Thursday 30 July 2009

I have been on a … Baltic Cruise

As you may have gathered, my wife and I have been away on a cruise to the Baltic. This is the second year we have managed to ‘go north and east’ during the summer, and the weather was better than we had expected.

The only problem that I have with cruising is being away from access to my PC … and my blog! I take my small laptop with me – which is how I created the following blog – but the Internet connection from the ship is slow and costly (the cheapest time-plan they sell is 16p per minute, and it can take up to 5 minutes just to download a web page if the connection is poor). I am looking at alternative ways of connecting to the Internet from on board ship for future cruises. In the meantime, here is my somewhat belated cruise blog …

Day 1 – 16th July 2009 – Southampton

We boarded P&O’s MV ARTEMIS soon after midday, and after lunch we were able to go to our cabin and unpack. After a safety briefing we went on deck for ‘sail away’ – this involved drinking glasses of champagne and waving to the brass ‘band’ (all five of them!) who played a range of traditional patriotic tunes, including HEARTS OF OAK and RULE BRITANNIA.

Due to increasingly bad weather – blustery winds and rain squalls – we did not remain on deck for more than 30 minutes, and missed seeing the Victorian Sea Forts (known as ‘Palmerston Follies’) as we passed up the Solent.

Day 2 – 17th July 2009 – At sea

A quiet day which we spent relaxing and exploring the ship. It was during this ‘exploration’ that I discovered that the cost of using the Internet access via the on board cyb@study was 16p per minute! Hence the reason why this long blog entry was drafted as it happened but was not uploaded till I got back to the UK.

I did manage to do a bit of thinking about revising and redrafting WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! Having decided on the mechanics of how aircraft will be represented on the battlefield – including how they will ‘fly’ over the action without taking up too much space – I have begun putting some ideas about game mechanisms down on paper … well word processing them, if the truth be told.

Day 3 – 18th July 2009 – Kristiansand (Norway)

We had hoped to visit the Batterie Vara Kristiansand Kanonmuseum (the German-built, World War II Vara Battery that is now known as the Kristiansand Gun Museum) just outside Kristiansand, but persistent heavy rain prevented us from getting there. We were soaking wet by the time we managed to get to the centre of Kristiansand on the shuttle service from the ship’s mooring, and the prospect of travelling a further five or six miles – including a long walk from the road to the site of the battery – dissuaded us from going to the museum.

Batterie Vara was built by the Germans as part of the massive coastal defence system – the Atlantic Wall – that ran from the Franco-Spanish border in the south to the north of Norway. The battery was armed with 38cm guns that were manufactured by Krupp in 1940. Each gun and mounting weighed 337 metric tons, and had a maximum range of 55,000m.

Day 4 – 19th July 2009 – Copenhagen (Denmark)

Although the weather was not sunny, it was pleasant enough for us to take a walk from the ship’s berth into the city.

On the opposite bank is the Royal Danish Naval Museum. It has a variety of warships on view to the public including a frigate …

HDMS PEDER SKRAM was decommissioned in 1990. She and her sister ship - HDMS HERLUF TROLLE - were the only two ships of this class to be built.
… a submarine …

HDMS SAELEN was originally built in 1965 for the Norwegian Navy, where she was named the KNM UTHAUG. She was bought by the Danes in 1990 and served from May 2002 until June 2003 in the Persian Gulf. On her return she was decommissioned and became an exhibit at the Royal Danish Naval Museum
… and a fast attack craft.

The Danish Navy's fast attack craft HDMS SEHESTED of the WILLEMOES class.

During our walk through the city of Copenhagen we visited the Amalienborg Palace. This palace is guarded by members of the Danish Royal Life Guard, whose uniform and equipment are a curious mixture of old and new. The uniform is very much as it was in the mid-nineteenth century, but the Guards are equipped with modern automatic rifles.

The Danish Royal Life Guard was formed in 1658, and wear a red tunic for ceremonial duties. At other times a blue tunic is worn.
We also visited some souvenir shops during our stop in Copenhagen, and I was able to buy six ready-painted 1:300th scale models of typical Danish town houses. They were only 35 Danish Kronor each, and although I do not have any particular ideas as to when or how I can use them, they were too good a bargain to miss.

Day 5 – 20th July 2009 – At sea

The weather continued to improve, and after attending a cookery demonstration and a wine tasting in the morning, I was able to spend some time during the afternoon word processing the latest draft of WHEN EMPIRES CLASH!

Day 6 – 21st July 2009 – At sea

This morning we were supposed to moor off Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland and to go ashore by ship’s tender. The weather was reasonable – it was overcast and there was a slight wind – but a heavy swell meant that it would have been unsafe for passengers to land by tender. As a result the ship’s captain decided to sail on to Stockholm in the hope of docking there during the afternoon rather than early tomorrow morning.

Unfortunately, although the berth the ship would have been using was free by mid-afternoon, there was no ship’s pilot available to take her into Stockholm. As a result we spent the day sailing very slowly towards Stockholm and I was able to continue work on WHEN EMPIRES CLASH!

