On April 09, 1995 I stood on the open deck of a Red Funnel vessel heading from East Cowes to Southampton. I had chosen the sailing carefully to ensure I could photograph the departure of the then P&O owned ORIANA on her maiden voyage.
As I clicked away with the camera I thought to myself "I must sail out of the Solent on a cruise ship one day." Well that was 14 years ago.
There followed many years of scheduled ferry sailing and many coastal day excursions and it wasn't until August 2008 that I undertook my first cruise on board BLACK PRINCE.
The BLACK PRINCE trip was a very enjoyable trip and on return I quickly got in touch with Peter Corrin and booked another trip on BLACK PRINCE for August 2009.
However, 12 months was a long time to wait to sample Fred Olsen again. So I quickly had another look though the brochure and discovered that the BLACK WATCH Celtic Spring cruise fitted into my Easter holidays
Therefore, I wasted no time booking another trip. My journey on BLACK WATCH was to be my first experience of a voyage on a purpose built cruise ship.
BLACK PRINCE is a fine little ship and will be sorely missed when she is withdrawn later this year but she is still a ro/pax ferry at heart.
The THOMSON CELEBRATION would have represented my first voyage on a cruise ship - but as visitors to this web site will have read that turned into a fiasco with the ship remaining in dock at Liverpool.
Therefore, it was with anticipation that I headed off down to Southampton on the Saturday of the Easter weekend. The BLACK WATCH cruise wasn’t due to begin until Monday; however, I decided that a day on the Isle of Wight and a sail with Red Funnel would be a suitable prelude.
I spent a couple of nights at the Holiday Inn at Southampton which is literally within a stones throw of berth 101 – The City Cruise Terminal. The hotel room actually overlooking the terminal!
On the Sunday I had a very satisfactory trip over to the Isle of Wight – my first with a car and managed to see many of the sights as well as deciding that this area needed a much longer visit in future.
Monday April 13, 2009
I awoke quite early on the morning of April 13 – before 05:00. Looking out of the window it was quite foggy. Then I realised what must have woken me up. It was the sound of a ship's horn someway off. However, it appeared on each blast to be getting nearer.
The horn blowing ceased after a while. I got out of bed and on looking out of the window I could see BLACK WATCH off the berth. She gently came along side. This was the end of her first cruise of the 2009 season a 93 day round the world voyage. The mist lingered for much of the morning, remaining on the hotel until around 11:00 the visibility came and went as the banks of mist drifted by. Despite being only a couple of hundred yards away BLACK WATCH appeared and disappeared for much of the morning. However, as the sun grew stronger the mist gradually burnt off.
Checking out of the hotel at around 11:00 I parked in the adjacent Mayflower Park for a while. This is a nice spot overlooking the water front. Parking here is only 70p for 2 hours. Much cheaper than at any parking location near the Pier Head in Liverpool where the typical charge is £1 for 30 minutes!
At Mayflower Park, there are many river front parking spaces in which one can sit in the car watching the passing ships.
I presented myself at the terminal just after 12:00 though check-in wasn't supposed to start until 13:00. However, I thought it best to be early and discovered there were quite a few people there already.
I had booked my parking with CPS Cruise Parking Services. Representatives were waiting to take the car off to a compound. I then just had to take my bags into the terminal. The larger bags being handed in at the baggage shed opposite.
After handing the bags in I went into the entrance foyer of the terminal where quite a few people were milling around.
At around 12:30 the doors to the check-in area were opened. Check in arrangements are different at Southampton than what might be encountered at some terminals one passes through security before one reaches the check-in area.
The check in desk area is very large with many check-in positions obviously to cater for large numbers travelling on the RCCI mega-ships which also depart from the City Cruise Terminal.
Once checked in, there was a wait of about an hour and a half in the departure lounge. This progressively filled up and eventually some people were sitting on the floor. However, it is quite a nice waiting area. Sometime after 14:00 boarding commenced. This was conducted by the assistant cruise manager.
