Before I start posting about the epic cruise I have just begun, I thought I would post a short entry about the four (or should that be three and a bit – more later!) cruises I enjoyed last year, which had varying fortunes. In order of sailing, they were:
Spain, Cape Verdes & the Canaries (a.k.a. Cadiz & Tenerife)
This cruise was on Boudicca in late January, was due to last for 18 nights. All was well at the start, we had a lovely day in Cadiz, and set sail that evening for the next port in Lanzarote. In the middle of the night we were all awoken by the captain reporting an incident in the engine room. Frequent updates followed, reporting that the incident was under control, and that the slight list to the ship would be sorted once they had restarted one of the engines! We were told to remain calm in our cabins until morning, when we emerged to find the ship eerily quiet and just drifting in a calm sea. It was only then that it was revealed that the incident was a fire in the engine room. A short while later an engine was started and we limped onwards to the Canaries, diverting after a while to Tenerife. There we had a day of free tours ashore while they assessed the damage, and that evening we were told we would be flown back to the UK the next day. Fred. Olsen handled the repatriation very well, and offered very good compensation for the loss of most of the cruise. Certainly a (partial) cruise to remember!
Solar Eclipse – Norway & the Faroe Islands
After the drama of the ‘fire cruise’, just a few short weeks later I was back on Boudicca, this time sailing north on a 15 night cruise to view snowy mountains, and fingers firmly crossed, the northern lights and a total solar eclipse! Going back on board it felt a little like getting back on a horse after a fall, and a big generator in a container strapped to the very top deck showed repairs were not yet completed in the engine room. However after the bad luck of the previous cruise, this time the fates were on our side, and as well as the stunning snowy Norwegian scenery we were treated to seeing the northern lights on three evenings. On the way back home, north of the Faroe Islands, we joined with two other Fred. Olsen ships on similar cruises in trying to see the total solar eclipse. The weather forecast was not promising, and those up at 5am reported light snow was falling. By the time I got up around 7am that had “improved” to light rain and misty drizzle. We waited more in hope than expectation on deck, cameras & tripods at the ready. The captain took advice from one of our astronomy experts on board – Pete Lawrence from The Sky At Night – and moved our ship away from the others to try to find clearer skies. Thanks to the brilliance of Pete and the captain, we were positioned so that just at the moment of the first ‘diamond ring’ the sun entered a hole in the clouds, and just after the totality had ended and we saw the second ‘diamond ring’ the clouds returned. A Hollywood scriptwriter could not have done a better job! A half-day on the Faroe Islands completed an epic cruise never to be forgotten.
The Azores & Madeira
This 13 night cruise sailed in May on a different Fred. Olsen ship, the Balmoral. My friends and I were apprehensive before sailing, has there had been “a number of reported cases of a mild gastric illness” on board this ship on its preceeding cruise, requiring a deep clean of the ship before we boarded. Our fears were justified, as I and two of my friends, amongst many other passengers, were struck down by the gastric illness – which was far from “mild”. As a result I spent the two day visit to Madeira confined to my cabin, and became all too familar with the view below. Unfortunately this time Fred. Olsen’s handling of a problem situation was not up to scratch, and there were many cruises after ours before they got on top of the infection problem on that ship. Once more the fortune pendulum had switched sides, so I kept everything crossed it would switch again for my final cruise that year.
You choose your cruise
My final cruise last year was a 15 night cruise on a third Fred. Olsen ship, the Braemar. This was a cruise with a twist, we knew in advance a list of pairs of possible ports we could visit in Portugal and Spain, and as the cruise progressed the passengers voted for which of the next pair was visited next. Voting was done by placing a plastic counter in one of two perspex boxes in Reception, and the result was generally announced as we left the previous port. It was a different and novel idea, and seemed very popular with the passengers. The fortune pendulum had swung back to good, keeping up the alternate pattern, as lovely sunny weather followed our ship around. Sometimes it might have been very wet the day or even the night before our arrival in port, but while we were there the sun shone down on us and everything looked at its best. It ended a very varied and dramatic year of cruising, and despite some bad fortune I was busy planning and booking cruises for the year ahead.