Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

1996: Pylos to Malta

This web page describes the second leg of a 7 week trip with S/Y Thetis in 1996 from Greece to Malta, Sardinia, Ustica and Calabria in Italy, and back to Greece. The leg described is from Pylos, Greece to Valletta, Malta. It is illustrated with maps and photographs, also included are some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route to Malta
Route to Malta

Friday September 20, 1996 Day 8

We were woken up at 4:30 AM by the arrival of a large fishing caïque. After they arrived they turned on several very high-intensity lights and started a motor, crashing ice with which they packed the fish. All the boats near us were woken up too. We tried to go back to sleep but with the noise and the excitement of the long trip it was impossible. So we decided to leave the harbor.

[Picture of Thetis]
Thetis under sail

We departed at 6:10 heading for Malta 348 nM away with a heading of 260°. We motored out of Navarino bay and raised the main sail shaking all the reefs. There was practically no wind and we motor-sailed. I was nervous about consuming fuel at the very beginning of the passage but it was either that or going nowhere. We motored for 1:30 hours and as the wind picked up some speed from the NW, just as predicted from the forecast we got from Hellas Radio, we reduced the RPM and unfurled the genoa. At 8:50 we had enough wind and we turned off the motor. Peace at last!

We sailed on and off for several hours. The GPS had an anomaly. It indicated suddenly that we were off course by 12 miles south. This indication was confirmed by the second GPS, but it was impossible to have been teleported 12 nM in a period of less than 1 min. After a few minutes it showed us back on course and then again off by 12 nM. This behavior continued on and off for 2 hrs when things reverted back to normal. It could not had been the instrument since both units showed the same deviation and it could not be the antenna because the signal strength was normal, so it had to be a satellite anomaly.

After a simple lunch in the cabin we tied in vain to raise on the VHF Contessa, the Swiss ketch belonging to the single handler we had met yesterday at the Λιμεναρχείο (Limenrachio - Greek Coast Guard). We had arranged to have radio contact for safety since we would both be heading in the same general direction. Later in the afternoon we saw a distant sail some way behind us as we are crossing paths with a cargo ship. On the VHF we hear somebody hailing the cargo ship giving coordinates coinciding with ours. So we assumed it had to be the ship near us being hailed by the distant sail. As the ship did not respond, we answer the call. It was the Golden Star a Dutch sailboat with 3 people aboard coming from Crete and heading to Majorca. We arranged to have radio safety contacts with them every 3 hours.

In the late afternoon we crossed course with an enormous Cunard Line cruising ship the Royal Viking Sun. Lewis hailed them on the VHF channel 16 and asked for a weather update. A very British voice responded with a weather report of sorts, very vague, and he explained that they do not pay too much attention to the winds.

In the evening the wind speed increased and we reduced the genoa. We were sailing on a southern tack 30° off our course. I cooked dinner, another Thetis special: spaghetti with tuna, but no capers since we forgot them. To cook the spaghetti I scooped sea water with a bucket and used 1 part sea water to 2 parts bottled water. While we were eating we listened to good music on the CD player. It was really very nice this first night at sea. Every so often we tacked to the north to correct our course and then back on a southern tack. As we were finishing dinner the Golden Star called us. They seem to have TV on-board and have watched a weather report complete with weather maps and satellite photos. The prediction was that tomorrow will have the same weather as today.

Thetis is sailing beautifully in the night with the reduced genoa illuminated by the half moon. Both of us spent some time sitting in the cockpit admiring the loveliness. We arranged a 3 hour watch system. Lewis went to sleep and I took the first watch 11:00 to 02:00. As I am left alone I cannot get enough of the majesty of the silent night sailing at better than 6 knots in the relatively calm sea.

