Sunday, 18 April 2010

I have been to … Ireland, Spain, and France

It has become the norm for my wife and I to go on a short cruise at sometime over the Easter holiday, and this year was no exception. Our trip on P&O’s MV Oriana took us to Dublin and Cork in Ireland, Bilbao in Northern Spain, and Brest on the French Atlantic coast.

Day 1: Southampton
Having had an uneventful journey from London to Southampton, we were aboard by 1.00 p.m. and unpacked in plenty of time to ‘sail away’ at 5.45 p.m. On our way out of harbour we passed the latest addition to the P&O fleet – MV Azura – which looked to me very much like a block of apartments on top of a ship’s hull; functional, modern … and ugly.

Day 2: At sea
We spent the day sailing at what seemed like a very leisurely pace down the English Channel until about 3.00 p.m. when, after reaching Land’s End, the ship turned northward and headed towards the Irish Sea. Just off the coast near Falmouth the ship was ‘buzzed’ by a Royal Navy Sea King SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopter, which then flew off to practice low-level hovering closer inshore.

I spent part of the afternoon re-reading the latest draft of my adaptation and development of Joseph Morschauser’s wargames rules and comparing it with the most recent version (from late last year) of the WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! rules. The latter included several alternative card-driven turn sequences that players could choose from, and as a result of re-visiting WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! I have had some more thoughts about the mechanisms I developed for the former.

Day 3: Dublin
Although it was quite cold when we arrived alongside just after 8.00 a.m. the sun soon began to cause the temperature to rise to a much more seasonal level.

We spent the morning on a sightseeing tour by coach that took us round all the major places of importance in the city. These included several of the locations that were important during the Easter Rising of 1916, namely the General Post Office, The Customs House, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin Castle, and the Four Courts. We also paid a visit to the Guinness Brewery, where we learned about the history of the company and the brewing process used to make Guinness. The visit was topped off – quite literally – with a visit to the Gravity Bar where we were able to sup the best pint of Guinness I have every tasted whilst looking at a panoramic view of Dublin.

On the way into the city we passed one of the Irish Navy’s offshore patrol vessel, LE Niamh (P52). She was a very smart looking ship, and seemed ideally suited for her main tasks, which are protecting Irish territorial waters, fishery protection, and anti-smuggling patrols.

As we will be passing Haulbowline Island – the HQ of the Irish Navy – as we sail into Cobh (the port that serves the City of Cork) tomorrow, there is a chance that we may see some more ships of the Irish Navy.

Day 4: Cobh/Cork
Despite being very sunny, the wind made it feel cold, and as the day went on the weather became cloudier and colder. We went ashore with the intention of following the ‘Titanic Trail’ around Cobh, but we began our visit by going to the Cobh Heritage Centre. This is part of the railway station, and is right next to the Cruise Ship Terminal (two pontoons that the cruise liners moor alongside!).

The Heritage Centre traces the development of Cobh as Ireland’s main migrant port. Initially most of the ‘migrants’ were actually convicts who were being sent to Australia in the aftermath of the abortive 1798 rebellion, but many people who were forced to emigrate as a result of the Potato Famine and the economic decline Ireland subsequently suffered followed them. The Centre also has a section devoted to the lost of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, but a much larger portion of the exhibits deals with the sinking by a German U-boat of the RMS Lusitania in 1915.

After leaving the Heritage Centre we walked along the seafront to the J. F. Kennedy Park, where two cannons are displayed on what appear to be iron garrison carriages. One of the cannon is definitely British (it has a ‘GR’ cipher) whilst the other appears to be Russian as its trunnion markings are in Cyrillic script.

There is no indication where the cannons came from or why they are on display, and we can only assume that they are to commemorate Cobh’s role as a Royal Navy base during the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars.

We then walked a little further along the seafront and saw both the Titanic

… and Lusitania Memorials.

We finished our walk ashore by visiting St. Colman’s Cathedral and the Cobh Museum. The latter is very small but contains considerable memorabilia that relates to Cobh’s role as a naval base during World War I and in particular the close relationship that the town developed with the US Navy ships that were based there.

During our passage out of Cobh we passed very close to Haulbowline Island, and it was very apparent that most of the Irish Navy’s ships were alongside the dock area there. These included LE Eithne (P31) as well as LE Orla (P41) – an ex-Royal Navy ‘Peacock’ class coastal patrol vessel – LE Roisin (P51), and two ships of the 'Deirdre' Class of offshore patrol vessels.

We were also passed by LE Ciara (P42) – another ex-Royal Navy ‘Peacock’ class coastal patrol vessel – as she returned to base.

Day 5: At sea
We spent the day sailing southwards towards our next port-of-call, Bilbao in Spain. The weather was overcast and the wind caused the temperature to be quite cold. As a result I had the opportunity to read and re-read the latest draft of my adaptation and development of Joseph Morschauser’s wargames rules. Having considered changing the card-driven turn sequence so that it was more like that used in WHEN EMPIRES CLASH!, I am still in two minds as to whether or not to leave things as they are or to make the changes. Time … and a bit more thought … will help me decide what to do.

Day 6: Bilbao
Although the weather was quite cool to start with, the clouds dispersed soon after we arrived in the centre of Bilbao and the temperature gradually rose until it was warm enough to feel comfortable but not too hot to take a gentle stroll. We walked through the centre of the city from the Plaza Circular to the Plaza de Frederico Moyua and down to the Guggenheim Museum which is situated next to the river (the Rio Ibaizabal). From their we made our way along the river’s edge to the Puente Zubizuri and then back to the shuttle bus pick-up point, stopping along the way at a typical Spanish bar called the Jardines Terraza for some refreshments.

