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Cruising Malta and Sardinia

By Robert Burn — last modified Nov 27, 2017 01:07 PM

Published: 2017-11-27 00:00:00
Countries: Italy , Malta

Report from Robert Burn of SY "Wai-O-Tira"

Having bunkered a full load of duty-free fuel in Montenegro, we head back down south towards Malta for our order of stern-tube oil that we have failed to source elsewhere in our smaller quantities. The weather, as ever, are Northerlies, and in a couple of days we have comfortably rounded the foot of Italy and arrive in Malta, a group of small islands just south of Sicily.

Valletta

We entered Grand Harbour at Valletta, the capital of Malta, and we are impressed by the battlements and other fortresses surrounding the waterways. The Knights of St. John obviously kept their stone masons busy at home as well as abroad, and there is little greenery to soften the landscape. Credit must be given to the Maltese for rebuilding this city after the ravages of the Luftwaffe seventy years ago. The harbour is not so grand in the modern era of shipping, and the adjoining bays are tightly packed with yachts on stern-to moorings.

At Kalkara Creek we were directed to a berth that we considered too awkward to enter, so we left these stone edifices for the adjacent island of Gozo, passing the smaller island of Comino. There is a small fleet of sturdy ferries connecting the islands frequently.

Gozo

Gozo has a small harbour for the ferries at Mgarr, where there is also a respectable marina with berths to spare. Gennaro is the accommodating manager at the Marina, and there is the Customs and Immigration offices next door which makes our clearances in and out quick and easy without fuss.

The Marina charges were at the Imray “charge band” of 4, which is supposed to be at the budget end of the scale, or Euro 65 for our vessel. The toilets and showers were clean and reflected a well-managed enterprise. At the end of the quay there is a rustic fisherman’s bar, the “Gleneagles”, that is festooned with fine exhibits of marine taxidermy.

Assisted by Gennaro, I sourced LPG supplier Brian Magro who tops up my cylinder and sells me another full 10kg bottle with compliant fittings for a very reasonable price. His wife then kindly takes me and my burden back to the marina. Meantime I am emailing Mario Zammit at GoFuels, in Mgarr, trying to get delivery of my stern-tube oil. My crew take me out for a most enjoyable birthday dinner, the steak and wine are fine, and the chocolate cake is a pleasant surprise. The cuisine is generally quite agreeable, and the main town of Victoria has the variety of linguistic and architectural elements reflecting the past. As we have found elsewhere, the locals are generally friendly and engaging.

The next day I am pursuing my oil order with more urgency. It transpires that the pails are at the local fuel station, next to the Police. When I turn up to pay with my Mastercard as arranged, I am advised that they only accept cash, and that the order arrived the day before. Expressing some frustration at this turn of events I am offered a round of mixed martial arts with the proprietor. Regretfully I decline this sporting challenge, and head off to find an ATM so that we can conclude our business transaction.

To Sardinia

Now completely stocked we departed Malta, and head for the Straits of Sicily that separates Europe and Tunisia by less than 100 miles. It is easy to see why Africans see this as a convenient point to cross continents. If time permitted we would have liked to have visited Tunis, but winter is approaching and we head towards Sardinia to improve our point of sail to Gibraltar. The wind shifts to the west, so we make for Golfo Cagliari in Sardinia. Along the way we have to stop our engine to clear some trawl netting from our propeller. We also landed a tuna passing through the Straits; our first fresh fish of substance in several months. There are also many more turtles as we head west, along with some more plastic litter. It is this plastic litter that causes the turtles so much grief when they attempt to eat it, believing it to be jelly fish. There are also bluebottles sailing along on the surface, and probably better fare for the somnolent turtles.

Cagliari - Sardinia

Cagliari is the main port of Sardinia and we are made welcome at Portus Karalis Marina that is adjacent to the C & I and Harbour Master offices. This is most fortuitous, as I eventually made four visits there over three days trying to get clearance for my vessel, only being granted an audience when we were clearing out. We regarded this treatment as poor manners by the officials, which was exacerbated by the time they kept us waiting in the reception area.

The Marina manager was more organised with his paperwork, and charged us a bargained Euro 75 per day, that included power, water and access to toilets. The amenities were rather frugal and charged a Euro for two minutes of hot water in the shower. We regard this as very ordinary in light of the furnishings of the Marina office and the tarifs imposed, and we might suggest Imray may rank these facilities in future as it may encourage some improvements. It may also assist the marine environment that everyone seems so to regard with so much passion. This was ranked by Imray as charge-band 6, but we were advised that this was very much at the lower end of the scale for similar facilities to the North. It is rather irksome to be charged Hilton prices for pension facilities, and no option where there is no anchoring. This regime of pricing in the western Mediterranean is the reason we will pass by this part of the world and hopefully find better value on the other side of the Atlantic, and we will be rather that much closer to getting home in Australia.

Getting out of the Med

Our miserly disposition and enthusiasm to make comfortable landfall in the Caribbean before Christmas, encouraged us to leave Sardinia knowing that there was a strong Northerly system in the western Mediterranean with large swells and strong winds. We were hoping to catch the last of it and then have favourable winds from Algeria to Gibraltar.

The system was rather more than expected and we had gale force winds with a high short swell, which kept our portside gunwhales under water a good deal of the time. We had rigged our smaller mainsail for these conditions, but the mizzen took some damage and our favourite genoa was tattered as the conditions were not conducive to furling. When the clew let go we found it easier to take it in. We also lost a life-ring, a deck bucket and a handy tyre we had wedged under the dinghy on the foredeck. Once again this heavily built steel ketch has shown her toughness in adverse conditions, and my relatively green young crew have gained confidence in her, if not her reckless skipper. It was the first time that we have experienced these heavy conditions on a reach, and the ketch rig held her on course with auto-pilot much of the way. It was the first time we have observed slack shrouds on the leeward side.

Two days later were motoring along with no wind at all, and this relative boredom continues all the way to the Spanish coast and Gibraltar.

Moving in closer to the Spanish coast for internet access we find more shipping, again mostly tankers. Our Icom VHF transceivers are both DSC capable, and they sound alarms a couple of times an hour with various messages we do not understand, that seem to relate to refugees crossing from Morocco to Spain. There are also patrolling aircraft that appear on our AIS display. We can track their activities in the air, and we can see them circling a target twenty miles away to the south. One DSC message related to 30 refugees in an open boat, and we are asked to keep a look-out for it. The Navtex advises us of Spanish and Moroccan military exercises, but not so much weather, which we feel is a failing of the primary objective of the service. We are also looking for HF weatherfax services, the best so far seems to be RN service out of Northwood in the UK, but their charts only seem to concern the North Atlantic.

We have repaired the mizzen so that it only requires running through a machine to fully secure our patches. Hopefully we will find some assistance with our repairs in Morocco; we are looking at clearing in at Mohammedia  on the Atlantic coast and working our way south to Agadir, which will substantially shorten our voyage to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. We plan on being in the approaches to Gibraltar at the bottom of the tide tomorrow morning to take advantage of the currents through this narrow stricture. It is farewell to Europe and on to the New World.

Robert Burn
SY
"Wai-O-Tira"

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of noonsite.com or the World Cruising Club.

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