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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Cooling the legs

Roaring Girl has been placed quite close to the high brick wall around the Yard. Beyond the wall is a small slipway. Fishing and sports boats use it, but the main occupants are horses.
Trotting and sulky racing is very popular in Malta. It's hard on the legs, so everyday there is a stream of horses brought down here to stand in the cooling seawater.

Places and people
Manoel Island Yacht Yard

Valetta, the capital of Malta, occupies a heavily fortified peninsula that has two deep harbours running down each side of it. To the east is Grand Harbour, now home to an upmarket marina (we were quoted EU70 a night plus power and water for August), and the extensive dockyards still operating. To the east is Marsamxett, itself divided by Manoel Island, which is attached to the mainland by a small bridge crossing the tiny strait. All around this harbour are bouys, quays and marinas. To the eastern side, under Valetta, is the fuel dock, where we filled up with the cheapest fuel we've seen since Mellila, at EU1.03 a litre. On the western side, on the edge of the suburb of Gzira, and facing the next town of Sliema, is the well-known Yacht Yard, primarily a haul-out yard, where we booked in for the winter.
The Yard was privatised in July, and you can see that there has been little investment for a long time. Work is just beginning under the new ownership, particularly with a major clean-up of the apparent years of stuff that's hanging around. There are about 14 staff now, but there used to be 175 people working here we were told.
They have a few spots for boats afloat, pre-hauling out, but very few ways to contact them as you arrive. We took a buoy and rang them, which worked. Then we ended up tied off to a buoy, with a web of ropes around us to the pontoons, to cope with near-gales. This winter, they are charging (for Roaring Girl) EU30 a night afloat (exc services) and EU60 a week ashore (inc services). There were no problems staying on the boat on the hard. They insist on doing all work under the water, and are not particularly cheap. For all other work there seems to be no problem with doing it yourself or bringing in other labout. Other contractors, however, must be approved by the Yard first.
The facilities ashore are ok, though the yard is very dusty. The loos and showers are clean and serviceable and the security is excellent. There are still many workshops, and it is possible to get wood cut to shape, or welding done on the site. Besides the hoist shown here, there are five big slipways. Joanne in the office is very helpful, and many buses run right past the bridge into Valetta or towards Sliema. The lift was competently done, though it's always scary seeing our home dangling around.
We spent five hard-working days sorting out our girl. All the sails have been taken off, for a long over-due valeting. Almost all the running rigging is down and we have scrubbed and cleaned all over. Our insurance company (GJW, who have been good to us over the years) insisted on a new survey, thanks to the boat's age, which was done by the lovely John Ross of Malta Yacht Surveys. All in all, we got a lot done.
It is early in the season to have hauled out, but for various family reasons, we decided to get back to the UK two or three weeks earlier than otherwise. It also means we can have good scout at the Southampton Boat Show. We need some new instruments, and want to get in ahead of the UK VAT hike, so that's going to be interesting.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Lovely friends
27/08/2010, Sliema

Months ago we arranged to meet various friends in Valetta over the UK August Bank Holiday, to celebrate Sarah's birthday. Due to various misfortunes and competing arrangements only the lovely Jenny and Liz could make it. They stayed at the Hotel Fortina, with a spectacular view across Marsamxett harbour towards Valetta itself.
The hotel has numerous facilities - restaurants, spa, pools, air-conditioning and showers . They were both exhausted from various emotional maulings over the last year and a half, while we were both hot and in need of chilling. It also became really windy that week, so in the end the four of us spent most of the five days lying around the hotel pools and drinking pretty cocktails. And lovely it was! We're not sure exactly what Jenny's doing in the photo, though: she's not usually a palmreader!
We'll sightsee properly when we are here in the spring. It'll be much more comfortable then.

Places and people
Kicking back

The swell was less here, but still present, so on Sunday we headed south towards Marsascala, portrayed in the pilot book as an attractive inlet anchorage. In fact it is tiny and shallow and we could find no acceptable space for us. We moved next door to Bay St Thomas, and kicked back.
This Qala is fairly open but we found good holding. Over four days we've barely seen another yacht, and ashore we've had some nice drinks and food. Mostly, we've begun sorting Roaring Girl out for the winter, and discussed our plans for future adventures. Actually, that's not completely correct: it's so hot that we lie around panting and occasionally flopping in and out of the sea!
Tomorrow, we will head for Valetta and our final destination. Friends are coming out to see us, staying ashore, over the weekend, and then we will haul Roaring Girl onto dry standing.
Ironically, we've spent six nights in Malta and so far less than 3 hours ashore!