Day 7 – 22nd July 2009 – Stockholm (Sweden)

Although they sky was overcast when we left the boat, by the time we had reached the Royal Palace in Stockholm the clouds were beginning to clear and the sun began to shine.

Much of the Royal Palace is open to the public, and during out visit we saw several members of the Swedish Royal Life Guard Squadron guarding the various entrances. The Squadron has both male and female troopers, and several of them were on guard duty during our visit.

The Swedish Royal Life Guard Squadron was formed in 1949 from the Horse Guards Regiment (Livregimentet til Hest), which was itself originally formed by the amalgamation in 1928 of the Horse Life Guards (Livgarden til Hest) and the Guards Dragoon Regiment (Livregimentets Dragoner).
The uniform is very Germanic in appearance and includes a lobster-tailed helmet, tunic, riding breeches, and riding boots. Somewhat surprisingly they were all armed with bolt-action rifles – not automatic rifles life their Danish counterparts – and were equipped with hand held radios.

On display in one of the courtyards were what looked like some late nineteenth century field guns. They had Krupp-like sliding breechblocks and the maker’s nameplate on the carriages indicated that ATLAS in Stockholm made them in 1887.

A battery of four of these guns is displayed in a courtyard within the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
Day 8 – 23rd July 2009 – Helsinki (Finland)

The weather in the morning was bright, sunny, and warm, and we went by shuttle bus to the centre of Helsinki for a walk round. We found a market by the seafront, and spent a very pleasant hour wandering about browsing and buying a few odds and ends.

We were debating whether or not to take a boat trip to Sveaborg – the fortress that has guarded the entrance to Helsinki since the eighteenth century – when the weather took a turn for the worse. Grey clouds filled the sky and it began to rain. As a result we decided that a twenty-minute open boat trip to and from Sveaborg was probably not a good idea, especially as the fortress is very spread out and much of it is in the open.

We did manage to visit several souvenir shops on the quay near the ship’s berth, and I was able to buy a couple of t-shirts; one commemorated Finland’s part in World War II and the other was illustrated with a picture of the Suomi sub-machine gun. Other than a brief glimpse of a soldier in modern Finnish camouflage uniform, these were the only military-related items we saw all day.

Day 9 – 24th July 2009 – St Petersburg (Russia)

For once the weather was good all day. We went on a tour to the Peterhof just outside St Petersburg. This palace was pretty well destroyed by the Nazis – the Russians never refer to the invaders as ‘Germans’; they are always called ‘Nazis’ – and has been painstakingly restored since 1946.

The trip culminated in a hydrofoil journey back to the centre of St Petersburg, and we were dropped off at a landing stage on the River Neva just outside the Winter Palace. As we got off we found a street trader selling various types of Russian hat, and I managed to buy three reproduction ‘Budenny’ caps of the type worn by the Red Army from the time of the Revolution up to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.

On the coach journey back to the ship we passed a line of Russian warships moored on the River Neva in preparation for Navy Day. The ships included a tank landing ship …

A ROPUCHA class tank landing ship.
… a ‘stealth’ corvette …

The prototype Project 20380 or STEREGUSHCHY class corvette.

A close-up of the corvette's radar display, bridge, and forward armament.
… and an attack submarine.

A KILO class diesel-powered attack submarine.
Day 10 – 25th July 2009 – St Petersburg (Russia)

It was raining when we got up, and it stayed like that until just after lunch … just in time for our trip.

We had signed up to visit a Russian family in their home, and this formed part of a tour that took in a journey on the St Petersburg Metro system and a visit to a local food market. The Metro is over 100m deep, and you are not allowed to take photographs inside because it is still part of the city’s underground refuge system in the event of a nuclear attack. This is a great pity as each station is decorated in its own style and reflects the name of the station. For example, at Pushkin Station there is a statue of the poet in a very prominent position, and at Baltic Station there is a marble mosaic that commemorates the role of the Baltic Fleet in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

The food market was much as we expected it to be; plenty of produce but not quite up to the standard that people in the West have come to expect. There seemed to be a constant buzz of flies around the food hall, and some of the fruit and vegetables seemed to be infested with tiny grubs and insects. The standard of food hygiene also left a lot to be desired, with people handling all sorts of different foodstuffs without washing their hands or wearing plastic gloves.

The Russian family we visited were a mother and son. The mother had been an engineer in one of the military aircraft design bureaus before the fall of Communism, but since then she has moved over to teaching English in a local school. Her son – who had an amazing collection of 1:35th scale model military vehicles – is what they termed a ‘general trader’. They did not elaborate on this, which makes us think that he buys and sells whatever is available in order to make a profit.

We returned to the ship just before she sailed. The route out to the Baltic took us past the Russian Navy’s base at Kronstadt. The was little evidence of the Russian Navy’s presence there other than a training ship, …

A SMOLNYY class training ship.
… some research and support ships …

This is a member of the AKADEMIK KRYLOV class of oceanographic research ships.

This appears to be the KARPATY, a submarine rescue ship that was built in the early 1980s.
… and a couple of attack submarines.

