEN SPUR was alongside and the pilot "on the ladder" at 06:57. PV then led BLACK PRINCE to her anchorage at 25.4 cables off St. Peter Port breakwater where the anchor was let go at 07:49.
A leisurely breakfast followed to allow the shore tour participants to go ashore first in the tenders. Then it was back on deck to photograph the arrival of fast craft CONDOR EXPRESS, TOCQUEVILLE and general cargo ship BURHOU I.
For anyone visiting Guernsey by cruise ship one should bear in mind that there is plenty to see and do and there are many alternatives to the pricey shore tours including a "round the island" coastal bus ride for just 60p!
Anyway, on this visit I had decided to visit the former Kreigsmarine U Boat Fuel Depot which is now the La Valette Underground Military Museum and if time allowed fit in a "round the island" bus trip.
Coming ashore in one of the tenders at St. Peter Port it was interesting to note that a new waiting area had been installed for cruise passengers since my previous visit in April. A small portacabin with a large window overlooking the tender pontoon and bedecked with flowers.
To save time and get to the museum quickly a taxi was in order. Right next to the cruise tender pontoon and between it and the St. Peter Port Sea Terminal was a taxi rank. On reaching the rank the last taxi drove off. Being well prepared I brought with me the phone number of Guernsey Taxis.
There then followed a most bizarre incident:
I call the taxi number on my mobile: "Hello Guernsey Taxis"
"I'd like a taxi from the cruise terminal."
"Cruise Terminal - Where's that?"
Hear the person who answered the phone shout across an office ""Where's the cruise terminal?"
I heard someone else reply "Don't know, we haven't got one!"
"Where DO you mean?" the voice came back.
Well I then thought I'd try a different tack - "The Sea Terminal - where Condor berths".
"There isn't a taxi rank there." came the reply.
"Yes there is" I asserted "There is a big blue sign!"
They then hang up - on me. I think Guernsey Taxis need some input on creating a favourable impression for visitors!
I then decide to walk - though within a few yards find and other taxi from a different company parked up and was soon on my way to the Museum.
The museum located in the cliffs at the southern edge of St. Peter Port was constructed during the German occupation in WWII. The plan was to conceal underground fuel storage facilities in a range of tunnels to make them safe from allied attack. The U boats would have anchored off shore. However, with the invasion of Europe in 1944 and the isolation of the Channel Islands the facility was never used. One tank remains in place - the others having been relocated around the island for use after the end of the war.
This is a fascinating museum crammed full of artefacts dating from the occupation with additional material covering Guernsey's military history before WWII. An interesting gift shop which sells various artefacts, medals and old newspapers at very reasonable prices dating from the occupation. My mother managed to find a copy of the Guernsey Star reporting extensive bombing on Liverpool.
About an hour and a half was spent exploring the museum. After a coffee overlooking the bay and BLACK PRINCE a walk back to the bus station followed. Then around the island on the number 7 bus for just 60p!
On returning to the cruise tender stage other returning passengers had hearded themselves into the small portacabin. Why do we now just wait until told to move? There was no sign saying that one was not allowed to go down onto the pontoon and that portacabin. Once one went down everyone else followed! It would appear that the British are now becoming so controlled by the Security / Health and Safety culture that the ability to think for one's self is being removed from the psyche.
As the tender sailed out of the harbour CONDOR 10 was noted to have arrived at the terminal.
Back on board it was time to relax on the Lido deck and await arrival of COMMODORE CLIPPER from Portsmouth which was due to arrive at St. Peter Port around the time of our departure at 16:00.
Our 16:00 departure was slightly delayed until 16:12 to allow freighter COASTAL WAVE to pass out of the harbour.
PV GOLDEN SPUR collected the pilot around 16:23, CONDOR VITESSE could now just be seen inbound for Guernsey from the north. Heading east BLACK PRINCE passed the mock gothic style stately home of the reclusive business tycoons the Barclay brothers on the private island of Brecqhou which adjoins Sark.
The Island of Alderney was passed at 18:00. Unlike the previous day - BLACK PRINCE was running much faster to ensure prompt arrival at the pilot station off Le Havre for the run up the Seine to Rouen
BLACK PRINCE was off Cherbourg by 19:55 (BST).
Between the Cherbourg Peninsular and the Seine Estuary BLACK PRINCE's Pielsticks were pounding and the quieter parts of the ship were vibrating a little. Observing the speed on the GPS whilst having a few after dinner drinks it was fascinating to watch the speed gradually build up and around 22:20 (CET) speed peaked twice at 22.9 knots pretty impressive going for a 43 year old ship on her original engines.
I then headed outside for a while remaining there until the Seine pilot was picked up and the lights of the Pont du Normandie could be seen before I retired to my cabin just around midnight.