Saturday September 21, 1996 Day 9

This is the first night in the open sea. I am a little sleepy since we got up very early in the morning, but it is so beautiful, the boat moving at 6 knots under sail in the moonlight. There are several ships within sight, they all appear much closer than the radar indicates. The radar is proving itself to be a most useful tool, how did we manage without it all these years? It is already 2:00 AM, I wake up Lewis, and show him what to do. Thetis has now slowed down to 4-5 knots and is gliding very smoothly after I reduced the genoa in preparation for Lewis. I tell Lewis that I will sleep better if I am sure that he will call me whenever he has the least doubt about what to do. He promises to do so. Reassured, I go to my cabin, change clothes and fall asleep right away. I was woken up a few times by the autopilot alarm but there was no real problem—just difficulty steering so many degrees off the wind (I had set it in its wind mode). I drifted back to sleep.

Lewis is calling for me! “A large ship is bearing down on us!” It turns out to be a false alarm. Lewis cannot distinguish very well between the red and the green lights because of his mild color blindness. I am glad, though, that he did not allow what he considered a potentially dangerous situation to develop further but called me. Now I feel much more confident in him. I went back to sleep.

I was woken up by the sound of the engine. The wind has died out completely and Lewis started the engine. He was in a state of great agitation and anxiety caused by the number of visible ships. Most of them quite far but appearing close in the clear night. He went to sleep while I took the next watch: 5:00 to 8:00. I was having a problem with the alternator that had stopped charging. I have had this problem before in Samos and during the trip from Samos to Glyfada in the summer. I have thought about it a lot. Originally I thought that the regulator was defective but now I think it is caused by the fact that the regulator sensor is connected to the engine battery, which is now fully charged while the service battery of course is powering the instruments, radar, navigation lights, auto pilot etc. I will rewire the sensor at the first opportunity and check my theory.

There was very little wind and I took in the genoa that was flopping and brought the boat to a new course to compensate for the last tack. We were sailing on and off, mostly off. This went on all morning. By late morning there was no wind at all and we were motoring continuously. Lewis and I have set the beanbag chairs (my Christmas gift from Alice) on deck and we were reading and talking. He brought me up to date on mutual old friends, his relatives, and their descendants.

In the afternoon it got very hot. I wanted to swim. Lewis was afraid that I will get lost in the great sea or a shark will devour me. I reassured him by trailing a length of rope. The swim was very refreshing, I invited Lewis to join me or after I get back on the boat he could swim, but he will had none of this.

In the early evening we both took nice hot showers as there was plenty of hot water. Lewis prepared dinner: tortelini with cheese and thinly sliced onions. After dinner and some music we cleaned the dishes and Lewis took the first watch and I went to my cabin for a very sound sleep despite the noise from the engine.

Sunday September 22, 1996 Day 10

Lewis woke me up at 02:00, the wind had picked up to 10-15 knots SW and there was no reason to motor. I turned off the engine and opened the genoa. We were now sailing at 6.5 knots and making good time. The waves were getting stronger and the boat was pitching.

[Picture of Lewis on board S/Y Thetis]
Lewis on S/Y Thetis

During the early hours, still very dark, the radar reflector broke from its holder and came crashing down on the deck. I managed to retrieve it, gerry-rig it, and hoist it back with the signal line since there can be ship traffic as we are approaching Sicily. The reflector was held by a steel bolt ending in a ball joint which was held in a bracket screwed on the first spreader. This bolt has sheared.

By 8:00 AM the wind increased and changed direction to SE and we reduced the genoa and reefed the main to the first reef. There were many steamers nears us. Thetis was sailing beautifully at over 6.5 knots. The morning went by very quickly and we were both enjoying the fast sail.

In the afternoon the wind strengthened and changes direction again, this time to S. We definitely had too much sail and we were heeling a lot. We reduced the main to the third reef, rolled in the genoa, and raised the storm jib. This was maybe an overkill but with the evening approaching it would be much safer. The waves now were very large, Lewis again declared that these were the largest he has ever seen, they were large indeed. But since they were coming from our quarter they did not affect us that much and we were still sailing fast.

By evening we were tired. We had been adjusting the sails continuously. The wind once more changed direction, now it came from the West. This was much less conformable since the waves were still large and coming from our left while the wind was now against us. There were two options: to tack or to motor. Since we were exhausted and hungry having only some bread and cheese for lunch, we started the engine. Thetis was pitching and yawing wildly and there was some spray. Every time we go to the cockpit we must put on the foul weather gear.

