Malta

May 25, 2008

Position N 35 35.6' E 022 50.3' at 14:36 hours UTM.
This morning we raised anchor at 0005 hours and with the ruddy "two thirds" moon just rising over the hills behind us, we set sail for Malta. As we cleared the protection of the land, we found the wind was down to 9 knots and we motored directly into it. Three hours later the wind shifted slightly and we could add the main sail to our efforts as we continued to head west. By 0740 hours the wind had risen to the 10 knot mark and we saw our first Mediterranean dolphins. Exciting! Much bigger than the Indian Ocean versions. The wind continued to build

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ominously and by the time we were off the choke of Spathi Point, we had 23 knots of winds and building seas. But now we were no longer constrained by the landmass of Crete to the south and as we made the turn of a dozen or so degrees towards Malta, the wind obligingly shifted with us. Within an hour the wind had dropped away and we were again motoring.

At 1600 hours we were under sail for the first time with the engine off and continued thus into the night, close hauled under Main and Genoa. Malta here we come. We are approximately 400 miles away as I write this and should arrive on Wednesday morning - if the weather cooperates.

 

May 26, 2008

Position N 35 38.4' E 018 56.3' at 2100 hours UTM.
The wind remained steadfast from the NW throughout most of the day and held around 10 knots. We have been close hauled / close reaching under full sail and if it had been just a little warmer would have been a perfect sail. We noticed another sail off to our port side at dawn and the vessel came onto the same course as ourselves about two miles ahead of us. I hailed them on the VHF but received no answer. This was not too surprising as the VHF has been jammed with non-stop gibber, similar to that we experienced when transiting the Sinai coast. Libya lies to the south of us and we suppose is the source of the interference. We did pick up a warning message from a NATO warship advising us of a live firing exercise but were relieved to note that the gunnery position lay 120 miles behind us.

At around 1730 hours the wind dropped and swung to the north as forecast. We turned on the engine and began to overhaul the mystery yacht that we have been observing all day. It was obviously an offshore vessel as we could observes it was cutter rigged and had an SSB antenna. Around 1930 hours we raised them by VHF and discovered that the vessel is "SV Lively Lady", carrying a crew of 4. They emerged from the Suez canal a few days ago and are close to completion of a circumnavigation. "Lively Lady" is the vessel that Sir Alec Rose used for his historic circumnavigation and has since been restored and is operating under some kind of sponsorship or grant. Their captain admitted that at 36 feet and four souls aboard, she is quite cramped. I noted that we too had our problems in that we are almost out of beer and the dishwasher does not work. This facetious comment evoked the response that since two of their crew are underage, they carry no alcohol aboard. How awful! We have agreed top meet up in Malta on Wednesday and find a bar.

 

May 27, 2008

Position N 35 46.4' E 015 39.3' at 2110 hours UTM. 55 miles from Malta.

Today we passed 25,000 miles on the electronic log - the distance covered since we bought DoodleBug. I believe this number is about 15% low, as the speed sensor has been consistently off and the prevailing currents have been in our favor as we crossed the major oceans.

We motored through the night with light winds from the east and went to full sail with poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen around 1030 hours. This is the first time we have had the wind behind the beam since the Gulf of Aden passage in 2006.

I had earlier noticed that we were "losing" engine RPM and a quick test at maximum throttle indicated clogged fuel filters. I changed the "on engine" fuel filter, bled the fuel system for air and again tested the maximum RPM. Better but still not great. I then changed the Racor fuel filter and this did the trick. This has been a predictable phenomenon. After DB has been sitting at a marina for six months or so, the fuel filters will need to be changed within the next hundred hours engine use to remove the accumulated sludge from the fuel tank.

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There has been lots of shipping with often four or five large vessels on radar at a 12 mile setting. So far they have been very good at missing us but we nevertheless like to pay close attention.

 

May 28, 2008

Position N 35 53.3' E 014 31.2'
Arrived Malta this morning at 0800 hours local time. All well on board.

