Gladlee of Guernsey
May 1993 – June 1993
29th – 31st May 1993
We locked the boat up and took ourselves down to the marina forecourt to join the Germans, and at 07.00 a rather threadbare Nissan Patrol picked us up, pausing down the road to pick up three girls (who turned out subsequently to be émigré Algerians from France). This made for quite a squash, but fortunately not for long, as we drew up at a restaurant on the outskirts of Sousse to find another vehicle, half a dozen more punters (in fact, Four) and our guide. The latter proved to be a real pain, very full of himself and giving more or less useless briefings in not very good French and German (but not English): fortunately he elected to travel in the other vehicle when our new German friends suggested that we six yachties stick together. We were promised a fairly strenuous programme, and so it proved, with an hour or so’s stop at El Jem to see the amphitheatre (but not enough time, unfortunately, to get to the museum) and a coffee stop at Mahares, where the yacht fraternity promptly gravitated out along a causeway to the fishing harbour! After a decent enough lunch on the outskirts of Gabes (and another irritating lecture from the guide) we were persuaded to take the standard calèche ride through the oasis, which provided glimpses of all sorts of crops being cultivated among the palm trees, apart from some welcome shade and relative coolth. It was an attractive place, and it would have been nice to linger and wander round a bit, but we were delivered instead to a crocodile farm (Nigel did jib at this, and went off for his wander, while Julie toured the farm, finding a few interesting birds and animals as well as crocs). A long drive after that, through Sfax and on south to some increasingly arid and hilly scenery, looking quite spectacular in the evening sunshine, before we pulled up on the outskirts of Matmata to visit a specimen underground home, then on to our underground hotel. This was fun, with a passage down from the entrance, past reception, and eventually loos and showers, to a central courtyard 30ft or so below ground level off which were our bedrooms ( a nearby courtyard housed kitchen, dining-room and bar). The bedrooms conveniently slept six, so the yacht party duly commandeered one – basically a hobbit-hole with beds in, but cool and clean. A shower, beers and a good dinner boosted morale, and we turned in early amid much giggling and banter, as if in the dormitory of a boarding school.
Meanwhile we’d got to know our companions a bit. Speaking good English, “Chris and Chris” Corssen broke the ice: Christian a retired Luftwaffe officer, relishing the opportunity to show off his knowledge of English idiom, Christiane a language (Russian?) teacher/translator, guests on board “Shiba”, though themselves yacht owners running charters from Malta and engaged on producing a pilot for that area. Initially a bit reserved, Helmut Ammann grew on us as we got to know him better: retired (an evidently successful trouble-shooter in business), probably something of a hard taskmaster, very self-confident, but someone you felt you could count on: Helga very decorative, but with the same air of confidence and competence about her (a handsome couple, altogether). It turned out that we should be following them to Malta, and that they had booked into Antalya for the winter (our current first choice), so we expected to see quite a bit more of “Shiba” in the months to come.
The second day of the “safari” started at 06.00, and there was little to interest us (market at El Hamma and a rather tatty hot spring and “baths” at Kebili) until we reached the edge of the real sand desert at Zaframe, where some of the party went for a camel ride, while we admired the landscape before beating a retreat to the (relative) comfort of the nearby hotel. It was blindingly hot, but we decided against a dip in the murky water of the swimming-pool and settled for cold drinks instead. After lunch the guide sensibly announced that it was too hot to move (the TV weather forecast showed 40º C for south Tunisia), so we lolled about until mid-afternoon before heading for salt-flats of the Chott el Jerid (no time to stop for a lake full of flamingos en route). A stop to admire a mirage, then a long drive across the Chott, strikingly flat and sun-baked, with a range of hills just visible in the background: Tozeur oasis merited a brief stroll, with kids and animals splashing about in the stream getting cleaned up for the Eid-al-Addha holiday. It was dark by the time we arrived at the rather smart looking government hotel at Nefta, where they couldn’t produce really cold water ( and charged an absurd sum for it) and where the rooms were cramped and very hot. We had a pleasant drink at the bar outside though, and a good dinner to follow. Our guide left to go home for the holiday, which was some consolation for a very sticky night.
Another 06.00 start (a pity we saw nothing of Nefta) and an increasingly scenic drive up into the hills, with good views back over the Chott: eventually we arrived at the mountain oasis of Chebika, where we had a good walk/scramble up to the spring at the head of a small gorge, with clear cold water and a large colony of frogs. Chebika was pleasantly free of hassle from would-be “guides”, unlike our next stop, Tamerza, where guides herded us down to very unimpressive ‘cascades’ and a ‘canyon’, treating us generally like a rather slow and stupid flock of sheep. Christian and Nigel got particularly bolshie, but all the yacht party were thoroughly irritated and started taking the micky out of the rather disconcerted escorts. We made our way back through what would have been an interesting oasis (unusual variety of trees and plants) if we’d been allowed to linger: back to the vehicles, where we resolutely declined to offer any tips. A deserted settlement on the way out caught the eye, but we didn’t have enough vocabulary in common with our driver to find out what it was. We had an excellent lunch on the outskirts of the dingy phosphate town of Metlaoui, then a long fast drive up the featureless main road to Kairouan, the religious capital of Tunisia. Being the Eid the medina area was more or less deserted: we had a quick ramble round to find the “Mosque of Three Doors”, then a brief stop to see the façade of the Grand Mosque before heading back to Monastir – a pleasant surprise to find masses of flamingos on the marshes near the airport. (And a further surprise, as we joined our friends for a beer on board “Shiba”, to discover that Helmut shared the same birthday as Nigel, but was ten years older).