When boarding commenced Gold & Silver Ocean's Club members were called forwards first. Ocean's Club is Fred. Olsen Lines loyalty club which attracts points based on number of nights spent on board. With only 9 points under my belt I am only at blue level - 31 being needed to reach silver. After this trip I would have 14.
After the Gold & Silver Ocean's Club members were boarded, the next group to go on board were the first time cruisers. Then it was the turn for the rest. Having arrived early I was still on boardfairly quickly. Once on board I quickly fund my cabin 7032 on deck 7.
When I originally booked I chose an outside standard cabin. However, several before departure I had been offered the opportunity to upgrade to a junior suite for a modest supplement. I am glad I exercised this as it moved me up to deck 7 from deck 3. From here there is quick access onto the outside promenade deck also located at this level.
On arrival at my cabin I found my luggage was already waiting. Checking the “Daily Times” newsletter it was noted that lifeboat drill was scheduled for 16:00.
The junior suite was very nice. Quite a lot of luggage space being provided including some courtesy umbrellas. There was also a mini-bar and fridge full of reasonably priced drinks.
There was also a large picture window which looked out onto the open deck – the windows had a reflective coating which made it easy to see out but difficult to see in so no real problem from passers by being able to see in.
There was a fully fitted bathroom, rather than shower cubical as I had encountered on BLACK PRINCE the previous year, complete with bags of toiletries as well as the usual liquid soap.
After unpacking I took a quick look around BLACK WATCH. The Whittaker bunkering barge JAYNEE W was alongside. The next ship along the quay was Grimaldi Lines Car Carries GRAND SICILIA – which was discharging vehicles. Further away at the Mayflower Cruise terminal was Carnival Corporation’s AURORA which was also embarking passengers.
I presented myself for lifeboat drill at my muster station in the Explorers’ Lounge shortly before 16:00 having been assigned lifeboat 10. The formalities were completed within around 15 minutes with a safety brief from Captain Torbjørn Lund over the PA.
With the lifeboat drill out of the way it was time for those passengers wishing to observe the departure to make their way outside. I returned the life-jacket to my cabin and discovered that a bowl of fruit had appeared - this was to be regularly topped up by the attentive cabin stewardess. By now the bunkering barge had cleared. At 16:37, seven minutes behind schedule BLACK WATCH let go and slowly her stern moved out into the River Test.
On the opposite bank could be seen several now redundant Wightlink Ferries which have recently been replaced by the new builds.
At Marchwood Royal Fleet Auxiliary Landing Ship Sock RFA MOUNTS BAY could be seen as well as the decommissioned Round Table Landing Ship Logistics RFA SIR PERCIVALE which has been laid up at this location since 2004.
BLACK WATCH departed from Southampton seven minutes behind schedule at 16:37. Given our leisurely schedule to Guernsey seven minutes would not make much difference once way or another!
Comms traffic between BLACK WATCH revealed a passenger loading of 857 – almost a capacity loading
As BLACK WATCH swung her bow seawards and moved down the River Test she passed Mayflower Park which by now was busy with spectators assembled in the fine weather observing our departure and that of AURORA scheduled for some minutes later.
Passing the Red Funnel terminal where RED EAGLE could be seen on the berth soon passed container ship OOCL BELGIUM being assisted into Southampton by Svitzer tugs ADSTEAM SURREY and BENTLEY.
BLACK WATCH made slow but steady progress down Southampton Water, passing the Fawley Oil Terminal passing Calshot at 17:27.
After spending some time at the forward end of deck 7 I moved up to The Observatory on deck 9 which provided an excellent grand stand view of the coast of the Isle of Wight to starboard including the grounds of Osborne House, and Portsmouth to the port side.
BLACK WATCH set a south easterly course passing to the east of the Isle of Wight. Off the NAB TOWER the pilot vessel came alongside to pick up the pilot at around 18:45 after dropping a pilot on the inbound container ship NYK AQUARIUS.
A number of ships were noted at anchor off Spithead. Approaching from the South West out of the sun and this difficult to photograph in the bright evening light was the Brittany Ferries Incat NORMANDIE EXPRESS.