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Qala Dwejra

We had a gentle sail north from St Marku to this extraordinary cliff-ringed cove on the north western tip of Gozo. Gozo is the second island in the archipelago and its northwestern end is characterised by cliffs rising as much as 300 feet above the sea and cut by caves of geometric precision. The north and south corners of this outcrop are angular, so that you literally turn a corner. Of course, the wind often turns with you, and we spent a lot of time close-hauled.
The Bay of Dwejra is a semi-circular cove, reminiscent of Lulworth Cove in Dorset. The water is dark, reflecting the walls around it, and silky, but only about 12m deep. The bottom is rock and sand, so really make sure the anchor is set.
The entrance to the cove is almost entirely closed by the huge and dramatic Fungus Rock. (The picture is Fungus Rock looking west from inside the cove; attempts to show the dramatic cliff walls don't work with our small camera, but have a good look on Google earth using the lat and long link from this post.) There is a narrow entrance on the north side; it is wide enough for a yacht but from the outside it doesn't look it. We took the wider entrance on the south side. The best shelter from the prevailing north-westerlies is as close under Fungus Rock as you can get.
Incidentally, it's called Fungus Rock after a lichen that grew here, highly prized by the Knights of St John (who ran Malta for over 200 years) for its supposed medicinal qualities. This Rock was tightly guarded with fearsome penalties for anyone caught trying to climb it.
We spent one night here, with the slap of swell on the rock and the cries of cliff birds for company, and just three other yachts. Unfortunately, said swell really made it uncomfortable and about midday the next day we left. Turning the corner at the south-western edge of Gozo we had a splendid, fast sail along the coast, sailing full-and-by and jibing about every 45 minutes. We investigated the tiny inlet at Mgarrix-Xini, but found that these days all the space relies on taking a line to rings on the rock and that it was packed. (By now, of course, it was Saturday.) We had intended to then sail down the western side of Malta, but the swell made it very unpleasant, and we would either have had to jibe a long way off and then in again, or jibe many times around headlands and rocks of a lee shore.
Instead we sailed through the narrow channel between Comino Island and Malta. This has its moments: the winds alter direction erratically, bouncing off headlands and heights, the ferries charge to and fro, there's a large fish-farm in the channel and innumerable tripper boats crowd the southern end.
We anchored in Mellilha Bay, near the head. Surprisingly the charts all showed us as in shallow water, about 5m, but we actually found about 12m, over quite a large area.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Qala St Marku

From St Julian's Bay we went five miles up the coast of Malta to Qala St Marku. By dusk we had this little bay all to ourselves, despite hectic water traffic between other anchorages all around us. The main disadvantage of this spot is that it has the busy coast road running right around it making for a lot of traffic noise, although there is are no houses, clubs or shops at all.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Entry to Malta

By Thursday we were hot and had seen enough so we decided to get ahead of some predicted unhelpful winds and head to Malta. In fact we got no wind at all and motored nearly the whole d-n way, covering the 82 miles in about 19 hours.
It's a very simple journey, though there are huge numbers of large ships travelling very fast along the south coast of Sicily, far enough off not to have troubled our previous trip, but certainly making the passage south more interesting. It was a very bright night, and we have radar, but it kept us on our toes.
Entry formalities into Malta are enormously annoying in their mystery. Everything we read - pilots, almanacs, marina and government websites, cruiser websites - emphasised the importance of arriving off Valetta during office hours (or risking overtime charges), of radioing in on entering Maltese waters at 12nm off, and then again when 1nm off. (This is why we were in busy shipping areas in the dark!) This is emphasised even today when Malta is in the EU and a signatory to the Schengen treaty; this means we should be able to just turn up and anchor with no formalities at all.
So at 12nM, at 0800, we start calling on 12 and 16 and get absolutely no response. We hoist our Q flag and check the radio is working. At 1nM we finally get a response and say we'd like to go straight to anchor at St Julien's Bay. We confirm we haven't come direct from Tunisia. No problem, we're told. Anchored in the unpleasant little bay under the Hilton, we call the yard where we will be hauling Roaring Girl out for the winter. Do we need to do anything else to clear in? No, is the answer.
So for EU yachts, with only EU nationals aboard, coming from a Schengen country - it seems you can choose your timing a bit better, and go straight to a nice anchorage. We wish that all the various sources would now update their websites; after we have confirmed this situation in Valetta we will be strongly encouraging them to do so.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Practical points about Siracuse

