Mystery of our neighbour in port

//Mystery of our neighbour in port

Saga Pearl II has had some interesting neighbours in the past couple of ports.
In Oranjestad today, our 18,500-ton ship is moored almost in the shade of the SkyWalker nightclub on the 109,000-ton Grand Princess; the escalator which delivers passengers through a glass-roofed tube to the futuristic disco 150-ft above Grand’s waterline is in sharp contrast to the three arthritic lifts slowly travelling between six decks on Pearl.
There are 22 covered lifeboats hanging from the sides of Grand – beneath five decks of balcony cabins. Pearl has just eight boats – seven of them open – and only 20 balcony cabins. The Princess ship has one of the largest casinos at sea, with more than 260 slot machines among the roulette wheels and blackjack tables; our Saga ship has a library with more than 3,000 books.
They are both cruise ships, but different in so many ways; they are about as alike as a West Highland Terrier and an Irish Wolfhound.
Princess provides an affordable – and largely predictable – cruise holiday for thousands of passengers who have none of the pretensions of some of those travelling in Saga’s safe cocoon. It can’t visit Cuba, as we have just done, and it is unlikely to ever sail to some of the remote ports in West Africa to which our sister ship Saga Ruby sailed in December. Denim jackets may be de rigeur on Princess but there are still formal nights with dinner jackets on Saga.
That shopping trolley handle at the stern of Grand Princess, towering over Pearl today will be swept away when the ship enters dry dock in Grand Bahama next month for a multi-million pound refit, and the ship will emerge with a much sleeker profile when it returns to Southampton in May.
More interesting yet was the ship berthed aft of us yesterday in Santa Anna Bay, Willemstad, on the island of Curacao.
MV Freewinds may look like any other cruise ship of a certain vintage – it was built at Turku in Finland in 1968 – but it has a fascinating history and an intriguing present.
Originally designed as a ferry to sail between Bremerhaven in Germany and Harwich in the UK, it was converted to the Boheme, sailing in the Caribbean for Commodore Cruise Line which went bankrupt in 2001.
So far, so dull, but this is where it gets exciting.
In 1986 the ship was bought by the Church of Scientology, to be used as a peaceful retreat and for members undertaking advanced training courses. It is operated under cover of a company called Majestic Cruise Lines.
The ship is the fifth owned by the Church of Scientology, whose founder, L Ron Hubbard, spent some time at sea in the 1960s. The previous four have all been scrapped, and Freewinds came within a whisker of meeting the same fate in 2008 when lethal blue asbestos was found on board.
As well as being used as the only venue where the church’s most senior members can be trained to Operating Thetan Level 8, the ship holds a conference cruise each July, and hosts concerts for the residents of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
It brought to mind the fantasy novel Plague Ship, by Clive Cussler and Jack du Brul, in which members of an obscure religious cult (no similiarity intended, I’m sure) use a cruise ship as their base for an evil plot to take over the world.
It’s utter tosh, and I would hesitate to recommend it except for anyone setting out on a lengthy flight without on-board entertainment.
But at least I could look across to Freewinds from Saga Pearl and dream about a Mission: Impossible-type clash between square-jawed heroes and crazed religious zealots. And to wonder whether that was Tom Cruise sunning himself by the pool.

By | 2017-06-15T16:00:09+00:00 4 March 2011|Cruise Ships|4 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.


  1. Van Durshing 4 March 2011 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    That ship and the devoted crew are mere instruments which are effectively employed by The Cult Of $cientology to separate fools from their money, on the high seas.
    what an adventure!

  2. imominous 4 March 2011 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    The blue asbestos on the Freewinds was discovered much earlier than 2008.
    Word of it hit the web in 2001, in an affidavit by Laurence Woodcraft, a Scientologist at the time, who was an architect put in charge of refitting the tub:

  3. Peter Koy 5 March 2011 at 12:35 am - Reply

    Blue asbestos?
    Perhaps that might explain the extraordinary amount of members belonging to that odd UFO sect that have contracted terminal cancer.
    Ironic when they have spent their life savings on courses that are supposed to make them immune from any illnesses!
    But then it is what would one expect from such a cult, especially when its leader is quoted to have said “not smoking enough cigarettes causes lung cancer”.

  4. ImAnonymous 5 March 2011 at 12:49 am - Reply

    quoted from lawyersandsettlementsDOTcom:
    “This is not the first time the MV Freewinds has been investigated for blue asbestos. In 2001, a former Scientology member, architect Lawrence Woodcraft, submitted a sworn affidavit stating that he was exposed to blue asbestos while working on the Freewinds in 1987. As well, a statement from the ship’s captain claimed that there were previous incidents where blue asbestos was released into the ship’s ventilation system. But the Church of Scientology denied Woodcraft’s claim and in so doing, the Church knowingly exposed its passengers and members to this most deadliest form of asbestos for the past 21 years!”
    Maybe its high time for someone in authority to take action. Thanks Captain for posting this.

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