We were met at the pontoon of the Royal Malta Yacht Club by Mike and Proud and two other boats from the Covid-free Odyssey group after a frustrating sail, including one day of lovely 25kn winds where we sailed at 8.5knts all day and a couple of days solid motoring with headwinds. The group now consists of two Australian and two American boats and that evening we had drinks on board the other Australian boat Ikigai.
We tried to check in the next day, but they didn’t seem interested- just photocopied our papers and didn’t want to stamp our passports – usually its a song and dance with officials wanting papers, boat stamps, copies of copies, signatures and very time consuming but Malta is so laid back they just waved us on… not sure how it will go at check out.
The first thing we noticed about Malta were the buildings, which are made of honey coloured limestone and sandstone. It is very dry and Valetta the capital is full of very steep narrow streets devoid of any greenery but has a charming ambience.
Some Maltese facts:
– Malta is only 17 miles wide
– Every village has it’s own patron saint
– Malta holds the record for the most cars per square metre in the world
– Pan fried Rabbit is their national dish
– Malta sustained the heaviest bombing in the world with 3,343 air raids and 6,700 tons of bombs dropped. It was in 1942 and was known as The Seige of Malta.
– It consists of 7 islands
– It is the only country awarded the George Cross to all it’s residents and this Cross is now on its national flag.
We hired a motorbike and set off with Mike and Proud to explore Valetta. Valetta is now a UNESCO site and they are still restoring it from the intense bombing nearly 80 years ago but it is beautiful. Restaurants on the streets, narrow lanes with overhanging windows and old doors that look like they are crumbling away.
I couldn’t help but notice the English influence – right down to M & S – English is the second official language and more English tourists come here than any other nation and of course Malta was a British protectorate before independence, so it makes sense that there is a strong English feel to it.
The next day we took the bikes round the island and met up with Paul and Kirsten from Ikigai for lunch at Dingli cliffs. The spectacular view of the sea ravaged rock face below which creates lots of caves and arches was well worth the ride.
Malta is so small you can see most of it in one day, so we then headed off to Mdina which used to be the capital. Mdina is a fortified city over 3000 years old and is a rabbit warren of small lanes. We spent about an hour wandering through the lanes and had an iced coffee but it was really quiet – its actually known as The Silent City which was quite fitting during these Covid times.
We stopped at St Julians bay on the way back which is a bustling busy bay where yachts, fishing boats, tourist boats, swimmers and kayakers all jostle for space. It was more fun than Marsamxett Harbour where we are anchored as you can walk to the bars and shops in Sleima from here.
We bought our first produce from a mobile street vendor and miss the fabulous fresh produce from Turkey. Most foodstuffs are imported into Malta so the quality is not so good – expensive too…
There are a plethora of good museums on Malta, mainly in Valetta so we decided to visit a couple. The first one was the War museum which is dedicated solely to the WW11. It was really well laid out and showed how the Maltese suffered during the war. Malta’s strategic position in the med led to both the Italians and Germans wanting it, and as a result, Malta sustained the most severe bombardment of the entire war leading to the whole population being awarded the George Cross. It was left devastated after 154 continuous days and nights of bombing with 6,700 tonnes of bombs dropped. Miraculously, a supply convoy or rather it’s bombed remnants managed to limp into Valetta and save the Islands from starvation. It has taken decades to rebuild. There was also an air raid shelter as part of the museum which was fascinating. All these tunnels with dormitories, first aid rooms, dining halls and even a birthing room.
We also visited the war rooms which again were underground, and showed how the managed their war effort. All the original phones and furniture were in situ and you could walk right round the map and chart tables.
Malta’s restoration has been very sympathetically done. They have used their local sandstone, and retained the charm of the original buildings. Valetta is a beautiful city and you cannot really see how decimated it must have been – most of the buildings have overhanging wooden windows, the streets have stepped pavements which are far easier to walk up, and they have used natural materials wherever possible.
Back at the Harbour, we had drinks onboard Trifecta with the other 3 boats we are here with. They all moved up to Comino the next day but we had to stay in the harbour and sew up a large tear in our headsail. Luckily it was a seam but 4000 stitches, 2 full days and very sore hands later and we had a great repair. We wanted to get it done professionally but we had to wait for 2 weeks and having already lost 5 months exploring the Med we were itching to keep moving.
Eventually we were able to leave and head north towards Gozo. We stopped a night in St Paul’s Bay but didn’t get much sleep due to a party boat that anchored next door to us. We have got so used to anchorages to ourselves that but now it looks like things are returning to normal.
We met up with everyone in the Blue Lagoon, an anchorage imbetween Gozo and Comino. It was stunningly beautiful with dramatic cliffs up to 80m high, caves, tunnels and clear water but it was very rolly and so we only spent the one night here and then moved back down 5nm to the mainland.
We spent a few days around Comino and Gozo, enjoy fabulous weather and quiet anchorages – in August! The only other boats out were Maltese locals so us cruisers stuck out like a sore thumb. We caught up with Liz and Rob again on Bilby, who we spent 3 months next door to in Marmaris marina earlier on in the year, and enjoyed some good sails up and down the coast. Malta is tiny which makes it lovely for day sailing, it also has some incredible diving spots. They have sunk a few minesweepers for wreck diving and there are numerous caves and cliffs to dive. As I hadn’t dived since Zanzibar Ian took me for a practice run under the boat… with trepidation I went on a cave dive, swimming through tunnels, in and out of small caves and popping up into little cave holes. I also went on my first ever wreck dive – I swam through the wreck, dived down to see all the fish swimming underneath and found my love of diving again… Ian was initially worried but realised that I had regained my confidence and just let me go… it was incredible.
We got a text from our friend Jason from Tanzania on our last day in Malta who we hadn’t seen for nearly two years. He wanted to let us know he was in Europe and where were we? We told him Malta and incredibly he was only 20km away! The next day he jumped on a bus and met us at the tip of the main island. We had a brilliant day together swimming, eating, sharing stories and reminiscing. It was a shame we didn’t have more time together but it was fantastic to see him again and I’m sure we will see him again in some anchorage somewhere.
We left the next day for Gozo where we were checking out. As we suspected, they questioned our lack of paperwork – the Royal Malta Yacht Club had not checked us in, as we thought and so there was a ‘discussion’ as to why we had been here for 2 weeks…. we begged ignorance apologised profusely and promised never to rely on heresay again. We got away with it and legged it back to the boat. Malta had been a lovely stop but as we had lost 4 months in the Med due to lockdown in Turkey we were keen to get a move on if we were going to cross the Atlantic this year. We left at the crack of dawn to sail the 60nm crossing to Sicily.