Malta, Gozo and Comino
23rd August 2017
We left for Gozo at 07.00 after a restless night at anchor outside of the marina at Scoglitti. The crossing was going to be about 52 Nm
By the time we cleared the headland near Porto Palo a very welcome 10 – 12 knot breeze came in from the SE allowing us to sail for 2 -3 hours.
Claire went below for a sleep and soon I could see the hazy outline of Gozo on the horizon.
The waters between Sicily and Malta are very busy with large vessels. Fortunately our course had us crossing their path mostly at right angles which is the best way to transit major shipping routes.
Claire took down our very sad looking Italian flag putting up our brand new Maltese pennant as well as the yellow Q flag as we needed to officially check into Malta.
I saw a very strange sight as we were crossing. A bird appeared to be standing on the water! As we got closer I could see that it was actually standing on something which I assumed was a bit of flotsam.
We moved closer still and I could see that it wasn’t an old box or something that the bird was perched on it was a large turtle!! We got very close before the bird flew off with the turtle ducking under the clear water. I saw it clearly, swimming slowly away. Wonderful.
As we approached the coast we called the authorities in Valletta on VHF channel 12 informing them of our intention to check in at Mgarr Gozo. (You pronounce Mgarr - MmJarr)
We anchored outside of the Mgarr yacht marina and I took the RIB in to present our passports and fill out the entry forms. The first time we have ever had to do this.
Everyone had told us how expensive Malta was especially at the height of the season so when an English marinaro asked if I needed a berth for the night as I was walking back to the RIB I nearly said ‘no’ out of hand but I asked him how much it would be for an 11m yacht. To my complete surprise he said 38 Euro’s!! We haven’t paid so little for months so I said that I would check with ‘her in doors’ and get back to him. He showed me the berth we would have and I sped off to tell Claire the good news as I knew she would like to go in for a good night’s sleep.
In we went. We had a lovely long shower, eating on board before retiring for the night.
We had to leave the marina by 12.00 the following day so we were up and out early to visit the town. We also wanted to find a supermarket as we had been assured that we would get much missed English produce here in Malta.
We walked up the hill to the Mgarr town centre detouring through a full size mock up of Bethlehem!! Why it was here I couldn’t really say but it covered quite a large area with many buildings and outhouses.
Mgarr was bedecked with banners and flags, it looked very festive but time was ticking on so we walked back down to the harbour stopping in the supermarket where we got Branston Pickle, Sharwood stir in sauces but they were out of Heinz baked beans!! It was such a disappointment.
We also stopped at a small bar with good Wifi and Guinness.
We got back to the boat by 11.00 and was gone by midday.
We wanted to anchor in a small bay on the very small island of Camino. Camino sits in the gap between the main Island of Malta and the smaller island of Gozo.
We motored past the bay called ‘The Blue Lagoon’ as it was very crowded opting to drop our anchor in the quieter bay of San Niklaw almost opposite the Comino hotel.
The water was beautiful, so clear with a temperature that allowed me to jump straight in without acclimatising my body slowly first.
An added bonus here was that we picked up the hotels wifi.
Later that afternoon a very nice, white Xc-42 pulled into the bay dropping its anchor about 40 meters away. I sat there looking at this yacht and the two people on board knowing that we had seen them before but struggling to place them.
After a few minutes it came to me, Isola di Favignana with the strange weather and our failed anniversary dinner.
I stood up, waved and said hello explaining that we had anchored together in the past. They replied saying that they knew straight away where they had seen us as RR is such a memorable boat!! I took that as a compliment.
We agreed to join them on their boat ‘Le Tre Sorelle’ (The three sisters) later for a few drinks.
We spent a few hours cleaning the bottom of RR. I was hoping to clean below the water line with a large scrubbing brush. But really struggled to stay under the boat with a snorkel and mask on whilst scrubbing at the same time.
So I came up with a cunning plan.
I taped two empty plastic water bottles to the handle of a long, stiff brush.
When I pushed the brush under the boat the bottles were trying hard to float to the surface thereby putting a lot of upward pressure on the head of the brush so all I had to do was push it backwards and forwards while treading water at the side of the boat. Simples.
It worked so well that I cleaned the whole boat in under an hour while Claire followed behind cleaning the waterline with a green scouring pad.
After we had rested and relaxed for a bit we got the RIB off the front of RR putting the engine on before getting changed and crossing to ‘Le Tre Sorelle’ for a beer or two.
The couple, Joseph and Johanna were very nice, hospitable people and we were soon chatting together like old friends. Joe was born and bred in Malta whereas Johanna was Dutch.