 

Last night was the final night of what turned out to be a five day passage from Crete to Malta, albeit interrupted by a couple of anchorages. The weather forecast had predicted a strong blow as we neared our goal, perhaps a full gale and we had heard the VHF forecast from Malta radio as having "very rough" seas. I looked up this term in our cruising guide and "very rough" is defined as "13 to 20 foot" waves. To add to the entertainment, there might be ships moored on our approach path to Grand Harbor plus "tuna pens". The latter hold live tuna and every now and then a tug will take their tuna for a swim by towing the whole cage.

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The wind had been building all of the previous day and we were sailing with poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen. By 2200 hours the wind was at 23 knots and we were broad reaching as we began our final approach. We had determined to reduce sail to hold the speed below seven knots as we wanted a daylight entry into the harbor. The harbor entrance faces into the wind and I had visions of making the first dogleg with 20 foot waves off the beam. As it was the waves were behaving themselves at around 5 to 6 feet as we began to reef down. At around 0300 hours this morning, the wind dropped to 13 to 15 knots and swung 60 degrees. The seas were a little confused but the crew weren't. We had to derig the preventers on the main and mizzen, so we could jibe these, plus remove the pole that was controlling the Genoa. So much for a quiet night. I tried to fire up the generator and it was dead. I was pretty sure that I had accidentally backed into the "shut off" breaker, when I was changing fuel filters earlier and this turned out to be the case. After 20 minutes of battery charging, the generator died. The seas had been building and were now in the 10 to 12 foot range and I was in no mood to mess with the generator. It could keep until we reached port!


We had been carefully monitoring the movement of a couple of fishing boats and had changed course twice to avoid one in particular. We were still 25 miles from Grand Harbor and there was what appeared to be a line of oil rigs ahead. Again we changed course and noted that these were anchored freighters and oil tankers. The water depth was near 400 feet and they were 25 miles offshore. I had expected to find such a parking lot but not this far out.


The wind was still blowing from behind the beam and the air temperature in the main cabin was 72 degrees. This coupled with the dew soaking all of the cockpit surfaces was making for a cold and damp spot to keep watch, while we hurtled through the overcast and dark night amongst heaving waters. Annette fixed us mugs of tea and coffee and we eagerly awaited the pale and grey dawn.


At seven miles from Grand Harbor we noticed yellow unlit buoys ahead of us. At first I assumed these to be markers for an approach channel. The seas were still in the 10 to 12 foot range and as we crested a wave, I could see what looked like steel "rebar" cages in the water. We counted three or four of these in a line directly across our path. We changed course to the north to avoid them and spotted more. Again we changed course back to the south and skirted the edge of these hazards, while wondering why anyone would locate them directly on a harbor approach. By seven thirty we had been given permission to enter Grand Harbor and were sliding across the waves towards that first dogleg of last night's nightmares. The ancient port is guarded by Fort St. Elmo to starboard and Fort St. Angelo to port and we edged close to the portside stone bastions against which the huge seas were breaking. It seemed as though within seconds the wave machine had been turned off and we were gliding through still waters, surrounded by centuries of history, whilst we scurried around the deck rigging fenders and setting out lines. The marina staff were waiting on the dock as we backed DoodleBug into her slip. We had

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almost attached the first line when a huge boom of a cannon startled us. This had been fired from close by and it's report echoed amongst the stone walls surrounding this spectacular ancient harbor. There were at least another couple of dozen cannon shots but no cannon balls hit DoodleBug so perhaps they were firing blanks.
We are here! Malta.

 

The marina of Grand Harbor is truly spectacular. On one side are the stone walls of the Maritime museum and on the other, terraces of ancient stone warehouses, 5 or 6 stories high and now transformed into trendy restaurants and apartments. On the third side are the bastions of Valletta, the fortified capital of Malta. We checked in with the marina office before finding breakfast at the local "Pub" and then heading back to bed. About an hour later it sounded as though all of the church bells in Malta were ringing at the end of our dock. These attempts to keep us awake after a five day passage were ineffectual and we arose from our "nap" to discover it was now late afternoon. We hit the marina showers and this was in itself quite an experience. These were by far the most luxurious showers that I have seen in any marina and showed little evidence of prior use. To access them we had to walk between the tables of an expensive restaurant, clad in our sweaty clothes and flip-flops and carrying our towels and shampoo in a plastic shopping bag. Really classy!

