Log #21a Arrival in Malta

July 15, 2001 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 21 Malta, The Logs

Log #21a Arrival in Malta

July 15, 2001
Syracusa, Sicily, Italy
Covers the period June 18 to July 1, 2001

We were a bit tired after a 22 hour sail of 112 nautical miles from Lampedusa, especially since much of it we had to hand steer in one or two hour shifts. That’s why, from Tunisia, we had ordered a new wheel pilot (WP30) from Medcomms, a Simrad dealership in Gzira on Malta. As we rounded the southeast corner of Malta, I initially thought the large industrial Marsaxlokk Bay was Valletta, but we had to go on several miles yet to get to our destination. As we approached Valletta, it was a cloudy windy morning with a few rain drops pelting down for a short while, the first rain we had experienced for over two months since the Balearics.

As we approached Valletta, we saw this large breakwater with a wide opening at its eastern end and a narrow one with a bridge abutment in the middle at the western end. However, we were not to go in either side as this would take us into Grand Harbour. Valletta is a fortified peninsula with Grand Harbour on its west shoreline, and Marsamxett Harbour on its east. Fantastic sized forts dominated all aspects of the entrances.  The west side of Grand Harbour was defended by Fort St. Rocco, the Rinella Battery, Fort Ricasoli, and Fort St. Angelo. The peninsula on which Valletta is located is protected by Fort St. Elmo. Marsamxett Harbour has Ligne Fort and Fort Manoel defending it. The entire length of the peninsula of  Valletta is a massive stone wall from Fort St. Elmo to Floriana, the small city at the base. It is an impressive sight, entering the harbour between all these fortified ramparts.

Our Mediterranean Almanac directed us into the west side of Valletta into Marsamexett Harbour and the Customs dock in Msida Creek Marina, below the Black Pearl, a barquentine once owned by Errol Flynn, and now high and dry as a landbound restaurant. Customs, immigration and police were conveniently located beside the marina office, to which we were directed, after completing formalities, for a mooring location. However, we had heard from a Maltese acquaintance we met in Lampedusa that free anchoring is permitted in Sliema Creek. This was confirmed by the marina staff, as any other location in the harbour is part of the marina and charges are made, even for anchoring. So we went around Manoel Island, and picked up a buoy towards the inner end of Sliema creek, 100 metres off the Manoel Island Yacht Yard pier, behind Fort Manoel. We asked the locals if there was any problems at this buoy, and found it was vacant for the time being. So we happily swung there at no charge for over two weeks, a very convenient location, far more so than the marina.

Everyone spoke English. It was comfortable to be in an English speaking community again. The street signs and most notices and advertising were in Maltese. We could go into any shop and use English. The museums had literature and display information in at least four or five languages, Maltese, English, Italian, French, and German. There were several well-stocked chandleries along The Strand, the waterfront road running the shoreline of Sliema Creek, including Medcomms, the dealership from which we had ordered our Simrad wheel pilot. We found the people there most co-operative and they simplified the shipment from England to us there as a “Yacht in Transit” such that no Maltese taxes, no VAT, no import duties were attached. Although there are many “agents” in Malta who facilitate services for yachts in transit for a fee, we were able to arrange things directly with Medcomms, the mechanics to look at our Yanmar and Mariner engines, and D’Agata Marine to have a new Plastimo stove shipped to us to replace our “repaired” new stove, the oven of which is still defective.

Regarding the saga of our cook stove, this time we will not return our stove until we have the new one installed. Remember how we had to send our new stove with the defective oven from Pollensa in Mallorca to Barcelona, then they forwarded it on to France for inspection before deciding to repair it? We were without a cooker for 3 weeks until it was returned to us in Mahon, Menorca, delaying our departure from the Balearics by having to wait for it. The original problem was that the oven would not heat above a warm setting. When repaired, the oven seemed to work OK, so off we went. However we subsequently found the oven would spontaneously go off, and had to be relit several times to cook anything. D’Agata Marine made several calls on our behalf, and after ten days of waiting got a reply that our stove would be replaced by a new one. Fine, when? Another wait for a reply to find out that one would not be available for at least six weeks or until the end of August! D’Agata had done their best, so we E-mailed their Plastimo contact ourselves, and arranged for the new replacement to be shipped to Contract Yacht Services in Levkas, Greece, by the beginning of September, when we should be in that northern part of the Ionian Sea as we exit the Aegean. We are not impressed with Plastimo! But thank you, D’Agata, for your assistance.

Regarding the mechanic to look at our Yanmar, we had to go into the marina for a couple of days, as it was just too complicated to rendezvous with him while out on the buoy. We were having two problems. One, the throttle linkage was fantastically stiff, and I was afraid we would break the link rod. After checking everything out he noticed we had installed  (over three years ago) a clamp on the throttle cable to prevent the decelerating of the throttle setting. It had worn through and he recommended we remove it, or if it must be used, re-install it at a different spot on the cable. The other problem we wanted addressed was the spontaneous stopping of our cooling water that frequently causes us grief. Again, all systems checked out OK, but he noticed our water strainer was located at the waterline, and he recommended it should be well below so as to be full all the time. Thus, he “did” nothing, and only charged us a nominal one hour’s time (at about $50.00 Canadian), but it was worth it. We followed both recommendations and both problems are now well resolved.