The remaining two days of the Eid holiday (1st-2nd June) saw shops gradually reopening: on the Tuesday the “Shiba” crowd came over for a drink (and were very complimentary about “Gladlee”), and on Wednesday Dennis joined us for a dinner of roast chicken and apricot crumble. Meanwhile we borrowed some useful pilotage information from Dennis, including Seven Seas Cruising Association bulletins and the “Italian Water Pilot”. Dennis got involved in trying to sort out a young German couple with problems on the boat behind him (both drinking heavily after setting out in a large yacht with a sick dog and unrealistic expectations of getting charter work), and “Shiba” was enlisted to help.
3rd – 8th June 1993 - Nigel rang James in the morning, who was not particularly sanguine about his performance in his final exams two days earlier. Various boat jobs kept us busy all day, but we paid a farewell visit to “Shiba” (due off the next day) and exchanged various useful bits of information: they had had a firm heart-to-heart with Dennis’ neighbours but were not optimistic about the result. The following morning saw us catch the early train to Sousse, where we saw some more good mosaics in the museum, nicely laid out inside the walls of the Kasbah, before wandering down through the medina (nothing to write home about after Tunis, let alone Fés!) There didn’t seem to be a lot more to Sousse, so we got the 10.20 train back and did a market shop in Monastir. It was good to see the young Germans on deck, and apparently sober, when we got back to the marina.
We planned to leave for Malta on the Sunday morning, so Saturday was spent stocking up on food and wine, cooking meals in advance, topping up fuel and chasing down an electrician who was supposed to be mending our electric water pump. Everything sorted itself out in the end, and we paid our bill and had Dennis round for a farewell drink. On Sunday we spent our last dinars and checked out with customs and immigration: the wind was a bit easterly for comfort, but the forecast suggested it should/might veer further S later. We set off in mid-morning, negotiated the narrow Conigliera channel south of Île Kuriat and set a westerly course for Linosa after stopping briefly to sort out a loose hose to the heat exchanger. The wind declined to veer, but we set the main and motor-sailed comfortably enough, in spite of the odd gust to 25 knots apparent. At 22.15, 50miles out, we ran into an unlit fishing net which stopped the engine dead: lights of fishing boats in the distance gave no inclination in which direction or how far the net extended. With a moderate sea running and the stern slamming it was difficult to judge what sort of net we’d caught, and there was no question of going over the side to look. We decided to sit tight (no choice, really) and await developments, having got the main down with some difficulty. At around midnight the boat that had laid the net turned up, and after a shouted conversation the skipper told us to cut it – this proved less difficult than we had expected, though we were still left with a lot of net around the prop, and no engine. Getting the main back up took quite a while, even with 3 reefs in, particularly when the halyard got caught round the radar reflector (again), so it was 01.00 before we got going again on the best course we could make to windward. Six hours later (and two tacks) we’d made good a mere 8 miles, and the weather forecast from Malta was for continuing and possibly fresher ESE wind. With the likelihood of having to sail into harbour, Monastir was the only sensible option, so we rather sadly turned round and started back. As it happened we had rather a good sail, with the genoa poled out and only the occasional gybe needed to keep us on track (we eventually covered 63 miles by log over the next 12½ hours), and by early on Monday afternoon the sea had calmed down enough for us to heave to and for Julie to dive and cut away most of the offending net – at least the propeller now turned, and we motor-sailed very gently for the last hour or so into Monastir when the wind died. We were back in our berth, dog-tired but safe, at 2140, and thankfully the immigration police took our unscheduled return in their stride (we were able to assure them that we hadn’t left Tunisian waters – the fishing boat whose net we’d fouled came from Monastir!) Next day we slept late and tidied up: Julie got the remains of the netting off the propeller, and there didn’t seem to be any damage. We rued the loss of our rope cutter, of course, but that had finally disappeared somewhere between the Îles Galite and Bizerte…..