Refreshed and clean we checked the marina arrivals and found that "Lively Lady" had arrived. They were in the process of a crew change as we found them and the crew we had sailed in company with was Skipper Alan, Co-skipper Andy plus crew Coral and Mike. The new crew are Skipper Steve, Co-skipper Steve (confusing!), crew Lauren and Ben. They have an appointment with local media tomorrow morning for pictures and interviews and then plan to take off bound for Spain. I was a little surprised that they were heading west immediately, as there is a gale just west of here with headwinds to add to the fun. We said hello to everyone and made plans to get together later.

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Annette and I headed uphill along stone stairways and through narrow alleys between the buildings. We popped out the stone canyons into sunshine and the road we were on was heavily decorated with banners and in places there were temporary barriers to seal off the traffic. We stopped and asked a man what was going on and he explained that the community was celebrating the 1750th. anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Laurence. The impressive cathedral like building we could see from the dock was dedicated to the saint and his statue would be carried in procession from the church, up and down the nearby hills and then returning for an outside service to the square in which we stood . The man said that he knew all of this, because he was to give the sermon. The festivities were to begin within thirty minutes and we retired across the square to sit at a curbside restaurant and observe the ceremonies. There was indeed a procession with a dozen sturdy men bearing a litter on which the statue of the saint reposed. The procession was headed by robed priests and acolytes in cassocks, all flanked by altar boys. The band from the Godfather's Sicilian wedding followed the statue and their efforts were almost drowned by cannon fire, the ringing of church bells and fireworks. I don't know how St. Laurence was martyred in AD 258 but this would have been during the Roman Empire and therefore in all probability not a pleasant experience. The parade was fascinating and St. Lawrence must have been watching intently, otherwise there would have been several deaths from electrocution, getting the banners and statues under the sagging power-lines that stretched across the narrow streets.

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Back aboard DoodleBug that evening we were visited by the younger crew members of "Lively Lady" They had spent much of the past three years fund raising and had signed up to sail aboard for certain "legs" of the circumnavigation. The crew of four keep watches in "pairs" and use a schedule of 2 hours on, 2 hours off by night, changing to 6 hours on, 6 hours off by day. Lively Lady is definitely "no frills" with no refrigeration, a two burner non-gimbaled heat source for cooking and a tiny cockpit with no seat cushions. "Character building" some

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call it. Skipper Alan noted that Lively Lady is physically hard to sail and is a "wet boat" that can be compared to "sailing in a shower". During last night's rough passage to Malta, for safety reasons the off watch crew were sleeping on the sole of the cabin and most of the crew suffered degrees of nausea.

St. Larry's fireworks continued well into night but DB's crew did not stir.

 

May 29, 2008

In the year 1972 a famous historical event occurred in Malta. Ed and Annette celebrated their first wedding anniversary here. As we remember, we had a really great time. Jumping to the present, we grabbed a bus to Valletta, the tiny capital of Malta and sought out a bookshop for a Maltese travel guide. In a moment of

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weakness we hit Burger King for lunch and in the afternoon we watched the new Indiana Jones movie at the Valletta theatre. This is a trip down memory lane for us, as we also caught a movie back in 1972. We both remember that the 1972 movie was about vampires but could not agree on the movie title from 36 years ago. Today, just as in 1972, you can buy beer in the movie theatre and they have a mid-movie intermission so you can maintain a bladder comfort level without missing any of the movie. How civilized!

In the evening we shouted down a ferry-man and he carried us across the harbor in his small wooden boat and dropped us off on the other side at the marina, whilst refusing payment for the journey. We had a fine meal at the restaurant adjacent to the marina and discovered that the crew of Lively Lady (http://livelylady.net) were eating at another restaurant nearby. They had reconsidered the weather forecast and had determined to hang in Malta for another day.

 

May 30, 2008

36 Years ago we visited the Hypogeum, an underground necropolis dating back 5,500 years. In 1990 it was determined that the carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors was damaging the limestone walls and the site was closed for the next ten years for UNESCO to fix things. It has now re-opened but with a "microclimate" limited to 70 visitors per day. You have to book your visit several weeks in advance and thus was unavailable to the returning honeymooners.