The Mariner outboard was still acting up and spontaneously quit while running. The mariner mechanic diagnosed it as poor fuel. At a local gas (petrol) station I dumped the tank  with 20 litres of gas, swilled the tank out and filled it up again. The engine runs OK (and only OK) once going. It is still a pig to start, and frequently I have to take off the engine cowling and manually advance the throttle. It is a poor design that does not allow for the throttle to be adjusted to give it more gas when starting. On this new model, the gearshift is incorporated into the handle, and when in neutral the throttle cannot be advanced. The choke knob can be set for a higher idle speed, but not sufficient to start the engine. Also the choke knob and its housing are a light plastic material that is in danger of breaking if not handled gently. I replaced the spark plugs, and the starting is no better. I will put a hole in the cowling and a string to the throttle arm so I can manually advance the throttle without having to remove the cowling. We still have not been reimbursed for the throttle housing we had replaced last October in Guernsey that should have been covered under warranty. All these problems with a one year old engine! We are not impressed with Mariner or their service!

It was nice having a computer with menus in English. The cybercafe Pebbles had log-on cards at 400 minutes for 5.00 Maltese pounds (about $18.00 Cdn). We used up one and a half cards and gave the remainder of our card to a friend before we left. We tried a couple of phone lines without success until we changed our modem setting from tone to pulse. However, we continued to use the internet café, as there is less hassle than trying to use a business phone line with whatever complications inevitably arise. It takes 30 to 45 minutes on the internet to download and save on floppy disc a half dozen messages, and then to cut and paste from prepared disc the previously written mail I want to send. When I am sending out my logs this way, I have my address list broken into four sections so I will not violate the maximum number of addresses per message and be cut off either by the internet or AOL. That means cutting and pasting four times the message and four times the address lists.

If I can use a phone line, I could download and send all this in less than five minutes by what is called a flash session. However, cybercafes work, although I still cannot download attachments, pictures or fancy greetings of waving flags and banners. That’s why I ask all my correspondents to send plain text, and cut and paste messages with no pictures or attachments, and not to send chain letters or forwarded messages or jokes. If a joke is good enough, cut and paste it, not the whole forwarded format. E-mail has been one of the most frustrating aspects of cruising, as its potential is great, but its problems are myriad.

Back to Sliema Creek. Several churches are visible and their bells toll frequently. In addition, the Maltese love their fireworks around festivals, of which there are many. For festival or patron saint days, the churches outline their arches and bell towers with lights, and ring the bells at various times in addition to the hourly, half hourly and quarter hourly chimes. Sitting in Sliema Creek we could see the fireworks and hear the echoes reverberate off the buildings and the fortress ramparts. What struck us as unusual were the daylight fireworks. We usually associate fireworks with night time skies. They also liked the big bangs! Around two of the festival periods we heard sporadic loud cannon-like percussions starting at 0800, again at noon, at about 1800, and then sporadically until 2300, for several days. From our buoy we could see a couple of street pageants when the holy images were paraded along The Strand, accompanied by bands and crowds of the faithful, revelers, and spectators.

I attended an oratorio in Sacre Coeur, a local church in Sliema. The entrance plaza was festooned with gold and red banners atop pedestalled columns and poles and draped across the arched entrances to the church. Inside was a beautiful baroque place of worship with its supporting columns gloved in maroon tapestry with gold fringes, tassels, and ornate embroidery. The lamps hanging in the arches had porcelain cherubs overlooking the congregation. The statuary and Stations of the Cross glittered with gold and silver ornamentation. The altar area was flooded with lights and activity as a large 50 voice choir sat behind a 20 piece orchestra. The church had a festive air, complimented by the large congregation of young and old. However, for me the music was a letdown as the selections were heavy and sober, and the orchestra, choir and soloists lacked energy and crispness. The acoustics were good, but the lack of vitality of the orchestra and choir made the music mushy, with no clarity of instrument or voice.

Outside the revelers were having a good time, and after the oratorio was over a big display of fireworks entertained the friendly crowds. It was very good seeing people enjoy themselves in community celebrations of their churches. Where we were located in Sliema Creek was at the border between the communities of Sliema and Gzira. The two seemed to be vying with each other for celebrations, fireworks, street decorations and religious pageantry. There were few nights when the sound of fireworks did not echo around the area.

We were preparing Veleda for our own celebration of Canada Day (Dominion Day) on July 1st by sailing over to Gozo for a Maltese Canadian banquet, and of course dressing ship overall. More about the interesting, enjoyable friendly Canada Day in Gozo in my next log.