The time flew by. My stomach was rumbling and I hinted that we should be going soon but they would not hear of it. Instead they invited us to stay to share their dinner with them as they were having Pasta carbonara and could easily add a little more pasta. I went back to RR to turn on our anchor light also bringing back some more drink at the same time.
It was very late by the time we did actually leave them. They had given us some good tips for our planned trip ashore in the morning.
By mid-morning we were ready to leave RR.
We first took the RIB around to this tiny little inlet that was little more than a crack in the rocks barely wide enough to get the RIB in.
We then went back into our bay securing the RIB to a ring on the hotels dock. We walked into reception to confirm that it was OK to leave the dinghy there while we had a drink in the bar.
We did intend to have a drink in the bar you understand but only after our three or four hour walk ashore!!
Having got the thumbs up from the receptionist we walked through the bar and out the back onto the very dusty track that led us over the small island of Camino to ‘The Blue Lagoon’.
The Blue lagoon is a famous bay in Malta. There is a huge patch of sand in between the Island of Camino and a line of large rocks that are about 200 meters off shore. The sand is covered by beautifully clear shallow water making it a perfect place for swimming.
As we rounded the bend for our first view of the bay we were both amazed at the amount of people there. It was really very busy with party boats and ferries dropping hundreds of people off. It did look beautiful though.
I asked Claire if she fancied a swim knowing that she would say ‘NO’ as it was so crowded so we walked on past looking for the tower that Joe and Johanna had told us about.
It was a very old fortification and apparently if there was a flag flying from the top it was open and you could go inside for a look around.
We couldn’t see anything from where we were so we carried on walking along the path past all the fast food kiosks and temporary bars set up for the continuous stream of tourists. There was even a large kiosk with lots of small lockers where you could leave your valuables for 8 Euros a day!
Claire spotted the flag first. It was across the other side of the bay and the walk to it took us around the very edge of the cliffs that formed the many inlets around this part of Comino.
Everywhere you looked there were boats tucked into impossible anchorages, people were swimming into caves scoured out by the never ending motion of the sea. Canoeist’s were paddling through the gaps in the rocks and the inevitable paddle boarders were making their way across to the lagoon.
When we got to the tower we made our way up the long flight of stairs and across the drawbridge into St Mary’s fort which was built in 1618 to help deter the pirates that were attacking traders sailing between Malta and Gozo.
Because of it's isolated location it had to be designed and built to withstand a siege so there was space for sheep and goats as well as water storage.
The views from the roof were fantastic.
We did stop for a drink in the hotels bar, honest before we made our way back to RR.
It seems very churlish to say but I have really had it with the hot weather. It is still in the high 30’s everyday often reaching 40 degrees around lunchtime.
I know, I know stop moaning but it's so hot it stops you enjoying the places we’re here to see. You just want to sit in the sea up to your neck with a wide brimmed hat on!!
I can’t even do that now as I grazed my leg loading the fuel cans into the tender at Licata and it's not healing because it's always wet from swimming so I have been told off by doctor Claire and I need to keep it dry until it scabs over.
We moved to Mellieha bay the following morning after saying our goodbyes to Joe and Johanna.
Joe had told us not to go down into the bottom of the bay where most boats go but to stop in a small anchorage at the head of the bay next to a fish farm which we did.
It was a good spot, not as sheltered as San Nicklaw but OK.
Claire went for a swim while I sat and watched.
Sunday 27th August.
When we woke, deciding to have breakfast in the cockpit we spotted ‘Le Tre Sorrels’ anchored a short distance behind us.
Johanna swam over later to say hi explaining that it got so busy in San Niklaw with day boats and cruisers that they decided to join us here.
We invited them over for dinner later that evening and I picked them up in the RIB to save them getting their tender off their boat.
We had another great night with these two they gave us good tips on where to go and what to visit during our stay on the main island of Malta. They also gave us their contact details asking us to get in touch when we were in Valletta.
Monday 28th August
We left around 11.00 waving our goodbyes once more to Joe and Johanna. We had a short trip to Valletta. We had a recommendation for a good marina called Kalkara of to the left as you entered Grand harbour. We telephoned when we were about an hour away asking for a berth but the lady said that they were full!!
We had a plan B which was a tip given to us by a lovely couple called David and Juliet who we had met at the BBQ in Licata. Apparently they had stayed for three weeks moored between a pair of large red buoys in Sliema creek for free!! No one disturbed them while they were there. Juliet said ‘you can’t miss them as they are right opposite Marks and Spencers’ !!
