A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

A Passage to Malta and several days in Valletta

After having a very chilled time in Fiskardo, watching the weather and preparing the boat, what looked like the ideal weather window developed. A tiny bit of motoring to start the first day in light winds and a second day and night in 10 to maximum 18 knots. All reaching or off the wind, all 6 weather models in close agreement on the GRIB. It sounded perfect but as we all know, with weather, you don’t always get what is written on the tin.

The first day and night were exactly what it said on the can, we had the gennaker up for a few hours in the morning and we were reaching along at 6 knots in a light breeze and a dead calm sea. We had lunch and dinner sitting at the cockpit table and the boat was sailing almost 100% upright. The first mate even managed to cook a chicken stew (although most of the cooking was achieved in an insulated pot, similar to a hay box.) On the first, cloudless night the waning moon-sliver set at sunset so the stars were spectacular. As dawn broke on the second day the wind started building and we had 100% cloud. By midday the wind had increased to 20 knots. By the afternoon we were reaching along at 7 to 8 knots on the top of waves and by the late afternoon the wind had come around abaft and was in the 20 to 25 knot range. There was a wicked and short following sea that built to about 3 metres through the night. To add to the challenge there was full cloud cover as well as no moon, so we were charging along at 5 to 8 knots in inky blackness. The First Mate was less than impressed but agreed, you have to play the hand you are dealt and you have to try and play it well. The boat was handling it very well and probably to our amazement Juluka (the Hydrovane) was coping splendidly. We were very well set up for the conditions with a 3rd reef in the mainsail and a handkerchief of Solent out. Which, if you see this piece of kit and the boat that it is steering, it is in my opinion miraculous. There were a few times when the waves were steep and we would have two in a row that would bash the abaft section of the boat causing it to screw up wind. Although his was rare, it happened and then you had to intervene and just steer the boat downwind a bit, relock the rudders, and then let Juluka take over again. When the wind got over 25 knots, I gave Juluka a break and hand-steered the boat or let Philemon have a go. Veronica was lucky to have watches outside the strongest blasts of wind and during most of her watch in the middle of the night the wind dropped to around 14 to 18 knots. In the wee hours of the morning it started blasting again and went to 32 knots…..at this stage we had just the 3rd reefed main up and it did cross my mind that if it carried on building to 40 knots we would need to go to bare poles and that would have been tricky because we would have had to have gone into wind and one of us would have had to go to the mast to secure the main halyard down to stop the main-sail from trying to set itself. Anyway, that didn’t happen but amazingly, I realized that in the inky dark me trying to hand steer and not gybe down wind was going to be tricky and actually Philemon, set to a TWA of 165 deg could do a much better job. He did just that and the boat was screaming at over 8 knots and suddenly it became much more comfortable, basically because we were now keeping pace or sailing faster than the waves. The First Mate actually slept though this and arrived back on watch in the light and with only 16 knots to contend with. It is worth mentioning that on the trip log, the max SOG was recorded as 11knots, which I think is a new record, particularly considering there was no major tidal assistance.

So, it was a challenging passage and we arrived in Valletta slightly shaken and sleep-deprived. Interestingly we were downloading the weather on the Iridium Go and even 3 hours before the blast started in earnest, it was showing seas and winds much slighter than we encountered. The other story from the passage I have published a separate blog for. Please read it, it is interesting stuff.

We checked into Marina di Valletta, it was expensive but very central. We had to fill in a Health declaration, Covid Booster information and several other arrival forms that were clearly primarily designed for larger vessels. The instructions were to copy these to the Port Authority, the Chief Medical Officer and keep the marina in copy. The marina was not to give us a gate FOB or let us out until we got approval, which the Marina would be copied on. The marina said that an answer would come in 24 hours. On the Friday night we were happy with this as we were exhausted and just braaied on he boat and slept late. The next day we were pretty preoccupied with cleaning the boat and de-rigging all the passage stuff. To cut a long story short it was the weekend and eventually the approval only came on Tuesday morning. However, once 24 hours were up and it was now the Saturday afternoon, knowing that we were both booster vaccinated and having learnt that virtually all Covid restrictions were to be dropped on 2 May in Malta, we went into bunking borders mode and went walk-about.

We had a fantastic first meal at the restaurant in the Royal Malta Yacht Club and stumbled on some very friendly and moderately inebriated expat type members who were helpful in telling us the lay of the land.

Over the next few days while killing time and waiting for Marc to arrive, we wandered the wonderful ancient streets of Valetta, soaking up the culture and festivities. There was some feast day festival going on so there were religious banners draped between buildings across the streets. Apparently, in Malta every second weekend is some kind of celebration. There were fireworks and lots of street stalls, etc. On the Monday we decided to go down to anchor in a bay on the eastern side of the island for the night. When we got there, it was protected from the wind, it had the sandy bottom as described but there was a wicked swell out of the east pushing in. We were there with about four other boats but it was untenable especially as the swell was predicted to increase during the night. So we went around to Marsaxlokk, it was an unattractive commercial port littered with buoys and very yachty unfriendly. So at 16h00 we made a decision to beat back 2 hours to Valletta and swallow another €90 night at the marina. The upside was we almost became part of a movie. The boats real name is Étoile du Roy it has been, since 2010, French owned out of St Malo and has been in several movies. In this one when it comes out, it is UK flagged. It was a small reward for a bash back into wind.

Tuesday, we did the full-on tourist thing and joined a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the western part of the island. I am always a sceptic of these but actually it was great and we learnt a few things from the commentary. The one unfortunate bit was on a country road we came across and accident where a car had taken out a delivery guy on a scooter. The road was blocked off and we had to eventually turn around, not easy in a bus on a narrow road. The guy I think had a broken femur, so it was not good but the ambulance and the police arrived quickly.

Wednesday, the First Mate announced she just wanted to chill on the boat after having gone for a morning run, so I took the Dahon Jetstream and went for a pedal and a lunch on the promenade in the St Julian’s bay area. Followed by an epic beast of burden walk to the Spar, some 3km away. Brilliant shop and the booze particularly was very cheap, so we went big on the stock-up. To add to the burden, the till operator announced, “Congratulations sir, you have spent €xxx and have won 7 free 1.5l bottles of water”. That added another 9kg to the 25kg or so I already was carrying, in the amazing Thule ruck sack Tayo had given me.

Anyway, Marc arrives this morning and we will let that be the next chapter in the blog.