Unfortunately the sail up the River Seine was to be in darkness. At midnight it had been announced that clocks would go forward by 1 hour to Central European Time (CET).
Cruise Log Record: Monday August 24 - St. Peter Port, Guernsey
Wind: South westerly force 2, light breeze, cloudy skies, smooth sea, air temperature 18°C
TUESDAY AUGUST 25
I was aware of the ship's engines coming to a stop at around 06:35 on Tuesday morning we had obviously arrived in Rouen, berthed astern of Saga Cruise Lines SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE which was on a cruise of the wine producing regions of France and Spain. I made it up on deck somewhat later at 09:00 in time to see tugs conclude handling the bulker KUMBOR at the cereal terminal opposite. The weather looked very promising.
Rouen marks the upper reaches of navigation for larger vessels on the River Seine, beyond the cruise terminal the impressive William the Conqueror Lift Bridge, (completed in 2007) allows larger vessels to reach the city wharfs. The cruise terminal is small though can accommodate at least two ships comfortably. It is well laid out with coach and taxi parking and a small terminal building with architecture rather reminiscent of the previous Mersey Ferries "wigwam" terminal at the Pier Head.
However, there the similarity with Liverpool ends. Whenever a cruise ship appears at the Liverpool Cruise Terminal the event turns into a "yellow coat" jamboree with stewards and security guards everywhere. However, despite the presence of two cruise ships security was distinctly low key! Two guards - one of whom disappeared after the departure of SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE - kept a somewhat watchful eye over proceedings.
Curious locals were allowed to come into the fenced area and take a look without the usual hassle to be found at some ports.
After breakfast it was time to take the shuttle-bus into Rouen City Centre, just on leaving the terminal the coach passes a very impressive, though now abandoned art - deco building, the former Port of Rouen wine terminal as it made its way out of the dock estate down a tree lined avenue!
I spent the morning exploring Rouen Cathedral - a splendid building which has undergone much restoration as has the rest of the city to restore damaged caused by allied bombing during the closing stages of WWII. One can find here the tomb of Richard the Lionheart. Exploring the Cathedral took longer than expected so after a coffee at a nearby cafe it was back to the ship for lunch.
That afternoon it was back to the main entrance of the Cathedral to catch the tour train which takes visitors on a very interesting ride around the back streets and alleyways of this very attractive city. At first I thought an open top bus would have been more appropriate but eventually one realised such a vehicle would not fit where the tour train could travel.
After another wander around it was back to BLACK PRINCE for dinner. Unfortunately dinner coincided with the departure of SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE and hence this went unrecorded by the camera. A pleasant evening was spent outside watching some of the passing Seine river traffic. A number of the barges carrying a car on the roof of the accommodation! The amount of barge traffic was quite impressive.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 26
Cruise Log Record: Tuesday August 25 Distance: St. Peter Port to Rouen 187NM
Wind: West south westerly Force 2, light breeze, partly cloudy skies, calm sea / river, air temperature max 23°C
On Wednesday I had decided to sample a coach trip. Back in April I had enjoyed a visit to Honfleur on BLACK WATCH and wanted to go back and have another look. I, therefore, booked on the "Taste of Normandy" tour which included a visit to Honfleur as well as a visit to the Château de Breuil .
The decision proved to be worthwhile as on arrival two river cruise ships were in dock at Honfleur the BIZET and RHONE PRINCESS presenting a good photo opportunity. Having already explored the town in April I opted out of the walking tour and "did my own thing" which included photographing the river cruise ships!
The second part of the trip to Château de Breuil proved very interesting - here it was possible to observe the stills used production of Calvados and have an excellent snack tasting local cheese, bread and cidre!
Then it was back on the coach to return to BLACK PRINCE before the end of lunch service.
During the afternoon, it was time to explore the maritime museum located a few hundred yards from the berth in one of the former transit sheds - and a very good museum it is too. The focal point of the museum is the barge POMPON ROUGE a preserved River Seine motor barge. The museum has an informative display on the Port and River past and present.
Unfortunately by the time one entered the museum the weather had become too good - and away from the river side breeze it had become very hot inside - so perhaps not as much time was spent there as was deserved. Inside the museum was a very large model of the long demolished Rouen Transporter Bridge - similar to - though not as long as the one which once existed across the River Mersey at Runcorn.
Departure from Rouen was scheduled for 19:30, however, BLACK PRINCE was away from the berth 5 minutes early. The evening weather continued kind as we sailed down river past the various berths and an interesting variety of vessels both at rest and on the move. [click here].
The sail down the meandering River Seine was particularly interesting, there is a lot to see and one wondered why perhaps departure from Rouen could not have been made a few hours earlier to enable much more of the scenery to be enjoyed in day light.