So we headed for Sliema creek. We turned into this famous anchorage with Valletta on our left passing ‘Fort Tigne’ on our right.
We saw very many buoys mostly plastic bottles and cartons tied to lines disappearing underwater as we wound our way slowly up the creek past boats moored fore and aft. We were feeling very unsure about what we were doing when Claire spotted M&S and right opposite were two large red buoys. It seemed too good to be true. Claire spun us around and I passed a line through the ring on top of the buoy securing RR to it.
I then jumped in our RIB, which we had been towing, with a line from our stern passing it through the ring on the red buoy behind. We were sorted.
We spent a very nervous few hours as boats passed either side of us expecting to get asked to move or to pay up for staying on the moorings but no. Even a police boat went past without giving us a second glance.
I took Claire ashore in the RIB so she could get some shopping. While she was doing that I motored further up the creek looking for a good spot to leave the RIB while we were off exploring Malta. I stopped and asked a guy who was in charge of one of the pleasure boats that left the quay regularly full up with tourists. He pointed to a spot saying that we should be alright if we left it there.
I went back to pick up Claire. She had some English goodies but no Heinz baked beans.
After dinner we went back to shore leaving the RIB locked up where we had been told spending a nice few hours walking along the front stopping for a couple of drinks before making our way back to RR.
We went to bed feeling very pleased with ourselves.
After a very peaceful night I took Claire ashore so she could see about having her hair cut at a salon she had seen. She came straight back saying that they could cut it immediately and would be about 40 minutes.
While she was in there I went and found a hardware store to buy some fuses for our inverter which had suddenly stopped working. I also found a petrol station on the quay side under a little stone bridge which was perfect for me to fill up my diesel cans before we leave.
I picked Claire up and she was all smiles which meant that the hair cut went well. I remarked on how nice it looked. Which it did.
I like dropping Claire off and picking her up after a hair appointment as there is no chance whatsoever of not realising that I need to comment on her hair!!
We spent a short time back on RR before leaving again to catch a ferry to Valletta.
I was quite excited about visiting this historic place. Joe and Johanna had given us a list of must see places so we made our way through the narrow streets up to the centre of town.
It really was very hot and humid. We hadn’t had any breakfast so we stopped in a small café where we were served delicious food as we sat beneath a large A/C unit. I was cooling down nicely of course the only problem with this is going back outside again. Oh well.
Our first stop was the Co-cathedral of St Johns built in 1572-1577.
I had never heard of a co cathedral? Apparently it's one of a pair of cathedrals which is used by a bishop as his ‘seat’. Often the Cathedrals are in two different cities.
It started life as a reasonably plain church but in the 1660’s it had a very dramatic facelift in the Baroque style. Now it is one of the best examples of high baroque in Europe.
When you enter you cannot fail to be surprised and slightly shocked at the amount of gold paint and colour that it on every surface of the interior. Including the floors.
There are many fine works of art in this Cathedral but for me the best is ‘The beheading of Saint John the Baptist’ by Caravaggio. I sat and looked at it for ages. No pictures were allowed to be taken so you will have to look it up.
We walked from there to the very different church ‘St Paul’s Shipwreck’ which is one of Malta’s oldest. This was a very different experience and more in keeping with my idea of what the inside of a church should look like.
After leaving here we stopped at a small bar for a drink. The tables and chairs were precariously balanced on the stone steps outside of the bar.
Claire is really enjoying her new drink of choice. Aperol Spritzer. Which is a shot of Aperol topped up with Prosecco.
After leaving the bar we carried on down the hill towards the Grand harbour which is on the opposite side of Valletta from Sliema Creek.
As we walked towards the water front we started seeing signs for the Lascaris War rooms. I wanted to see these rooms as they were where the defence of Malta and the invasion of Europe by allied forces was co-ordinated during the second world war.
I wasn’t sure if Claire would enjoy the visit but we met a couple of English women coming out of the long underground entrance and when I asked them if it was any good they both said it was very interesting so in we went and it was.
You could wander around on your own but we were told that there was a guided tour starting in a few minutes so we waited for that as it was only a euro or two extra.
We were first taken to a room where all the information from the various radar stations around the coast of Malta was plotted. The large maps on angled tables where original as were all of the clocks and charts.
We were then shown the small booths where information phoned in by observers stationed around the coast was collected confirming that the radar plots were not only accurate but also providing approximate numbers of attacking aircraft.
We went past the old telephone switchboards; all these were original too. We were told by the guide that they were built into old stand up pianos that were cut in half.