Because the next part of our cruise takes us to Brest – which is approximately 360 nautical miles from Bilbao – we had to sail by 5.00 p.m. in order to get there by tomorrow morning. We were escorted out of the harbour by both a local police launch and a small Guardia Civil patrol boat, which was considerably less than the escort we had the last time we visited Bilbao. On that occasion frogmen were deployed whilst the ship was at anchor to ensure that members of ETA did not attach limpet mines to the ship, and our escort included a police launch, a Guardia Civil patrol boat and helicopter, and Spanish Coast Guard cutter and helicopter.

Day 7: Brest
It was a bright and sunny day and we were able to spend some time ashore walking through the main shopping area. I had hoped that as Brest is a major French naval port I might find shops that specialised in supplying warship model kits and parts or naval books, but unfortunately I could find neither.

During our passage out of the port during the afternoon we passed the chateau that houses both the Brest Naval Museum and the local French Naval Headquarters.

In the Military Harbour there were two ‘Georges Leygues’ class destroyers – including FS Lamotte-Piquet (D645) – tied up alongside.

Nearer to the old German submarine pens, the French missile range tracking ship FS Monge (A601) was moored next to the harbour mole whilst amongst the plethora of small training vessels there were two more examples of French destroyers, FS De Grasse (D612) and FS Tourville (D610).

Right at the end of the Military Harbour are the old concrete German submarine pens, and we passed these as we finally left Brest.

It was interesting to see that the French Navy still uses the structure to house some of its smaller warships, and some of these could be seen moored just inside the entrance to the pens.

Day 8: Southampton ... and home
We docked in Southampton on time and were able to disembark by just after 9.00 a.m. The traffic on the motorways seemed lighter than normal, and this may well be due to both London Heathrow and London Gatwick being closed due to the current ban on all flights in UK airspace. Even though we had to stop on the way home to do some food shopping, we were home just after midday.


  1. Bob,

    Your description of modern cruise ship design is spot on. They do indeed look like apartment buildings on top of a ship's hull . . . and they are ugly . . . they certainly lack any of the "romance of the sea".

    -- Jeff

  2. Bluebear Jeff,

    Although I have only cruised on P&O ships my favourite is their oldest, MV Artemis. She is a relatively old lady now, with rust showing through in places, but she is a ship. She looks like a ship and feels like a ship ... and she is not so large that you can feel 'lost'.

    As for some of the most recent designs ... well words fail me.

    All the best,


  3. Glad to see you posting again! I was starting to worry--had something unfortunate happened to you? More importantly, what will become of your collection? :)

  4. Chris,

    I would love to blog whilst I am aboard but the cost is very high. I do try to find free wifi access when I am in port, but on this trip none of the port areas seemed to have it. Perhaps I will be luckier next time!

    All the best,


    PS. Collection? What collection? :)

  5. I'm not surrprised the French navy are still using the old U-Boat pens - if they're built anything like the ones I visited in St. Nazaire they would easily have outlasted any "1000 year reich"!! :o))

  6. Sounds a super cruise and thanks for sharing it with us!
    p.s thanks too for the email

  7. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    I saw the ones at La Rochelle some years ago and they were very solid structures indeed. They bore the signs of having been fired by artillery at from close range (or it may have been bombs?), but this had hardly caused any damage whatsoever.

    All the best,


  8. Tradgardmastare,

    It was my pleasure.

    I like to try to find something military to photograph and/or visit whilst I am on a cruise, and I have gained inspiration and ideas for wargaming as a result. For example, this cruise took me to Ireland for the first time and it inspired me to look a the Irish Army of the 1920s and 1930s ... and will probably result in the Lauranian Army of the Interbellum era having similar uniforms and possibly a similar organisational structure.

    All the best,


  9. Bob,

    Glad to hear you had a good time. Next time you're in my neck of the woods, give me a shout and I'll take you on the tour of the sights of interest to the wargamer.

    On your list should probably be

    - Collins Barracks, Irish military museum.
    - St. Patricks Cathedral.
    - the old city walls.
    - Chester Beatty Museum, incredible middle eastern artifact collection.

    ...and so forth.

  10. Conrad Kinch,

    Many thanks for the offer.

    Both my wife and I liked Dublin, and hope to return there at some time in the future. When we do I will take you up on your veru kind offer.

    All the best,


  11. Bob,

    Shame on you. St Stevens Green!!!??

    St Stephen's Green (Irish: Faiche Stiabhna)

    Good man.

    Male O'Non


  12. Robertpeel999,

    In the words of Captain Mainwaring 'I wondered who would be the first to spot that'.

    The placename is now spelt correctly.

    All the best,


  13. Hi You were right about the Cannons being involved in the Crimean War.They were distributed to towns who either had folk involved in the War or had paid war bonds at the time.There is one in my home town.I suspect though that they are British Cannon-while in some history books they say the are 'captured' Russian Cannon.You can see them in such places as Armagh,Tralee,Trim as well as many other places in both England and Ireland.

  14. Johnny Styrene,

    We have a mid-nineteenth century Russian cannon on display in the centre of our nearby shopping area. It was captured in the Crimea and stored in Woolwich Arsenal until it was given a new wooden carriage and put on display.

    All the best,



Thank you for leaving a comment. Please note that any comments that are spam or contain phishing messages or that come from Google Accounts that are 'Unknown' will be deleted.