Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2002: Malta and Gozo

This web page contains the logs of the third leg of a trip that I took with S/Y Thetis from Greece to Tunisia and back. The leg covers a 6-day period in the Maltese islands of Malta and Gozo.

The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also includes some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route in Malta
Route in Malta

Monday May 14 2001, Day 11

We woke up slowly in our first morning in Malta not feeling very ambitious although there were plenty of things to do. First we attacked the problem of the reef line. We attached, at the boom end, a wire to one of the functional reef lines and tied two long cords on the wire. We then pulled the line from the gooseneck at the mast. The line came out of the gooseneck and we very painfully and slowly fished out the two cords through the cams that secure the reefs. After that, we attached the errant reef line and tried to feed it through the cam. The task proved to be next to impossible. Now that we at least had the cords threaded inside the boom, we tried the same trick from the other direction. Attached wires to the reef lines, then the cords to wire at the boom end, and pulled them from the goose neck. It finally worked but we had spent over 2 hours on the task. While I finished the job by tying the reef lines and covering the sail, Manos prepared our lunch.

Alice called from Washington, D.C., she was all set for tonight’s departure and due to arrive here tomorrow afternoon. Earlier, somebody came from the Msida Marina’s office. After asking our intentions he told us that since we will be staying only for a few days, we need not move Thetis but can stay where we are. He told us where to connect for AC electricity and water. Also, a fuel truck came and we topped the tank and refilled the two empty jerry cans. All together we had burned 100 L of fuel since Kythera. This came to about 2.5 L/hr, much higher than Thetis’ average of 1.7 L/hr. It must be due to the long hours of fighting the wind and the chop.

As we were finishing lunch, Peter arrived and asked if we had a need for a handyman. I remember Peter from 1996 when he fabricated for me a stainless steel fixture that held the radar reflector to the mast to replace a broken one. The fixture he made has not given me any trouble since. So I was glad to let him fix the broken floor, repair the table, and replace the hinges of the front cabin door that had sheared. He went away and came back with his tools and parts but the repairs did take longer than we thought.

Thetis in the Msida Marina

While Peter was working in the cabin, I replaced the burned bulb from the red navigation light.

The only problem we faced was that the door to the WC and the showers was locked and we could not get in. I asked at another boat what was the problem. It seems that one has to get a magnetic card that opens the door. The Marina office issues these cards to guests after they give a 10 ML (about $20) deposit. They did not tell us so this morning. Now, unfortunately the office had closed for the day and we would have to wait for it to open tomorrow morning. In the mean time, a fellow boater opened the door for us and let us in.

After showers we walked back to Sliema and the little Maltese restaurant that was closed yesterday. It was open and it was still run by the same family. We had a very nice and leisurely meal, with many Maltese specialties and plenty of wine. The name of the restaurant is Il Meril and it is at the foot of St. Vincent Street, tel. +33 2172 0942 0265. By the time we finished eating and had walked back to Thetis it was past midnight.

Tuesday May 15 2001, Day 12

Maltese Boat

This is the day that Alice arrives from the US. Manos and I woke up rather early. I gathered all the boat’s laundry and then we walked with it to the other end of Sliema. We arrived just as the laundry store was opening at 8 AM. After we gave the laundry we walked back to a travel bureau because Manos wanted to advance his departure from Malta by a day since he had business in Brussels. While waiting for the travel office to open we had an espresso. I then walked back to Thetis while Manos took care of his ticket.

I was anxious to be back because Peter had promised to send us a friend of his to look at our defective winch. He did not. While waiting, I connected the water hose and thoroughly washed the deck and the cockpit. I then vacuumed the inside and washed with soap all the wood surfaces. I then cleaned the seal of the leaking hatch and adjusted the pressure from its latch. I hope that this does the trick and stops the leak. I went to the Marina office and, after paying the deposit, got a magnetic card to allow us to enter the showers and WC. After all this work I took a nice hot shower.