On then to the most important room where all of the information collected was plotted on a large map. We were told that the local women who volunteered for service could not tell anyone that they worked in these war rooms.
They used croupiers rakes to move the various markers around the board. The markers gave the enemy numbers, height, and minutes since first detected while other markers indicated our aircraft's height and numbers.
The whole operation was called the Dowding system after Sir Hugh Dowding who was the Air Chief Marshal of Britain. He developed the system to ensure that the information received from various sources was quickly verified before allied fighter aircraft were scrambled for defence thereby dramatically increasing the chances of our aircraft being in the right place to meet the threat.
It was great to think that General Montgomery, who was in charge of the British invasion forces and General Paton who controlled the American invasion forces stood in this very room to choreograph the allied forces as they gathered off the coast of Malta ready to assault beaches in Sicily on July 10th 1943 thus beginning the liberation of Europe.
We were told that Licata, where we were to spend this winter was a main objective for the American forces and was the first place an American flag was raised on European soil.
After leaving the war rooms we made our way to the upper Barrakka gardens which offered great views over the grand harbour as well as welcoming shade from the relentless sun.
We got a text back from Joe and Johanna agreeing to meet us for dinner in St Julians Bay where they lived. Joe gave us instructions on how to get to them so after a stop for a drink we hopped on a No. 14 bus from the busy terminal.
We like travelling on the bus. We passed RR as we skirted Sliema Creek before going over the hill into St Julians Bay which looked very nice.
We got off where Joe had told us crossing the road before entering The Scotsman (If you’d pardon the expression) I had talked with Joe when we were on RR about having fish and chips with my parents in Honour Oak. He suggested that we meet up to visit this pub that not only served very nice fish and chips but also had John Smiths beer on tap.
It really was nice to meet these two again especially over a plate full of one of my favourite meals. It wasn’t as good as Honour Oak but it was very nice indeed. To cap it off I had apple crumble and custard for desert. Perfect.
To walk off the meal Joe suggest that we stroll back to Sliema Creek along the promenade that follows the coast line. We first had a look at where their boat was moored which was in a private marina attached to a very nice apartment complex. They could sit on their balcony and look down at ‘Le Tre Sorrelle’ perfect.
The walk back took about 40 minutes and was very enjoyable. Joe was born and bred in this area and as we walked he reminisced about his childhood.
Joe said that we must visit Mdina, the old capital city and offered to drive us there on Thursday. We accepted his offer of course agreeing to meet up at 11.00 where we moored the RIB.
We waved our goodbyes as we neared our RIB which was where we had left it.
The following morning, we were back on the ferry to Valletta walking across to the Grand Harbour before boarding another ferry that took us to the marina in Vittoriosa.
We wanted to visit ‘The three cities’ Our intention was to do this on foot but it was blisteringly hot already touching 40 degrees so we decided to jump on one of those little tourist trains that bump along the roads ringing their bells.
We were early for the tour so we ducked into a little local’s café for a drink and a bite to eat.
It was a very strange place. They had a large flat screen TV balancing on one of the tables which was showing ‘Mama Mia’. Opposite the TV was a group of old rough looking men completely absorbed in the film who were nodding in time to the music, pointing and laughing at the different scenes.
Claire loves Mama Mia and soon we were sat down opposite the screen too!! The food was lovely though and luckily the film was nearer the end than the beginning.
We boarded our little train which took us rather quickly around the Three cities. The three cities are very old fortified cities called Birgu, Sengela and Cospicua. The oldest, Birgu has been occupied since the middle ages with the other two being founded by ‘The order of St John’ in the 16th century.
When the tour was over we should have walked back to some of the nicer buildings we had seen for a closer look but it was just too hot!!
Instead we hired a small traditional fishing boat to take us back to Valletta.
We then used the lift to take us to the Upper Barrakka gardens where we were just in time to see the 16.00 gun fired from the saluting battery.
The battery was constructed in the 16th century by the Order of St John and saw action during the siege of Malta from 1798 – 1800. It remained an active military installation until 1954.
It was nice to see and hear a real 32lb cannon being fired. I also liked the outfits the ‘gunnery officers’ were wearing. It reminded me of that old TV series ‘It aint alf hot mum’ with La,di,da gunner Graeme.
We stopped in the supermarket on the way back to the boat to stock up with more Heinz baked beans because you can never have enough of this superfood.
While we were waiting for the ferry we saw a woman fishing. I know that’s not earth shattering news but around her sat 5 or 6 cats. When she caught a fish, which she did while we were watching she took it off the hook and threw it over her shoulder for one of the cats to pounce on. Saves on cat food I suppose.