Lewis wanted to open a pâté and eat bread and cheese again. I insisted on proper eating and a warm meal because the weather could deteriorate further and we may need more strength to deal with it. We started our meal with pâté and bread and I warmed the left over pasta with tuna from two nights ago. I also made a cheese omelet. Even with food in our stomachs we weare both very edgy. Lewis was very uncomfortable and a little scared. In his way of always exaggerating he predicted our drowning, etc. I must had been very fatigued because his extreme pessimism which usually amuses me now it was annoying me.

I cleaned the dishes and took the first watch. Lewis could not use the front cabin, which was very uncomfortable with the pitching motion, and lied down on the main cabin. I did not like to spend more fuel, so since we had eaten, cleaned up, and Lewis was in bed, I turned off the engine and tacked. The third reef was too much, so I shook it and set the second reef. Also I replaced the storm jib with a very reduced genoa. We were sailing fast again, off course, but sailing. I was very sleepy and had a hard time keeping my eyes open.

Monday September 23, 1996 Day 11

Lewis got up before the beginning of his his watch at 02:00. I started the engine so that he will not have to deal with the sails and tacking, set a new course that will compensate for the last tack, and I went to sleep without any further ceremony.

I woke up at 04:00, the wind was strong from the West 15-25 knots with higher gusts. The sea was still very rough. I turned off the engine and started sailing on a southern tack, we were making at least 6 knots. Lewis was very tired and uncomfortable. I am convinced that when we reach Malta he will abandon this cruise. The fuel tank was very low, the fuel gage was almost at zero but I did not want to venture a fuel transfer from the reserve jerry cans with such high seas. I hoped to get a relative calm near Malta. We crossed the ¾ point of the distance between Pylos and Valletta.

By late morning we were only 50 nM from Valletta, but we were also 5 nM South from our course. If we were to continue on our current southern tack we will miss the island. I reluctantly started the engine but I did not want to enter the unknown Valletta harbor with an almost empty fuel tank. I set a northerly tack moving very slowly as to minimize the pitching. With a combined effort we managed to siphon one jerry can of fuel into the tank without spilling one drop despite the high seas. Now there was plenty of fuel margin. We increased speed and continued on this tack until all the cross tack error was corrected, we then headed directly for Valletta now 30 nM away. We were moving against both the wind and the waves.

Following the instruction of Heikell’s Italian Waters Pilot we contacted Valletta Harbor Control on channel 16 when we are 20 nM away. After assigning us a working channel they asked us the specifics about our boat, nationality, people on board etc and told us “Proceed, Contact Valletta Control when you are 10 miles from the harbor.” We did so, and again we were told “Proceed. Contact Valletta Control when you are at the harbor entrance,” it feels like there is the distant unseen large spider drawing us to her net. There were many very large ships anchored about 10 nM from the entrance of Valletta harbor. It was very hard to decide whether they were moving and possibly were on a collision course or whether they were stationary and anchored. Lewis was getting more and more nervous and uncomfortable. As we were getting closer, we heard something on the VHF that sounded like “Thetis.” We turned on the volume, and we heard a feminine voice calling “Greek yacht Thetis. Greek yacht Thetis.” We responded, and we were asked if we will need a berth. We answer “yes, please”, and we were told the inevitable “Proceed.”

[Picture of Valletta Harbor]
Valletta Harbor

We reached the Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbour [35° 53.97' N 14° 30.24' E] at 5:30 PM. We were directed by the Valletta Control, via the VHF, to anchor off-shore in front of the customs house and to go ashore with our papers for the formalities. The harbor is very large but thanks to Heikell's sketches we had no problem locating the customs house. As soon as we were in the harbor, the water become flat of course, and Lewis, who up until now was totally downcast, begun to perk up. He actually became ebullient, smiling and congratulating both me and himself for actually making it. We had some problem with the anchor because due to the motion of the last few days our chain was tangled and did not come out freely. Nothing but untangling it, raising the anchor, and anchoring again, properly this time. We started assembling the zodiac so that we could go out with the papers. While we were doing this a large boat (almost like a barge) that was anchored stern-to informs us:

  1. We are over their anchor (true), and
  2. They want to move shortly and could we please re-anchor.

I asked them if they could please wait for a few minutes so that we can finish assembling the zodiac and they readily agreed. We started pumping frantically. In the mean time a man from a large catamaran with a British flag anchored nearby (who had been watching us while having his evening cocktail) got into his large inflatable, cocktail glass at hand, and came our way. He informed us, with a strong southern American accent that the customs will close in a few minutes and if we did not want to miss it and have to stay on board until they open again tomorrow we had better hurry. He offered to take me ashore. I accepted his kind offer and left poor Lewis assembling the zodiac. I felt very uneasy because we were preventing the other boat from leaving, but the customs would not wait.

As I step ashore I am accosted by a short, bearded Maltese gentleman who was standing by a large BMW. He politely asks me if I am Mr. Riginos from the Thetis. I am floored! How does he know my name? We gave no names other than the boat’s to the harbor control. He introduces himself as Nikos’ friend Johna Gauci-Maistre. It turns out that he is the owner-director of one of the largest shipping agencies in Malta. He took me by the hand to the authorities and while waiting for them to finish processing another yacht, he hands me a cellular phone, after dialing it, and says “Please talk to your brother. He is very anxious to hear that you are safe.” When our turn comes, he hands the papers to the official who does not even bother to look at our passports. Mr. Johna also tells me that he has arranged for a temporary berth and we will have a permanent one tomorrow for as long as we wished to stay in Malta, also because he has to fly to London he will not see us, as he would like, later today. But one of his assistants will come and take care of anything we may need. This is the red carpet treatment indeed! Nevertheless, it still took some time, and I am nervous about blocking the other boat. So I rush out of the customs house and go to the boat to offer my apologies. Well, it turns out they have changed their mind and will not leave tonight after all. Poor Lewis! Although already exhausted, he had assembled the zodiac all by himself, in vain. I say good evening and thank Mr. Johna, and get back on Thetis.

Our anchor had caught a rope, Heikell had warned on this! After unfouling the anchor, we moved to the new berth, anchor, and tie down. We made it!

As soon as we were secure, Mr. Mizzi, Johna’s assistant, came and introduced himself. Well, we offered him an ouzo, and he told us some useful information about the lay of the land and departed promising to come by first thing in the morning and offer any assistance we may desire. Lewis was very impressed by Nikos’ long arm.

A young fellow comes and introduces himself as Peter. He is a medical worker but he is also a machinist in his spare time. Do we have any work for him? I talk to him about the radar reflector and he promises to come back tomorrow evening when I will have lowered the reflector. Maybe he can machine us a new bolt. Another fellow comes, he is a carpenter, no, we do not need a carpenter. The people here seem to be very enterprising.

We take showers, change clothes and go ashore. We get some money from a bank ATM machine and find a kiosk with a telephone that accepts money. I tried to call Alice but she was out, so I left a voice message. Lewis calls Inga and uses his AT&T card. The lady of the kiosk, for some reason, is convinced that Lewis is cheating her and accuses him of stealing. Lewis, of course, denies it and attempts to explain the intricacies of an AT&T card. She will have none of this. Volumes get raised. People gather, they take sides. Half are for Lewis, the polite foreigner. The other half are for the lady, the hard-working local woman. It is a wonderful scene (“σκηνή απείρου κάλους”). Eventually we disentangle and walk along the esplanade looking for a restaurant.

We enter the first one we see, as we are very hungry and tired. It turns out to be strongly Italian flavored with marvelous food. There is a very strong Italian influence in Malta. After some strong Maltese red wine, I dare ask Lewis about his intentions. He looks surprised and mildly hurt that I would even question his continuing the journey to Sardinia. “After one makes it, all the difficulties are forgotten” he explains. The food was wonderful.

We walk back to the boat, in a kind of daze, and hit the sack.