Maltese Boat Detail, the “evil eye”

Later Manos and I took one of the colorful yellow buses, for 15c (about $0.30), to Valletta. We walked around the old town and had a snack. Then we took another bus to the airport. We were early so we waited for Alice’s flight. It did come on time and soon she was out of the customs. We all took a taxi back to the Msida Marina. At the Malta airport you pay for the taxi at a counter before getting in. All the taxis are Mercedes Benz in immaculate condition.

While Alice was installing herself in the front cabin, Manos prepared a wonderful supper with several salads, smoked salmon, breads, etc. We all ate in the cockpit welcoming Alice to Malta. After diner we all took a long walk along the Strand in Sliema.

While we were away a new boat had arrived and docked next to Thetis. It was the French sailboat Tatiana. What was remarkable about her was that one member of her crew was crippled and moved about in a wheelchair. The rest of the crew lifted him out and lowered him onboard. One cannot help but admire both him and the crew for their love of the sea and their courage and determination.

Wednesday May 16 2001, Day 13

Street in Valletta First thing in the morning while the rest of the crew was still asleep I walked to Sliema to pick up the laundry. On the way back I bought some cords and rope to replace the spinnaker topping line which was frayed. I also located an outfit that sells and repairs winches. They promised to send someone later today to take a look at Thetis’ winch.

Later we all took the bus for Valletta. We first visited the Auberge de Provence that houses the Archaeological Museum. They have many amazingly large and curvaceous prehistoric female figures. Shortly after visiting the museum we saw on the street a young lady that looked as if she came out of the same mold as the figures in the museum. We had a pleasant lunch at an outdoor cafe. We then walked to the Manoel Theater for a free lunch break piano recital. Following this nice break we visited the palace of the Magnus Magister (Grand Master), and the St. John’s Cathedral which houses two Caravaggio paintings: the Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome. The latter was stolen in 1987 but amazingly enough it has been recovered. Caravaggio by the way, had lived in Malta for 4 years and had became a knight of St. John. Wandering in Valletta and seeing these most impressive fortifications I could not help but think how much the native Maltese must had “loved” the knights who used them as labor. Also, some of the sculptural memorials of Grand Masters in the palace and in St. John’s Cathedral, in particular the one to Nicolas Contono, depict captive Turks and Blacks as lesser people. These were, of course, “infidels” and fair game to be enslaved. For a very interesting account of the Maltese Knights/Pirates read the Alonso De Contreras chronicle. I do hope that some progress has been made in our world since these most “civilized” and “Christian” noble knights.

The Beheading of St. John
by Caravaggio
St. Jerome
by Caravaggio

Alice and Manos in front of St. John’s Cathedral


A Shop in Valletta

Knife Sharpener’s Cart

In the late afternoon, pleased but exhausted, we returned to Thetis. No one showed up for the winches.

In the evening, we walked to Sliema and had a Maltese dinner at Lewis’ favorite restaurant the Il Merill where we had a reservation. We enjoyed the meal and the wine and the pleasant proprietors very much but when we made our way back to Thetis one of my deck shoes, that I had left on the quay next to her, was missing.

Thursday May 17 2001, Day 14

The night before, Manos had ordered a taxi to take him to the airport for 7 AM. I had given him my alarm clock which he set for 6, but I had forgotten that the clock was still on Greek time. As a result we were woken up at 5. At any rate, the taxi came and Manos left.

The Valletta Bus Terminal

Later in the morning Alice and I took the bus for Valletta and then another bus (all busses originate at Valletta) for Paola, the location of Hypogeion the fabulous underground prehistoric site. After some confusion and some walking in the hot streets we, did find the entrance, but it turned out that it was fully booked until May 24 and we could not enter. One must, on arrival to Malta, rush to this site and make a reservation because, as the attendant explained with obvious bureaucratic satisfaction, reservations can only be made on the spot. This was a disappointment for us because the Hypogeion is such a unique site.