A pair of KILO class diesel-powered attack submarines.
There was also a very odd looking vessel, that looked like a highly modified submarine.

One suspects that it is some form of static training craft, but as its function is unclear this is purely surmise.

This appears to be an old submarine hull with a series of deckhouses added to it.
Day 11 – 26th July 2009 – Tallinn (Estonia)

Tallinn is an old Hanseatic League port, and despite many years of Russian ‘occupation’ it retains its late medieval atmosphere as well as many of its old buildings.

We spent a couple of hours just wandering around the ‘Old Town’, which still has a substantial part of its ancient walls still in place. In parts these have been restored to the way they looked when the town was at the height of its economic power.

I did manage to see some ships of the Estonian Navy from some distance away. The most modern members of the fleet appeared to be some minesweepers, but even with my binoculars details were difficult to make out.

Day 12 – 27th July 2009 – At sea

Although it was not sunny, the weather was not unpleasant and we looked forward to a quiet day at sea.

However at midday the Captain announced that due to a cracked casing on one of the engine turbochargers, the ship would have to miss the final stop of our tour – Gothenburg in Sweden – and make best speed for Southampton to ensure that we arrived there on time on Thursday 30th July.

I managed to finish the redraft of WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! during the afternoon. The main change is the addition of rules to allow aircraft to be used on the tabletop, although I have also redrafted one of two existing sections in the hope of making my intentions clearer. Now that I have an extra day at sea I hope to be able to read through the redrafted rules tomorrow, and to identify and correct any inaccuracies, typographical errors, and contradictions.

Day 13 – 28th July 2009 – At sea

Today we should have visited the maritime museum in Gothenburg (Sweden). It contains a variety of different ships including a Swedish destroyer – the Småland – and a submarine – the Nordkaparen. However the problem with the cracked turbocharger casing has meant that we have not made landfall and have continued on our journey towards Southampton at less than the ship’s optimum speed.

I have had time today to go through WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! in some detail, and have corrected some anomalies and typographical errors. I have also reformatted the rules in the hope that it will make them easier to use.

During the early part of the evening we turned around the northern tip of Denmark and passed out of the Baltic and into the North Sea.

Day 14 – 29th July 2009 – At sea

During the night, whilst making passage back to the UK, the ship passed through the area where the Battle of Jutland was fought in 1916. The weather today was overcast and the horizon was hazy, and it was easy to imaging what the lines of grey ships would have looked like as they steamed across this grey sea under a grey sky.

I was able to spend some time today creating a series of Army Lists for WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! They are not definitive lists but are intended to help players to put together the armies they need to fight a battle.

The ship managed to maintain a reasonably steady speed of around 17 knots throughout the day. This means that the ship should dock in Southampton on schedule tomorrow morning.

Day 15 – 30th July 2009 – Southampton

We docked ahead of schedule and were off-loaded by 9.00am. We had a good run back home on the M3 and M25 and were back home by just before 11.30am.


  1. It reads like it was quite a trip, Bob. Welcome back to the "blogosphere".

    -- Jeff

  2. Welcome back Bob! It looked like a great trip - even allowing for the weather! Some great pictures as well - All the naval hardware was very impressive (you would probably have been shot taking pictures like that a few years back!) and I cant wait to see the next draft of WEC. Great travelog!

  3. Bluebeard Jeff,

    It is nice to be back! Travelling is nice ... but so is coming home!

    All the best,


  4. Ogrefencer,

    When I was in St Petersburg last year our guide kept telling us not to take photos of the warships, even though it was Navy Day and all the locals were clicking away like mad!

    This year we were told not to take photos on the St Petersburg Metro (which is 100m below ground level). When I asked our guide why we could not, she replied 'Is Military Secret!' Apparently they are part of the city's bunker system. That said, you can buy books of postcards showing the Metro in some detail in the shops at each station exit!

    All the best,


  5. Hi Bob, and welcome back.

    Baltic Cruises, eh? They're like buses - you wait ages, then several come along at once! I had a great time at a lot of the same places as you went, and actually sailed out of Stockholm the day before you sailed in, so our cruise liners must have passed that evening!

    Annoyingly, your photos and comments are all better than mine, as about the most profound thing I noticed about the Baltic was that all the countries there seem mad for hot-dog stalls in the streets. Still, I liked the museums!


  6. CWT,

    Thanks for your very kind comments.

    Don't you just love cruising! You stay in a great 'hotel' that goes to a new 'place' every day. Which ship were you on, by the way? We saw a couple of other cruise liners ‘up close’ in Tallinn but did not see any others.

    I do enjoy going ashore and finding military-related things wherever I go, but I also enjoy the relaxation of a 'sea day'. It is usually on the latter that I manage to catch-up on my reading and rule writing. I have also 'discovered' that most P&O ships have a card room, which has lots of 2' x 2' tables covered in green baize; ideal for DBA/HOTT ... and WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! Now if only they would let me draw a 50mm squared grid on one I would be in heaven! Wargaming AND cruising in one holiday!

    All the best,



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