I had booked for dinner on the second sitting at 20:30 and found that my allocated table was in the smaller Orchid Room off the main Glentanar Restaurant located on deck 6. This is a quieter much more intimate dining room than the main restaurant. I used this for most meals – though I did sample the Garden Café for one breakfast and one lunch as well as one Supper Club sitting.
This is provided for those who have not already eaten enough between 23:00 and 00:00 in the Garden Café. However, such was the quantity and quality of food at the main meal sittings my one and only visit was for review purposes only. Needless to say the fare provided was plentiful and excellent!
As I found with my BLACK PRINCE cruise last August – the overall service and the quality of the food for the duration of the trip was excellent. The waiters and wine water doing a splendid job and really took interest in the passengers.
After Dinner I retired to The Observatory again. Just before the trip I had obtained a GPS and it was interesting to note that at 22:50 BLACK WATCH was in a position 15 nautical miles NE of Barfleur heading west at around 10 knots.
Around 23:15 I retired to bed.
Cruise Log Record: Monday April 13 – Distance to St. Peter Port, Guernsey 153NM
Wind Force 0 to 1, Partly Cloudy with Sunny Skies, Calm Water in port, air temperature. Max 14C
Tuesday April 14, 2009
I decided to get up quite early on Tuesday April 14 in good time for arrival at St. Peter Port which was timed for 07:30.
I awoke around 06:30 to discover we were some miles south of Guernsey, the over night passage time being more than adequate to ensure an early arrival.
The Guernsey Pilot Vessel GOLDEN SPUR deposited the pilot aboard around 06:55 and then led us to the anchorage where anchor was dropped 5 cables off St. Peter Port Harbour Lighthouse at 07:25.
I headed off for breakfast and tried out the Garden Room the smaller informal restaurant located aft of the Orchid Room. The first tenders were way quite early for those on booked tours.
I waited for a while hoping that open tendering would commence. However, most passengers decided they wanted to go ashore! Passenger figures received over the radio later revealed that of the 857 on board 736 were landed thus the tenders were very busy!
Therefore, I didn’t get to the harbour until around 11:00 – I wandered round to a suitable vantage point to photograph the arrival of CONDOR VITESSE at 11:30 before ambling back to the tender pontoon near the St. Peter Port Sea Terminal. A short wait followed before the tender arrived to take us back on board.
After lunch I made my way outside. Departure has been scheduled for 13:30, but given the large numbers of passengers going ashore the second tender (#11) was not secured until just before 14:00 by which time BLACK WATCH had begun to weigh anchor. We headed off south with the pilot being dropped around 14:08
Whilst it had been somewhat overcast on Guernsey the afternoon was pleasant enough. Sitting outside on deck 7 overlooking the swimming pool area it was pleasant to watch Guernsey slip by.
What I discovered at this stage was the fact that BLACK WATCH is a rather smoky ship – large chunks of soot were fluttering down! I mean large too – as big as autumn leaves on occasions! – Oh well - there is a good laundry service on board which I tried and proved to be efficient and sorted out my sooty trousers!
As BLACK WATCH left the sheltered waters around Guernsey and headed west we encountered a respectable swell rolling in off the Atlantic – one of those “oily” but lumpy swells which caused the BLACK WATCH to pitch into the troughs quite noticeably.
The water in the swimming pool was starting to splash around quite a lot and after around an hour sizeable quantities were being splashed out onto deck 6. An engineer appeared and took a look at things and went away. He came back around 30 minutes later with some deck hands who put the net over the pool and discharging of the water began.
By the time the pool was around half empty the swell became even more marked and BLACK WATCH went into a particularly deep trough – big enough for the remaining contents of the pool to splash upwards and wet those passengers on deck 7! It looked as though the ship was trying to self cleanse the soot.
A little damp, I decided it was time to head up to The Observatory for the remainder of the afternoon. It was quiet up there. The motion of the ship had obviously helped shoo away those not used to the motion. It was not difficult to secure a seat overlooking the bow for a few drinks.
I remained up there for several hours – at 17:39 we were 51.26 miles south of Plymouth. Little shipping was to be seen during the afternoon though at 18:05 an eastbound MSC container ship was noted and at 18:36 a Hapag-Lloyd container ship was visible.
