Slow Sailing

25 February 2020
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Under Pressure

29 July 2016 | Thomas Bay, Malta
Heather
Hello from Malta. It wasn't like we were tired of Italy but since Malta is only 85 miles from Siracusa in Sicily, it made sense to go now! We've been here for a week and a half.


Like many parts of the Med, I didn't really know much about Malta until recently since we've never traveled over here. Now we know it quite well! Historically, its strategic position only 60 miles from the tip of Sicily and 220 miles from Libya and the fact that it separates the eastern from the western Mediterranean, has ensured that pretty much everyone in the area has taken turns ruling it over thousands of years. But it was from 1530 onward when the Knights of the Order of St John took over and started creating the incredible architectural fortifications that make it what it is today- a Unesco site. Because of all the varied influences, not the least of which is Arabic, there is an interesting mixture of things here and understandably, the most impressive fortifications we've ever seen. A phrase in a museum we were in described Malta as having had "grace under pressure" because such beautiful architecture came out of the need to ward off the enemy.

Malta has three main islands- Gozo, little Comino and the main island of Malta. We proceeded to the Blue Lagoon anchorage on Comino the first night since we were coming in late and knew the day tripper boats would have left for the evening. Its a pretty spot, and the water is very clear & blue with a nice backdrop of low, sandstone cliffs & formations. The next morning, we were just about ready to leave the boat to do some sightseeing in the dinghy and then hop the channel to Gozo to check in when this couple came in on their sailboat and put their anchor atop ours. When they fell back on top of us he decided he was too close so he guns the engine, then puts it in reverse and she gets on the windlass remote and is struggling to get the anchor up while moving backward fast and the windlass is chugging away until up their anchor comes with our chain strapped around it and our anchor just below the surface. All the while we are both at the bow trying to motion that they have our anchor. Then we did a 180 and our bows headed in for a big kiss! We held the boat off with our engine until they managed to drop our chain. We then went about trying to make a new plan while they made their way to the next boat, getting that person's anchor rode caught in their prop. Before too long, they were limping out of the anchorage trying to motion apologies and us & the other boat met in the Mgarr Marina office an hour later because there was no safe place to leave the boat, obviously. We never got to explore Comino.

But money does buy happiness since as soon as we got the boat securely fastened in the marina, we spent 3 worry free days exploring the island of Gozo. It is the quieter, smaller side of Malta and we liked it. The weather has been spectacular since I don't even know when and the temp has been wonderful too. It gets hot on land when you're in the sun but the shade is perfect and the water keeps the interior of the boat cool till evening when it cools down even further.
From Malta
From Malta


The capitol of Gozo is Victoria and it has an old citadel that has just been refurbished and a new visitor's center built with EU funding. It has what we thought were really high walls (until we saw Valletta!) and nice views of the brown landscape since it is full on summer here and all the fields are scorched. Apparently, from pictures, it is quite green in the spring. A lady told me that water is more precious than wine in Malta. All of their water is from a desalination plant and it is in our experience, of low quality. It has so much salt left in it you can't quench your thirst and if you rinse off the boat it is still salty. So most people drink bottled water instead. We are enjoying our watermaker water.
From Malta
From Malta
From Malta
From Malta

We signed up with a dive shop to do a day of diving since this is the only place that has interested us so far in diving and our compressor wasn't working yet. Bummer!! Jon spent a whole morning troubleshooting why it was still smoking despite the ridiculous amount of money we spent on new parts but to no avail. The day we left the USA to head back to Greece, we actually chased the UPS truck around on his route in order to get this package at the last minute. It had all new pistons & rings and all 4 stages for the compressor. These are the parts that the genius's in Phuket said we needed before returning our compressor back to us in pieces there. We got to do the 2 most popular dives- one was the blue hole and azure window and the other, the "Inland Sea". Both of the dives were shore dives and we would gear up at the van and then shuffle to the entry point. The first dive was the longest walk we've ever done in our gear even though we've done practically every shore dive on Bonaire. On the way out, we thought we were going to have to carry each other. The dive was interesting, we went through the longest tunnel passage we've ever done and the water clarity was excellent. There wasn't much for life really aside from a few fish and small stuff; it was more about the big scene.
From Malta
From Malta

The second dive started closer to the van and we slipped into the shallow water that makes the Inland Sea. You then descend at the entrance to a cave tunnel that leads some 80 meters out to the sea. It was looking pretty good and there were more fish, we saw a large nudibranch, the tunnel was cool, the colors and shafts of light were lovely and then one guy on the dive had a panic type of event and the dive was aborted. We had to go back thorough the tunnel and then wait there at 20 feet while the diemaster got the guy back to the surface and by the time he came back down for us, the dive was pretty much a bust and I was cold from hanging motionless in the dark. Oh well! What can you do when you dive with a shop? That is why we like to dive on our own. A friend we made at the marina where we were hauled out this Spring said that the water in the Med got downright hot in the summer. Well, we haven't found the water to be hot, and now that we think about it, the guy that told us this was from Norway so... we cut ourselves some slack for getting chilly on the dives.
From Malta

