Log #20e, Monastir to Malta

July 12, 2001 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 20 Tunisia, The Logs

Log #20e, Monastir to Malta

July 12, 2001
Enroute to Siracusa, Sicily
Covers the period June 12 to 18, 2001

In the last log, we had just left the Sahara Desert at Douz. The architecture of the forts, now turned into hotels, was that of the French Foreign Legion which used Douz as one of its outposts at the edge of the Sahara. As we left “The Gateway to The Sahara”, we passed several herds and strings of camels, led or shepherded by young men in baseball caps trying to attract us to ride them, or at least stop so they could charge us to take pictures of them. Then there were old men in flowing hooded robes leading their caravans of pack camels, right out of The Arabian Nights.

The wind was still blowing as we made our way back through the town and north to Kebili, along a sand swept road on the eastern edge of Chott Jerid, a huge salt lake about 100 kilometres long. Our driver was going quite fast as we had a lot of distance to go to get back to Monastir. He didn’t slow down even though at times the road was whitened out by the blowing sand. We passed arrays of meat shops and vegetable stands on the roadsides, some being just sad kids or men standing there all day with only a couple of baskets of watermelons, or onions. What a life, to spend a whole day on the side of a hot dusty road to try to sell such a few meager bits of produce. As it was the driver stopped at one stretch where there was a boy with a wheelbarrow with about ten watermelons. He got out and did some hard bargaining with the boy (to us it sounded more like arguing) and struck a deal where he bought the whole barrowful of melons. The boy did not seem overly happy with the deal or at the prospect of taking the empty wheelbarrow back to wherever. I would have thought the kid would be delighted to have sold the whole barrow and be done for the day. No happiness was shown.

We took an inland  road from Gabes, 200 kilometres north to Kairouan, known for its carpets, as it was the centre of an ancient trade route, and for the Oqba Mosque, the most sacred Islamic sanctuary in North Africa. It was dark by the time we got there, and the museums and sites were closed. However, we walked around the fortress-like walls of the Mosque, and peered into the open doors of the courtyard, seeing the devout on their prayer mats, facing Mecca as they recited their evening prayers.

Back in Monastir, we paid the driver $250 Cdn as agreed for the day. It would have been nice had we had another couple to share the expense, but the trip was worth it. Besides, the driver gave us a couple of his watermelons.

Next day, June 14, we picked up a few last things, such as some tiles for the main salon table and meat and vegetables, watered, cleared out with the local police, and left by 1500. However, even though it was a bright sunny day the seas, combined with a force four NE wind, (and of course our course was NE), made for a very rough ride. We gave up pounding into it and returned an hour later to the consternation of the police and customs officials. Re-entry and exit forms had to be completed again before leaving next day.  (Judy wouldn’t accept just going in without declaring our return.)

We left at 0915 June 15 for Malta with a stop at the Italian island of Lampedusa. The winds were better for sailing and motorsailing, but our autopilot was still acting up and we had to hand steer for the last 12 hours of the 18 hour trip. We also had water problems again while motorsailing. We saw many fishing boats, floats, and long lines of nets. One set of net floats that we were reluctant to cross extended for a minimum of 7 miles! At one time during the night, I counted at least 15 boats in sight at once. The problem at night is that the white working lights of the boats frequently obscure their port and starboard running lights, and because they are often trawling, laying or hauling in nets, they do not follow a straight course. Thus the problem is not only to avoid collision situations, but also not to cross too close astern of the boats and foul their nets or trawls. To avoid one boat may put us in the path of another. It is an uncomfortable situation.

We entered the harbour at Lampedusa and tied up at the town dock by 0330 (35 29.9 N, 012 19.2 E) after a 92 mile and 18 hour trip for a lumpy few hours sleep. Later in the morning we relocated to the end of the breakwater by the police boat where it was not as turbulent. We walked the main street, had pizza and Italian ice cream for lunch, sent some E-mail from an internet shop, and had a good night’s sleep. Lampedusa is a good stopping off place between Monastir in Tunisia and Malta. Next day, June 17, we were off for the 112 mile trip to Malta.

We left Lampedusa at 1000 and arrived at the customs dock in Msida Creek, Malta by 0800 next day. We had an enjoyable sail most of the way in force 3 and 4 winds. Unfortunately our autopilot was giving us trouble and we had to hand steer again. However, we were to pick up a new Simrad wheel pilot WP30 in Malta. After completing the formalities at Customs and the Police, we motored around Manoel Island and picked up an unused mooring opposite the Manoel Island Yacht Yard, free of charge.

We were in Malta (35 54.4 N, 014 30.0 E) at last, the religious island on which St. Paul was shipwrecked, the fabled isle of the Knights of Malta, the strategic and historic island that has been fought over by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Byzantines, Spanish, French, Italians, Germans and lastly the British, the gallant island that was awarded the George Cross for its bravery in holding out in WW II, and the island from which so many Canadians originated. More about our enjoyable time on Malta and its sister island Gozo in my next log.