The anchorage and quay here holds lot of attractions (not least the price). Our pilot book shows the dinghy landing west of the Customs quay but that's now a building site. Like other boats, we dinghied into the small inlet that separates the island of Oritiga from the mainland. If you go under the first bridge, immediately to port there is a corner of the dock and flight of steps, where no-one seems to mind you tying up. There's enough room and chain to lock your dinghy securely.
If you climb up the steps and turn right across the next bridge you are on the island. About 100m ahead is the temple of Apollo, and the daily market is to the left of it.
If you turn left, you are on the main road Corso Umberto. About 50m on your left is the excellent laundrette run by the American Maria and her Sicilian husband Davide. A great source of information and also very good value for your washing.
We found one very expensive chandlery on Oritiga itself and various hardware stores and chandleries around the mainland side of Porto Piccolo. As we didn't actually need anything (!) we didn't do an exhaustive survey.
There is a tourist information centre on Oritiga but the one on the archaeological park is better. It's worth investigating as Siracuse has a great programme of free events, particularly music, at various atmospheric venues.
Much of the city is small enough to walk (if very hot), but there is also a go-bike hire service and a good bus system. We found it difficult to actually buy tickets for the bus, either in tabbachi or on the bus itself, but no-one seemed to care.
The biggest drawback to the main anchorage is that the water is off-puttingly brown. We moved over to just beneath the fort to swim, but the Coast Guard seems to discourage overnight anchoring there, so you have to move back again.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
And the museum

Siracuse is home to an enormous collection of material from the Neolithic onwards. There are rooms of material and its not at all easy to absorb it all. There are no chubby goddesses to gawp at either.
There is this exquisite Aphrodite. She has been controversial for her sensuality and realism, but we thought her beautiful.

Places and people
The archaeological park

To the west of Siracuse, on the mainland, is the area where the Greeks and Romans established their entertainment complex and ritual centres - temples and theatres. The centrepiece is this massive Greek amphitheatre. Much pillaged by the Romans and then the Spanish, at its height it seated 15,000 on massive tiers of stone carved from the hill, and shaded by awnings. Aeschylus' Etnan Women premiered here. It was the centre of civic life for political events as well.
Also in the park are the quarries, where the stone was dug. This includes two enormous caves, created by the work. One has beautiful acoustics and was christened the Ear of Dionysus (after an important Tyrant, not the bibulous god), by Caraveggio. The other, sadly not open to the public, is the even bigger Ropemakers Cave, favoured for the work as the damp air prevented the rope drying and splitting as it was made.
The Tyrant Heiron II built an enormous temple here for sacrifices to Zeus; there are stories of 450 bulls being killed at one annual festival, but not much now remains above the foundations. Alongside is the Roman amphitheatre. This is smaller, but in its heyday was impressively high. The stage seems quite small compared to the Colisseum, but was obviously big enough for gladiatorial fights and the 'circus' of animal contest. The big tank in the middle is far too small for nautical events, and was probably a drain for the blood.

Places and people
Clear water and papyrus

A popular spot in the old city is the Fonte Aretusa. This a pretty fresh-water spring, beloved of papyrus plants and ducks, just a few feet from the sea. It has been here since ancient times, and there are many myths about it and the nymph Arethusa after which it is named

Places and people
Cathedrals then and since

The main Duomo of Siracuse is built on the heights of Ortigia, a site that was already sacred when the Greeks arrived and started a 5th century BC temple to Athena. This building had world-famous decorations, and huge gilded statue of the goddess on the roof, which caught the sun's rays and acted as a beacon for sailors.
The current cathedral, rebuilt after the earthquake, still uses the Doric columns as its skeleton. They are literally in the walls. The internal shape is thus very much that classically proportioned, simple rectangle, and is also spare and dusky. Some Norman columns also still stand, adding a further angularity to the lines. Off to the south side, a number of small chapels have been added, and these are decorated in full Baroque extravagance, with cherubs and friezes and leaves and scrolls and angels and apostles and everything else that could be crammed into the space. You wander from the dim sobriety of the temple to these fantasias and back again as if in a bipolar religious mania.
The façade is Baroque, but as with most of the period's external decoration in Siracuse, it is restrained and formal. The piazza in front of it is beautiful, and pedestrianised so very pleasant. We saw three Guardia pushing an electric cart with a flat battery, which made everybody in the café laugh.

Places and people

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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