Cruise Log Record: Wednesday August 26
Wind: South south westerly Force 2, light breeze, partly cloudy skies, calm river, air temperature max 21°C
THURSDAY AUGUST 27
Thursday dawned somewhat grey. With a late arrival at St. Malo there was the opportunity to have something of a sleep in. After a latish breakfast it was outside onto the Lido Deck for the run towards the Côte d'Emeraude - with Cap Fréhel lighthouse just visible to starboard.
At 10:53 Brittany Ferries BRETAGNE passed to port outbound on her morning sailing to Portsmouth.
Late morning there appeared to be some attempt to set up some musical entertainment on the Lido Deck. The cruise director and several crew looked at the grey sky, brought some items out, but eventually after a few drops of rain fell decided not to bother with a deck party as she sailed into St. Malo. It might have looked good - but clutter on deck when wanting to photograph an arrival at an interesting port is the last thing one needs! So it was with a sigh of relief that the musical accompaniment was abandoned!
However, from the moment the decision was taken to abandon the music the weather gradually started to brighten up!
BLACK PRINCE was met by the new pilot vessel LA CHEVAUERE which I had seen undergoing trials in Cork Harbour in 2008. She is an Interceptor 42 built by Safehaven Marine of County Cork.
As BLACK PRINCE approached St. Malo the 1985 hopper dredger COTES D'ARMOR of Armoricaine De Navigation was passed outbound. BLACK PRINCE was also escorted by the St. Malo Chamber of Commerce tug DAVIER.
Rather than anchor off the port BLACK PRINCE was scheduled to enter the dock system and berth just by the St. Malo City walls in the Bassin Vauban. This is accessed via a lock. BLACK PRINCE is only a small ship by present standards but she only just fitted the lock with very little space for or aft!
Thus entering the lock was a very drawn out procedure. However, as well as watching the locking-in procedure additional interest was created by the arrival at St. Malo Sea Terminal of CONDOR 10 on her sailing from Weymouth which also calls at Guernsey and Jersey. Shortly after the arrival of CONDOR 10 the Compagnie Corsaire high speed craft JACQUES CARTIER arrived on her sailing from Jersey.
Whilst passing through the lock into Bassin Vauban it was noted that the spelling on what looked like a very new sign was showing significant errors as can be seen from the photograph opposite.
During final berthing manoeuvres it was time to head off to the Balblom Restaurant for lunch. BLACK PRINCE was alongside as shortly after 12:00.
Disembarking it was interesting to note that security was again low key, with just one Securitas guard charged with keeping and eye on passengers and the ship! A small garden shed provided a tourist information outlet for arriving passengers.
As at Rouen there is a road train offering tours around the city. This provided a good introduction with commentary to the City of St. Malo for a very reasonable fare. After the trip on the road train it was time to explore some of the streets on foot and a short section of the city walls. To anyone familiar with the granite architecture of Cornwall St. Malo is similar - but on a much grander scale. There are many interesting shops including ones with a nautical twist. The walls surrounding the city provide an ideal vantage point looking into the city streets and also provided a good location from which to photograph BLACK PRINCE.
A late departure from St. Malo was scheduled. Before dinner the Compagnie Corsiare JAQUES CARTIER returned from her afternoon round trip to Jersey.
After dinner - which was preceded by the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party it was time to head out to observe departure. At around 20:30 the crew removed the steps at 21:11 tug GRANDE - BÉ hauled BLACK PRINCE's stern off the berth as she let go at St. Malo for the very last time. Unless Fred. Olsen acquire another small ship, BLACK PRINCE future calls by other fleet members will not be able to access the Bassin Vauban.
Departure through the lock, whose approach is spanned by a rolling bridge of quite interesting design was took place after dark. By now the walled city was subtly flood lit and a large crowd had gathered to watch BLACK PRINCE depart, some of whom were probably there involuntarily being prevented from continuing their journey due to the open bridge which remained open for some considerable time as entering the lock outbound was just as slow in bound!
Though given the number of "hopeful" camera flashes noted it looked like quite a few had turned out to observe our departure. Many passing through the bridges barrier to stand at the very edge of the open bridge. Now if that had happened in the UK such spectators would probably have been chased by police or the usual yellow coat brigade. The port staff working the lock ignored them - how refreshing!
BLACK PRINCE was finally clear of the lock at around 22:07 and we headed off out to sea. The pilot was collected by the Port of St. Malo's other pilot boat whose name I failed t record - though I did manage to get an excellent available light picture of her running alongside BLACK PRINCE.
Later in the evening as appears to be a penultimate night tradition the catering crew laid on a spectacular "Troll Buffet" in the Royal Garter Restaurant. Prior to opening for dining the presentation is made available for photographic purposes.
Obviously much work goes into the preparation of such a buffet as you can see below - it really is a work of art.