Our next target was a huge acoustic mirror, a relic of WW II. This was built to detect hostile aircraft taking off from Sicily and included a direction finding capability. The "mirror" is a marvel of engineering, is concrete built and perhaps 300 feet across. We had by now rented a car and with vague directions, set off across Malta to

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find it. We did indeed locate the artifact but discovered that two years ago, the site was purchased by a commercial satellite downlink company. We asked at the gate if we could briefly visit the mirror but were fed the bullshit line that this was now impossible because of "security". Strike two!

We continued our tour of northern Malta and had a meal at a family oriented hotel www.riu.com in Mellieha Bay. We were particularly impressed by the elaborate and comprehensive on-site entertainment facilities (such as video games and bowling alley) that were provided for toddlers through teens, in addition of course to the old fashioned sea and beach on the other side of the highway.

 

May 31, 2008

Today we headed south to Marsascala Bay for breakfast at "Tiny Mint's Eating Place". After careful observation, breakfast at Tiny Mint's with your "Daily Mail" newspaper, represents the peak of social activity here. Thus sated we headed over to the Limestone Heritage in Siggiewa (www.limestoneheritage.com). Navigating in Malta is a real challenge. Apart from the fact that we cannot even pronounce any of the names, the signage varies from confusing to non-existent. You find a clear sign at one junction and two hundred yards later, arrive at a road fork with no signage whatsoever. We navigated by observing the time of day and the direction of the

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shadows. On a cloudy day we would have been totally lost. The Limestone Heritage was well done and was located in a former stone quarry. The history of stone cutting was  presented as well as example of the use of the stone for construction. The operating quarry had discovered an ancient Roman cistern and the quarrying process had bisected the feature, clearly showing it's construction. Pretty cool.

Our next stop was to be the National War Museum in Valletta. When we arrived, we discovered that it has been closed for the past six months for "renovation". Strike three. We toured St. Paul's cathedral in Valletta and I was struck by the quality and superlative condition of the interior church decorations, paintings, carvings, tapestries and the like. The main nave of the church was surrounded by side chapels and in each of these was a plaque stating which guild or commercial organization was responsible for funding it's upkeep. I noted that the finest chapel was funded by tithes derived from the Maltese saloon-keepers. No surprise here.

On our return to DoodleBug we stopped at the first real super-market we have seen in Malta. Most stores have been of the "mom and pop" variety. This supermarket in Paolo provided us with the vital yacht supplies of lactose free long life milk, so that the first mate does not disgrace herself and of course cases of beer which the captain has been known to share.

 

June 1, 2008

This morning we drug ourselves out of bed and headed to the ferry terminal on the north end of the island. The ferry ride takes about twenty five minutes for the passage to the island of Gozo but it takes much longer than that just to get everyone on and off the ferry boat. In Gozo we headed for the capital at Victoria and visited the Archaeological museum. This was interesting and reminded me again of what kind of human artifacts survive the passage of 7,000 years. If you examine our civilization, what would folks in the year 9,000 C.E. have available to understand us? Our buildings, computers, automobiles, cell phones, DVD players and the like will be dust and we will leave ceramics, bronze statuary and a couple of granite monuments for them to puzzle over and speculate upon. What ever changes?

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After a truly disgusting lunch we toured the "Old Prison". This seemed pretty tame compared to the other prisons we have visited. They need animatronic dummies and sound effects.

We drove to the west end of Gozo and passed a craft's village with a large sign on the highway saying "Open". The place was locked up tighter than a drum and the individual stores even had "Open" signs behind their steel shutters. The word must mean something different in the Maltese language.

At the most westerly point we found "Dwerja". The village had operating salt pans on the sea front with signs warning people not to walk upon them. It was very much a small scale operation and I wondered what the market potential for sea salt is these days. It isn't as though we pack much beef and pork in salted barrels any more.

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Nearby were spectacular cliffs with natural arches and an "Inland Sea". The latter is a large lagoon that is connected to the open sea by caves through the limestone cliffs and by an underwater tunnel. This is a popular dive location and scuba divers popped up inside the lagoon at frequent intervals. We watched, ate ice cream and walked across limestones that were thickly encrusted with fossils of "sand dollars" and ancient shell fish. A pleasant day. Before returning to the homebound ferry, we continued a sweep through the northern villages and noted that Gozo is much more laid back with a slower pace of life than the main Island of Malta.