Since we could not visit the Hypogeion, we asked instructions on how to go to the other Paleolithic site in Paola: Taxien. It took us a fairly long walk and several false turns before we located the site. It was hot. Taxien is on the surface and I found it very confusing but also very impressive. The megaliths there are very soft and the whole site ought to had been under a roof to protect it from the elements. After visiting Taxien, we walked back to the center of the town and caught a bus to Valletta.


The Megaliths at Taxien


Monumental Figure of a Woman

We did entertain thoughts of taking another bus and visiting Mdina but the heat of the day and our tiredness dissuaded us. Instead we walked to the courtyard of the Manoel Theater and had lunch in its attractive café. Here we were entertained by a costumed character playing a small ancient accordion or concertina. After lunch, too tired for a bus, we splurged and took a taxi back to Thetis.


Local Musician


The Main Street in Valletta

In the evening we met a German from a nearby sailboat. He and his wife left Hamburg a year ago, came to the Mediterranean and wintered at Cesme. Now they too are going to Tunisia. Following their visit to Tunisia, they plan to cross the Atlantic, visit the Caribbean, South America, and then round Cape Horn. In the meantime they did not have harbor charts for the Tunisian harbors. I gave him my Mediterranean Almanac which he took on his boat to scan into his computer. We also discussed winches. Now, based on this discussion, I made another stab at my defective winch. Following his hints, I found a second capstan, hidden within a gear. This capstan had been installed, after the most recent service, up side down and did not engage properly. After flipping it and re-assembling the winch, to my delight it worked. The messy job was definitely worth it.

After washing up, we walked to Sliema and made a second key for Thetis’ companionway (it was missing from my second set). We took out some more money from an ATM and Alice bought some glasswork and other Maltese souvenirs. We then walked into the interior and located the supermarket that I remembered from the 1996 trip. It was not easy to find as it is on the 2nd floor of a large building. The first floor is a car dealer! There are no signs and you have to enter from a small entrance on a side street. Nevertheless, once inside you find a substantial supermarket. We bought several provisions and carried them back to Thetis. Fortunately we did not need to carry drinking water or fruit. These we had already purchased from the little truck that visits the marina every morning.

Alice made a rice salad for dinner which we ate along with fresh cold cuts and bread. Tomorrow we will be leaving Malta for Gozo.

Friday May 18 2001, Day 15

We started getting ready to depart from Valletta. The Navtex forecast called for force 5-6 northerlies soon to diminish to 4-5. Here in the marina the wind was 16-20 knots SE. Taking advantage of the available water, I hosed down the deck which had accumulated grime from the car exhausts, filled the sun-shower, and topped the tanks. I then paid the marina. The young man in the marina office came to help us cast off. Our departure was a little tricky because we were at a narrow area and the wind was pushing us towards the quay. We cast off our lines and the man pushed us away from the quay while I applied reverse power but could not maintain it for long because I was afraid that the propeller may get fouled by the nearby mooring lines. There was not enough room to make a right turn and still be clear of all the lines. As we lost steerage way the wind pushed our stern and we were in the uncomfortable position of having one mooring line under our keel and another line under our rudder. I applied a burst of power and put the gear into neutral. That did it. We were clear with just enough room to complete our turn. Pure serendipity.

Departing Valletta The time of departure from Valletta was 0915. While motoring within the harbor, we raised the main, still on the 1st reef. Outside the harbor the wind was 25-35 knots from the SSE with strong gusts. I opened part of the headsail. Thetis was moving along at better than 7 knots, but the gusts kept getting stronger and soon they were reaching 50 knots. During these gusts the weather helm was too much for the autopilot to handle. I reduced the head sail but the gusts increased further in both strength and frequency. Finally I decided to completely roll-in the headsail. During this operation a violent gust made me lose control of the reefing line which slipped through my hand causing a bad rope burn (I stupidly had not put on sailing gloves). I resorted to using the winch for rolling-in the sail. On the way, we encountered a barge towing 2 large tuna cages and we had to take evasive action. After reaching the Comino Channel, the wind was over 30 knots and the seas very confused, but we kept on sailing with the main.