Another EU funded project is the organization of the Coastal Trail, a hiking trail that circles the island & passes through some great scenery. We did a couple of these while on Gozo and they were a highlight. It seems like we're really wearing out the soles of our shoes lately. They weren't always that well blazed though so we had to be on our toes. The high cliffs and rock formations on the west coast were really impressive. There are also several watchtowers scattered around the whole island, the first we'd seen of this type. All the signs say "if the flag is flying, the tower is open!" Well of all the towers we saw and all the flags a flyin', there were no open doors to any of them. We didn't realize how many projects the EU helps to fund. I suppose Malta gets their share of them. We also see that Malta is a shipping headquarters so they must make some money there. We looked up the population of Malta & its about 423,000. Vermont is about 650,000. What a small country!
From Malta

We were ready to move to Valletta. After seeing the name on so many mega-yacht sterns over the years and looking at pictures of the famous city, I couldn't wait to see it. Known as one of the most beautiful in the Med, Grand Harbor does make a great impression when coming in by boat. We have never seen such high fortifications and the immensity is significant. I couldn't get it in a photo. An amazing natural harbor in itself, over the years and all the turmoil, every finger tip so to speak got a new fort and fortification on it so that everywhere you look there is another golden stone protector looking back at you. We pulled in to a marina for a couple nights but then headed back out to anchor because we found a great finger in the harbor with good holding and a spectacular view, and a fort for protection!
From Malta
From Malta

We explored most every corner of Valletta, sampling the street food, hit a few museums, gardens, walked the walls. Then we started hopping on the bus and heading inland. We visited another hugely fortified old city- Mdina- which has been a work in progress for over 3000 years. I kept getting twinges of the Game of Thrones.
From Malta

In the area just outside the walls of Mdina is the town of Rabat and it was there that we visited the St Paul's Catacombs (underground cemetery). I never knew this but during the Roman period, there wasn't much space for above ground burials and there is very little soil anyway but the stone is soft to carve and it was decided that underground cemeteries would be built to house the dead. And there would be passageways around these huge underground tunnels and then why not have tables for food and stone "sofas" for hanging out beside the tables while eating meat & fish & drinking wine while visiting your deceased loved ones? And so it was that all of these remained and then were excavated and made into this museum where you learn all about it and then get to walk through the tunnels stooped over (they were really short back then!) to see what it was all about. It was such an interesting day & we learned so much.
From Malta
From Malta
From Malta
From Malta

Mainland Malta advertises heritage walks that you can do on your own similar to Gozo and we tried 2 of them in particular, but both were pretty bad! We were all excited about one of them. When the British ruled here, they decided to build an extensive, high wall across the entire island and fortify the wall with additional forts and guard towers and they called it the Victoria Lines. There's a trail that runs along the whole wall and is according to a glossy pamphet, a great walk in Malta. It was a Sunday and true to this part of the world, everything all but stops on Sunday. It is seriously Catholic here. We managed to get a bus out there only to find that we hated the trail and aborted our plan. It took forever to get back and we decided just because there's a pamphlet doesn't mean its good.

On the same day that I lined up the dives and Jon was swearing at the compressor, I also lined up a Coultri Sub service center here in Malta to take a look at the thing. So we moved over to an anchorage close to the shop 2 days ago and brought it in. Apparently it is the crankshaft which sort of makes sense, given most of the other parts are new! The Maltese speaking owner had a friend there who was helping to translate and he told us we shouldn't have bought a Coultri if we'd wanted it to last, because it is made in Italy! But for whatever reason, we could get a new block here whereas we supposedly couldn't in Thailand because we asked and they weren't offering that anymore. GRRRR! So we went that route and picked the compressor back up this morning, looking pretty new. Jon got it hooked up and its running like new too. So hopefully, we're back in business! There's more diving we want to do here, just not with a shop.

After getting the compressor sorted, we spent the afternoon playing in the water- at the surface.. The rock formations and caves around here are fun and the water is crystal clear. I found a small, live cowrie today. I didn't expect they would be here.
From Malta
From Malta

And we're cleared out now to head back to Italy. Malta has been a unique country to visit and a testament to the grand things that people can create that can stand the test of time. Hopefully our compressor will now too.
From Malta


Comments
Vessel Name: EVERGREEN
Vessel Make/Model: Tashiba 40 Hull #158
Hailing Port: E. Thetford Vermont
Crew: Heather and Jon Turgeon
Extra:
Hello! We are Heather & Jon Turgeon of S/V Evergreen. We started sailing in 1994 on our first boat, a Cape Dory 31, then sought out a Tashiba 40 that could take us around the globe. It has been our home for 19 years. We've thoroughly cruised the East coast and Caribbean and just completed our [...]
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