There was a splendid sunset at 20:10 – one of the more memorable of those I have seen at sea.
I went off to dinner at 20:30 – the lazy Atlantic swell had ensured that the restaurant was much quieter with quite a few tables in the main Glentanar Restaurant and a couple in the Orchid Room vacant.
After dinner I returned to The Observatory lights could be seen on the Cornish coast – the GPS revealing that we were off St. Just with the Pendeen Lighthouse visible at 22:55.
I retired for the evening around 23:30 hoping for a pleasant day in Cóbh.
Cruise Log Record: Tuesday April 14 – Distance to Cóbh, Ireland 299NM
Wind Force 2, Overcast sky with rain showers, Calm Water in harbour, air temperature. Max 15C
Wednesday April 15, 2009
I didn’t wake as early as expected on the Wednesday and looking out of the window it was clear it had been raining with the coastline off Crosshaven visible.
As I left my cabin I saw the Cork Harbour Pilot making his way up the stairs to the bridge.
We sailed into Cóbh under threatening skies. The tanker LIBELLE was alongside the Whitegate Refinery oil jetty whilst anchored at the nearby Spit Bank anchorage was James Fisher & Sons MILFORD FISHER – a regular caller at Whitegate.
The two small rope handling tugs SHIELA and AGAHDA assisted our berthing. BLACK WATCH was secure at around 08:25.
By now it was raining and rather miserable. After a visit to the shop and café in the Heritage Centre, lunch was had on board, hoping that the weather would clear up. The forecast suggested that might be the case.
After lunch I took the train into Cork still in anticipation of the rain going off! Cobh Station is right beside the cruise ship berth and it is part of this building which now houses the Heritage Centre. Built very much like many Victorian rail / sea interchanges it handled many of the passengers arriving in the port to undertake trans-Atlantic voyages. However, whilst the scheduled liners and emigrant ships have long departed the railhead still provides a useful function for cruise ship passengers.
However despite my optimism on boarding the train, the rain continued. Therefore, I decided that I would have a coffee at Kent Station Cork rather than wander into town and return to Cobh. However, on the return trip the rain finally went off.
It is several years since I have travelled on the Cork – Cóbh line and it was interesting to note many improvements to stations which have taken place in the last few years. Later this year the Glanthule to Midleton Line once part of the longer route to Youghall is scheduled to reopen reopen. This leaves the Cork to Cóbh line at Glanthule. For future cruise ship passengers in the know – the visit to Midleton for the Jameson Distillery will become easy and much cheaper than the cruise ship coach trips to the same venue. This is something to be aware of from summer 2009 if you are on a cruise calling at Cóbh. Rail times should appear on the Iarnrod Éireann web site in due course.
After a wander around Cobh I adjourned to The Observatory again. Unfortunately, there was little in the way of movements on April 14 – naval or merchant. On the subject of the Irish Naval Service it was noted that since my last visit in summer 2008, substantial supports had been erected to support the walls of the period naval warehouse on Haulbowline Island damaged in a fire during spring 2009.
A couple of unidentified vessels were in the Naval Dockyard basin. LE EITHNE had been spotted from the train alongside at the Rushbrooke shipyard and I think I caught a glimpse of what looked like DAVID F the Naval Service passenger ferry as well. The Cóbh – Haulbowline naval ferry was being operated by Marine Transport Services BRIAN J which is employed during the summer season on harbour tours.
Before dinner at 20:00 the Captain was interviewed by the Cruise Director in the Neptune Lounge.
In the interview Captain Torbjørn Lund revealed that prior to joining Fred. Olsen Lines he had served as an officer with Royal Caribbean and moved to Olsen around a year ago being appointed Captain around six months previously.
BLACK WATCH was scheduled to remain in port until 23:00. The gangway was off at 22:30, we were singled up by 22:45 with ropes off at 22:53. Roche’s Point Lighthouse was passed at 23:27 and the pilot was away at 23:30.