We reached Mgarr [36° 01.5 N 14° 18.1 E], the main port on the island of Gozo at 1230. The distance from Valletta was only 16.1 M. I tried to raise the marina on the VHF but there was no response in either channels 12, 9, or 16. There was nobody at the floating piers and we were not sure where to dock. As there were many empty berths, I picked one at random but away from light-posts and prepared the docking lines and fenders. We backed to the floating pier, close enough for Alice to step off Thetis and give me the mooring line and her to pass a long stern docking line through a ring. With the boat now secured with a bow and stern line I gave Alice a second stern line. We had arrived. I deployed the passarella and Alice came back onboard.

Pier “F” in Mgarr Harbor

All was well except that there was a very strong swell. I replaced the two stern lines with ones with spring shock absorbers, we put up the tent, and had lunch. After lunch I walked to the marina office. Unfortunately it turned out that we had docked in a private berth and we had to move to pier “F” which is reserved, but not marked, for visiting yachts. After we had a cup of coffee we moved the boat. The maneuver was easy, thanks to the owner of a lovely Dutch wooden schooner who came and passed to us the mooring line and caught our stern lines. Here in pier “F” there was less of a swell but nevertheless I replaced the stern lines with the ones with the shock absorbers.

Later we went ashore for a walk and ended up having dinner at the charming Park Lin restaurant. We had a wonderful meal of grilled fish and prawns and calamari stuffed with raisins and pine nuts along with a salad and wine.

Saturday May 19 2001, Day 16

For several days now the watermaker has not been working, so this morning, I serviced it by soaking it with alkaline solution. The idea was to let the solution clean the watermaker while we went sight seeing. We also ran out of water. This came about because in Valletta I meant to drain the tanks and refill them. What I actually did was that by mistake I had left the valve connecting both tanks closed and drained only the left tank and because their vents were blocked they did not fill as I had assumed. So, we in fact were drawing water only from a partially filled right tank while the left was empty. I fixed the vents and after flushing the right tank re-filled them both.

The Megaliths of Ggantija

After these maintenance chores we set out to take the bus for Victoria, the main city in Gozo. After some confusion we ended up with a taxi with a friendly driver who drove us to Ggantija, the site of the pre-historic temple. The site is very well kept, being meticulously clean, and the megalith temple was most impressive. I only wish that they had placed a roof to protect the soft megaliths.

After visiting the temple, the driver took us to a nearby wind mill which has been restored and is now kept as a museum. The mill was built in 1500 AD under the grand master Nikolo Cottoner. Before that time, all mills in Malta were powered by horses and not by wind. The craftsmen who built it were Catalans imported from Spain. Inside it was very nice with all the old mechanisms exposed in addition to good collection of folkloric items from that period.

Inside the Wind Mill
The Rabat in Gozo

We then drove to Victoria. We first visited the Archaeological Museum which is housed in the castle. Also within the castle we visited the Crafts Center and the Folkloric Museum. After these we wandered in the charming town streets where we bought capers, local cheese, two nice baskets and two straw hats. The day was fairly hot. We boarded the bus for Mgarr and had a late lunch aboard Thetis.

In the evening Alice made for dinner pasta with tuna sauce. After an early dinner we started getting ready for our departure for Lampedusa. The weather situation was not very clear. Yesterday Manos had warned us, over the phone, that there is a depression in this area. This was confirmed by the Maltese 0600 report on the Navtex which also forecasted fairly light winds. I had asked Manos to keep an eye on the weather which he did. He called back and reported, after consulting on the Internet, that there is a frontal system N of Spain which should reach the Sicily channel in 2-3 days. The depression, in the meantime, looks like it may bring some clouds but winds that are not too strong. Based on this information we had made our decision to depart Gozo for Lampedusa and make the passage to Tunisia before the arrival of the front.

We departed Mgarr at 2145. There was hardly any wind, 4-8 knots SE, but there was considerable swell. We motored.