Search This Blog

Thursday, 1 March 2012

My nautical mystery tour: Gambia, Gibraltar, Iceland? Our destination - anyone’s guess

My nautical mystery tour: Gambia, Gibraltar, Iceland? Our destination - anyone’s guess

By Wendy Gomersall
MydeaMedia

My fellow 500 passengers and I had booked a 16-night winter cruise aboard Saga Ruby – and not one of us had any idea where we were going.
All we knew for certain was that Captain McLundie's Mystery Cruise would leave, and arrive back at, Southampton.
At least four countries would be visited and eight ports of call made, three of them maiden calls – good news for the Saga veterans, the majority of the guests, as they could look forward to visiting some new destinations.
Revealed: Casablanca - home to the Hassan II Mosque, the third-largest in the world ¿ was the first port the Saga Ruby visited. It was built to commemorate former king Hassan IIs 60th birthday in 1993
Revealed: Casablanca - home to the Hassan II Mosque, the third-largest in the world ¿ was the first port the Saga Ruby visited. It was built to commemorate former king Hassan IIs 60th birthday in 1993
Only the captain, chief purser, watch keepers and shore excursion staff knew exactly where we were before the ship berthed and a general announcement was made.
All passenger electronic charts were turned off and any guests caught using gadgets to work out our position would have them confiscated, we were warned.
Come on, I thought, you've only got to look up at the sun – it rises in the East, sets in the West – to figure out our direction, then it'll be easy to take an educated guess where we'll stop. We won't get too far (and back) in two weeks, so it's going to be cold, I calculated, and threw thermals, fleeces and fluffy hats into my suitcase.
Guess list: The Saga Ruby visited eight ports... but which ones?
Guess list: The Saga Ruby visited eight ports... but which ones?
Day one, and the weather was in cahoots with the captain. We couldn't see the sky for murky wetness, and had no chance of working out which direction we were headed. Nothing for it but to relax and go with the flow...
Saga Ruby is a homely kind of ship, big enough to have all you need – lounges, bars, two restaurants, including The View for more intimate (and much better) dining, a spa with Decleor treatments and an indoor pool, internet room, shop, library and cinema.
But with room for 661 passengers, it's not so big you can't easily find your cabin.
Which was excellent news as house wine, beer and spirits were all included in the cost – no wonder some passengers had booked a year in advance.
Activities were non-scary – beanbag boules, watercolour classes, quizzes, bridge, bingo – though some of the lectures gave us food for thought: ‘What Happens If All The Engines Stop?’ by an air safety (aka crash) investigator, and an enlightening talk by a former coroner.
Other distractions included excellent jazz from Kenny Martyn, entertaining song and dance shows from the Gail Davies Production cast and a bizarre but popular adult puppet show, Stars On Strings.
But guests were also spending an awful lot of time and energy trying to work out where we were going. We spent the first three days at sea, but we discovered Saga are sneaky lot – we had not necessarily sailed in a straight line, so there was no point trying to calculate how far we'd gone.
It got a little rough at one point – it has to be the North Sea then, said one guest authoritatively. We'd have seen oil rigs, contradicted another, it must be Iceland. Not cold enough, I think it's Madeira, claimed another.
Gaelic coffee was one of the special drinks of the day – it must be Ireland, and so it went on. Entries for the 'Guess the first port' competition were piling up, as were applications to join the tour of the  bridge.
Guests who'd hoped to sneak a peek at the ship's instruments were disappointed – screens were covered up and dummy charts were left lying around.
Revealed: The snakes were not the only ones to be charmed in Casablanca, Morocco, which was the first port of call
Revealed: The snakes were not the only ones to be charmed in Casablanca, Morocco, which was the first port of call
Many attempts at wrong-footing passengers were made, too, to keep the fun going. Dinner menus gave 'clues', claiming we were en route to the Philippines, home of many of our excellent waiting staff. Daily programmes did not show the port of call to be visited – at least, not the real one.
There were reports of attempted bribery – here's a big bar of chocolate if you tell me where we're going – but it seemed none of the crew knew either. 'Best' guesses so far had also included Gibraltar, the Canaries and Gambia.
 
We were all wrong. We awoke one morning in Casablanca. A half-day mystery tour is included at each port, so off we went to see the city's historic centre. We were feeling a bit flat by the time we got back on the coach though, like when you've opened all your Christmas presents.
But then we remembered – we'd no idea where we were going next – and the guessing game began all over again...

MydeaMedia @ 2012