Before retiring that evening we were reminded to advance our watches by one hour to Central European time in advance of our call at Honfleur on Thursday
Cruise Log Record: Wednesday April 15
Wind Force 4, Overcast skies with passing rain showers, slight sea, and air temperature. Max 11C
Thursday April 16, 2009
I slept soundly again that night. I had calculated our likely position on the GPS and set my alarm to ensure I was awake before we were off the Cornish Coast.
With a day at sea, things could be quite leisurely. At 08:25 a familiar shape could be seen from the port side - heading in a north westerly direction was Celtic Link Ferries’ DIPLOMAT. She was heading towards Rosslare from Cherbourg. Though unfortunately too far away for a photograph.
The weather was still rather grey but the rain had gone off! At 09:00 the SEVENSTONES light ship was visible around to starboard.
At this stage we also passed a couple of other ships the ro/ro freighter NATALI on the starboard side and SEA KESTREL to port. BLACK WATCH passed to the West of Wolf Rock and changed course to head up the English Channel.
At around 10:28 we appeared to be 10.5 nautical miles south of Porthcurno. Though still rather grey visibility was quite reasonable and the Cornish coast could be seen including Mount’s Bay and even St. Michael’s Mount.
As we approached the Lizard at 10:49 a Royal Navy Merlin Helicopter buzzed the ship a few times, giving those passengers on deck an interesting flying display, before heading off in the direction of HMS SEAHAWK – the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose situated on the Lizard Peninsula.
BLACK WATCH was now around 6.5 nm off the Lizard with Lizard Lighthouse clearly visible. A little further west a tug could be seen heading out of Falmouth hauling two barges.
At mid day the captain gave is update and announced that they expected to pick up the Honfleur pilot at 05:00 the following morning.
Lunch followed and the GPS revealed that the BLACK WATCH was following the Rosslare – Le Havre ferry route almost exactly.
Lunch on Thursday was something a bit different – with a variety of tasty home made pancakes being made to order in the restaurant. – Very good!
By 14:51 we were 35.67 nm south of Plymouth and we continued to proceed at a leisurely speed of around 10 to 12 knots passing a number of vessels including a Brixham registered fishing vessel.
The rest of the afternoon was spent again up in The Observatory – the weather continuing to brighten. Quite a few of the deck crew were taking advantage of the good to weather and were busy in the fo'c'sle chipping, scraping and painting.
Thursday evening was “Formal Evening” with the Captain’s Cocktail Party. This was held in the Neptune Lounge and was organized around the two sittings and everyone had the opportunity to meet the captain and have their photo taken.
The Captain then introduced the ship’s senior management in humorous style and explained there was a total of 17 nationalities on board with the English executive chef appearing to get the most applause! The Captain said he wasn't surprised by this.
Captain Lund also gave a breakdown of the 859 passengers on board – some how we appeared to have acquired two more since the passenger number transmission to Southampton VTS was heard. This was almost a full load – though up to a maximum of around 900 can be accommodated with full cabin utilization. Of the 859 – 830 were from the UK whilst the remainder had come on the trip from Denmark, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Ireland
After dinner I again retired to The Observatory at 22:30 the lights of Cherbourg were visible around 14 miles to the south.
Cruise Log Record: Thursday April 16 – Distance Cobh to Honfleur 400NM
Wind Force 2 to 1, Partly Cloudy with Sunny Skies, Smooth water in port, air temperature. Max 13C
Friday April 17, 2009
I set my alarm for an early start on Friday around 06:00. Arrival time was shown on the itinerary for 07:15. However when I awoke I realized the ship was stationary and already alongside berth QSH3 at Honfleur. Looking out of the window one could make out the lights of the Le Havre area on the oppose bank - the ship having berthed with her bow pointing up river.
It appeared to have been raining again overnight or the crew had been up very early cleaning the decks. However, as it grew light the weather cleared and a fine day was to follow.
After breakfast I took the complimentary shuttle bus into the small bus station at Honfleur – it is only around a mile.
Honfleur is a delightful little town in the Calvados area of Lower Normandie near the estuary of the River Seine. It nestles around the enclosed dock – Vieux Bassin surrounded by slate fronted waterside houses and many attractive shops and cafés.