 

June 2, 2008

This morning we visited the "Malta at War" museum located in the bastion behind the marina. The exhibit toured the air-raid shelters that were hastily carved from solid rock during WW II. At the beginning of the war it was believed that "sturdy" buildings could survive a direct hit by a bomb dropped from an aircraft. Since the construction material used in almost all Maltese buildings are limestone blocks, air-raid shelters were thought to be superfluous. The shelters we visited were more than 40 feet underground and although Malta suffered nearly 3,000 bombing raids, the civilian casualties were on the order of 1,500 unfortunates.

We continued our day with a bus ride to Valletta. Here we were in search of an ATM machine that would dispense cash. We discovered that Malta has but two banks and both were disdaining our ATM card. Travel is becoming more difficult these days. Once upon a time you carried traveler's checks. Then the world switched over to credit cards. A couple of years ago, a company in the USA developed a "smart" program to prevent credit card fraud. This means today that if you attempt to use a credit card when you travel, it has a high probability of being rejected. You can conveniently fix this by accessing the automated message on your home telephone however....... On two occasions when paying marina fees in Turkey, I had to borrow the marina's phone and be talking to the US customer service while the charge went through, to make sure it was approved. Cash still works if you can get it; hence today's quest.

 

June 3, 2008

This morning we began the check out dance. First we moved DoodleBug to a dock where we could take on fuel from a "mini-tanker" truck. We have enough fuel on board but Malta is the last place we can get "duty free" fuel for

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some time so we grabbed the opportunity to "top up".  Duty free was about US$7.30 per gallon versus the US$11 per gallon we paid in Turkey.

When we first arrived in Malta I had tested the generator by running it at the dock for some twenty minutes without problem. Today I finally got around to actually inspecting the raw sea-water impeller. It was completely shot and had exploded into a score of little rubber pieces. The generator would most certainly have overheated once it was subjected to a real load. The next hour was spent exchanging the pump for our spare, finding and extracting all of the fragments of rubber that were now clogging the heat exchanger and finally rebuilding the original pump so that it was ready to be installed as the next spare. All of this is much easier to do whilst at the dock!

We have set up the navigation, laid out the next set of courtesy flags, checked the weather and stowed everything that was loose. We are now as ready as we are going to get for the passage north to Sicily.

After we had washed off most of the diesel and engine grease, we walked out of the marina seeking food. We

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discovered the "Del Borgo" wine bar in Birgu, the village behind the marina. The restaurant is in a building that is hundreds of years old and the food, wine and ambience were superb.

June 4, 2008

The alarm went off at 0400 hours and we awoke to hear howling wind and feel the rocking of DoodleBug in her marina berth. A quick check of the weather forecast and we saw that the conditions had deteriorated from the previous cast of the entrails. The wind was now forecast at force 6 (25 knots) and the sea condition as "rough". Back to bed we will try again tomorrow.


continued....

Since we now had an "extra" day in Malta, we rode the bus to Valletta and then on to the twin towns of Rabat and M'dina in the center of the island. M'dina in Arabic means "walled city" and indeed the Arabs built the walls and deep moat in the 9th. century. Rabat was just the suburbs and the Lords and Ladies lived in security inside M'dina whilst the peons took their chances in Rabat. We began our tour in "Hicksville" by visiting the crypt and catacombs of St. Agatha's. St. Agatha was 3rd. century Christian martyr who fled to Malta and allegedly hid out in these catacombs. The crypt has several frescoes in amazingly good condition that date from the 12th through 15th centuries. There were several hundred adult graves carved in the limestone of the catacombs and a similar number of tiny niches, reminding us of the very high infant mortality of those times. We also saw a niche claimed to be the altar of a 3rd. century Christian church. The chapel above ground contained an eclectic museum collection that if anything was more interesting than the crypt.

We next entered the walled city of M'Dina to visit the Natural History Museum and immediately regretted not wearing windbreakers once we were in the shadows of the walls. The high winds that have kept us from leaving have added their own chill factor to an unexpectedly cool June.