Thursday 31st August
We were picked up bang on time by Joe and Johanna for the short trip inland to the old capital city of Mdina.
Mdina remained the capital of Malta from its foundation by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC until the arrival of the Order of St John who moved the principle city to Birgu in 1530.
Although many of the Maltese nobility and religious groups remained within the walled city it never regained its popularity and because of this it is known locally as the ‘silent city’.
After finding somewhere to park we strolled back to the main gate into Mdina walking around the moat which was now a beautifully maintained grassed area. It reminded me a lot of the tower of London and the last time Claire and I were there with my parents and Sonia waiting to catch the ferry down to Greenwich.
We walked through the gate into a beautifully preserved city. It was very hot so we decided to watch the history of the city in an airconditioned auditorium which was one of the attractions.
Afterwards we strolled through the narrow streets which provided plenty of shade. One of the things we learnt from the film was that the streets were all slightly curved to prevent invaders having a clear shot at someone with their bows and arrows if they breached the walls.
Joe and Johanna took us to this very nice restaurant that overlooked the surrounding countryside. We could even see the new football stadium where strangely enough England were playing Malta in a friendly the following night. (All sold out)
After a very nice meal we wandered slowly back to the car. Joe wanted to show us a bit of the south coast of Malta taking us to a couple of very dramatic spots above the near vertical cliffs that feature along this part of the island.
We got out of the car and walked to one of the rocky outcrops that was high above the surface of the sea. Joe told us how locals fished in this part of the island by lowering baskets down the rock face into the sea below on very, very long lines. It looked impossible and Joe mentioned that a few ‘fishermen’ lost their lives doing this.
On the way back to RR I asked Joe if he could drop us off at a chandlers as the prices on Malta seemed a lot cheaper than that of Sicily.
This we did and I bought a new Anode for the saildrive along with some hose and some antifouling paint.
We said our goodbyes to Joe and Johanna outside of the supermarket where we intended to buy even more superfood.
We had both really enjoyed the company and the insights into the island only a local would know. Joe and Johanna were very generous hosts.
We were leaving in the morning for Gozo where after ‘checking out’ of Malta we intended to sail around to a little bay before crossing back to Sicily.
Friday 1st September.
We left Sliema creek around 10.00 to motor around to Mgarr on Gozo to sign out. We anchored outside of the harbour and I took the RIB in. This was all very straightforward and after the official called someone, not really sure who to check that RR was OK to leave Maltese waters we were free to leave in the next 24 hours.
After getting back on board we sailed around Gozo in strengthening wind to a little bay called Dwerja. It is almost circular with a small entrance that is partially blocked by a huge rock.
There were a few day boats in there but we were the only yacht so we anchored in the middle finding a nice patch of sand to drop our anchor into.
After a few hours we were the only ones there apart from a couple of snorkelers from the shore.
We hoisted the outboard onto its bracket on the pushpit before winching the RIB onboard lashing it down ready for the crossing.
As the sun set it became quite eerie, We were almost completely surrounded by sheer rock walls and the sound of the wind moaning in the rigging with the amplified sound of the waves slapping against the rocks was going to mean a restless night for me.
We got our heads down around 22.00 agreeing that if we were both awake at any time after midnight we would set off.
We were both awake at 02.00 so as agreed we got ready to leave. It would take about 10 – 12 hours with a forecast of light winds so nothing to worry about.
I turned the navigation lights on only to find that the Bi colour at the bow was not working so I turned them off before turning on the tri colour at the top of the mast which was OK.
We had a bright moon which made the exit to the bay easy to see. Claire took us out making sure she gave some rocks which were just outside the entrance a clear margin before putting us on course for Licata.
We had to radio Valletta Port authority when we were clear of the Island getting a cheery goodbye as we thanked them for a great stay.
We saw some dolphins but they weren’t very playful.
We also hit something while I was trying to sleep in the forward cabin that made me jump. I rushed up on deck but we couldn’t see anything in our wake. I went to look over the bow but there was nothing out of place there either.
I looked astern again and the turbulence from the back of the boat looked odd. More bubbly if that makes sense.
I told Claire to go forward and look over the bow while I slowed the boat to a stop before putting it into reverse. As the boat started to move backwards Claire gave a shout and a small plank floated up from underneath the boat. I suppose it was stuck against the keel after we ran straight over it.
Everything seemed ok so we were soon on our way again.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and we tied up at our winter berth in Licata, Sicily at 13.10.