The morning was spent exploring before a return on the bus for lunch. After lunch I walked back into town past the lifeboat station and lock. I had intended to take a boat trip under Le Pont du Normandie – the impressive cable stayed bridge which crosses the River Seine just up river.
However, pausing for to photograph an inbound ship which I could see approaching made me late and I wandered back to the ship.
When I returned to the BLACK WATCH several ships passed by including the impressive suction dredger DANIEL LAVAL. Later in the afternoon a familiar shape could be seen approaching from beneath Le Pont du Normandie – good old MERSEY FISHER of James Fisher & Sons – Barrow!
Ropes were off at Honfleur just about on time at 18:03 and after a very slow swing we headed off towards the mouth of the Seine estuary. The pilot boat was away at 19:06 and BLACK WATCH headed out into the English Channel.
Around 20 minutes later a number of ships at anchor waiting to enter the Seine or Le Havre were passed and at 19:19 Brittany Ferries NORMANDIE passed close by on her way to Caen.
A final dinner followed and farewell was bade to the excellent waiters in the Orchid Room and I headed for The Observatory for the final time.
The switch back to BST from CET allowed an extra hour in bed which was fortunate as an early disembarkation was necessary due to BLACK WATCH repositioning to Dover for a cruise to the Canary Islands.
Cruise Log Record: Friday April 16 – Distance Honfleur to Southampton 122 NM
I awoke at 06:00 and we were already alongside at berth 101- City Cruise Terminal, Southampton – arrival having been scheduled for 05:15.
If you recall I opened this voyage report mentioning the ORIANA which I had last seen and photographed whilst departing on her maiden voyage just over 14 years earlier. Approaching from astern and heading for the City Cruise Terminal was – the ORIANA. She had been due, according to Southampton VTS, to arrive the same time as BLACK WATCH but had obviously been delayed – this provided a good photo opportunity.
I had decided to avoid breakfast on the final morning – partly due to the fact I had eaten more than enough over the past few days – and partly due to the fact that, due to teh early disembarkation, the foot outlets would have been quite busy over a fairly short period.
Instead I finished off the bowl of fruit which had been regularly topped up in the cabin during the cruise.
Disembarkation was undertaken by deck number starting from the top down. Basically the higher the grade of accommodation the quicker one disembarked – deck 7 was away by around 07:30.
What impressed me was the fact that the Captain presented himself at the gangway to bid farewell to the disembarking passengers as had the Captain of the BLACK PRINCE the previous year. This is a nice touch something noticeably missing from my THOMSON CELEBRATION non-cruise in October 2008.
On entering the terminal all the luggage was neatly laid out quickly found and reclaimed. A representative from Cruise Parking Services directed me to where I could reclaim my car keys and from there I was directed to the nearby car park. The whole disembarkation was very well organized and straight forward. On reclaiming the car I moved round to the nearby Mayflower Park to watch BLACK WATCH depart for Dover – this had been scheduled for 09:15 – but she managed to get away earlier with ropes off 08:47.
BLACK WATCH didn’t quite sail “light ship” a few lucky passengers could be seen still on board presumably doing the Canaries trip as well unfortunately work beckoned for me on the Monday!
Did I enjoy the BLACK WATCH? – Yes of course I did.
As I watched her sail out of Southampton I reflected on the Captain's words at the Cocktail Party, which went along the lines that one might spend a lot of money on a material item and later loose it, have it wear out or have it stolen. But one can never loose the memories of an enjoyable cruise. - How very true!
It was pleasing to note that the high standards I experienced on the smaller more intimate BLACK PRINCE the previous August were repeated on the BLACK WATCH.
Needless to say I have been studying the Fred. Olsen Itineraries for 2010 and already have my eye on a couple of BLACK WATCH sailings – so yes I intend to be back on board her in 2010.
To conclude I would just like to thank Peter Corrin for sorting out my reservation and would whole heartedly recommend Peter for a no fuss approach to booking a cruise – not just with Fred. Olsen but also many other cruise ship operators.
You can contact Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org . Web page: http://gocruisedirect.co.uk/peterc