9th – 14th June 1993 - The next few days involved frustrating delays while we waited for decent enough weather to set out for Malta again. We felt we had to try and make some attempt to apologise to the fisherman whose net we’d cut, and so we walked round to the fishing harbour, identified the boat (perhaps fortunately, out again), and left some cigarettes and a little money with the assistant HM to deliver – the assistant HM confirmed that the unlit nets were laid that far offshore, and there was evidently little one could do to identify where thy might be. Nobody seemed to blame us, anyway, and our small amends were evidently appreciated. 10th June marked Dennis’ 70th birthday (nobody really believed it, since he looked a good ten years younger), and he invited us and a much more cheerful Yola and Ingrid, his young neighbours, out to a very decent dinner – we had all managed to produce imaginative and amusing cards and presents for Dennis, and he was clearly touched. Meanwhile, comparing of weather forecasts became a daily ritual: an ex-RAF character on a Moody was brooding over Italian weatherfax and the UK Mobile Maritime Net, managing to take a gloomy view of every forecast; Dennis kept us abreast of Tunis Radio, while we got Malta on Naxtex and the Deutsche Welle Mediterranean forecast. After a few days of uncertainty (we did another “final” shop and cook on 11th, but the wind, though now northerly, turned fresh to strong) we thought we might get off on 14th or 15th, so with nerves starting to jangle we did another lot of advance cooking and kept our fingers crossed. In the event the wind didn’t moderate until the afternoon of the 14th: meanwhile our Maltese friends on “Conjo” turned up, having set out for Malta from the fishing harbour at the weekend (we’d seen their boat there, but not recognised it) and been forced to turn back by nasty seas off the Île Kuriat. We decided to set out together on the Tuesday, so we had yet another “final” shop, spent our dinars and said our good-byes. (Jo turned up the previous evening to swap Maltese pounds for sterling – he thought he was going to get away with not paying marina dues!)
15th – 18th June 1993 - We got up at 05.00 on a fine, bright morning with a good northerly wind – “Conjo” was already disappearing in the direction of Île Kuriat. Nigel went round to the immigration police to check out, at which point there was an infuriating hitch: we could not produce our original immigration cards (they had undoubtedly been taken off us a week earlier), and the officials on duty refused to clear us out until their boss came on at 08.30. Nigel couldn’t conceal his frustration, but there was nothing to be done: Julie went back to bed while Nigel went for a brisk walk to cool off! When Nigel reported back to immigration just before 08.30 the cards were being rewritten, so we eventually managed to get off with minimum further delay, sailing as far as the buoy north of Kuriat, but then having to motor-sail until mid-afternoon into a breath of headwind. We passed a couple of bits of driftwood, each with a turtle riding on it, and a small school of dolphins. By 16.30 the wind had picked up enough to allow us to sail, and by sunset we had a northerly F5/6 and had reefed twice. Despite a fairly heavy swell we made good progress during the night, and we passed Linosa just after daybreak, the steep-to island quite a dramatic sight a few miles to the south. The wind started to ease during the morning; we took the reefs out soon after midday, and in the early part of the afternoon we had to motor again to keep up speed – less reluctantly than usual after almost 22 hours and 115 miles logged under sail. It was quite a thrill to sight the sheer cliffs of Gozo at 14.15 and to hoist Julie’s home-made Maltese courtesy ensign, and we actually got another 2½ hours sailing when the wind picked up again to F4/5. Approaching the channel between Malta and Gozo we had a magnificent view of the coastline in the early evening sunshine, and as the wind died and we motored through the channel we had an unforgettable sunset behind the skyline of Gozo – accompanied also by sporadic explosions which we assumed at the time might be naval guns (a NATO exercise, perhaps?). We got the sails in as darkness fell and motored down the east side of Malta, shying off the odd unlit fishing boat until we could see the lights of Valletta. Momentarily confused as we tried to identify the entrance we called up helpful Valletta radio, who gave us careful instructions on how to proceed into Grand Harbour to clear in – we were interrupted, meanwhile, by a patrol boat on VHF to explain what we were doing. It seemed a long way into Grand Harbour, but we eventually located a quay to moor at (one cockroach in residence), and Nigel went along to the nearby customs and immigration office to check in – a friendly and efficient, happily. It was well past midnight before we got to sleep, but it was very satisfying to have covered 190-odd miles in just over 36 hours, most of it, at least, under sail.
We’d been encouraged to move out of Grand Harbour fairly early in the morning, but our departure was accelerated by the news that a large ship was on its way in to the adjacent berth – we moved off at 08.20 and stooged about for a bit taking photos, including one or two of “Ark Royal”, docked nearby on a courtesy visit. We motored round to Marsamxett, getting our first sight of the impressive outer fortifications of the Valletta harbours, and tried to locate somewhere to moor in Lazaretto creek, where the Yacht Centre was supposed to be – we couldn’t raise them on VHF and eventually decided to head across to Msida Maraina and were hailed by Helmut and Helga of “Shiba”, who suggested we come into a berth vacated by friends of theirs. As Julie steered carefully into the bay between the piers of pontoons the throttle cable broke, leaving us with just enough way on to turn broadside on to the quay at the end and to get lines ashore to our friends – a minor miracle that it hadn’t happened as we were stooging about in Grand Harbour or Lazaretto Creek! Helmut and Helga insisted on giving us breakfast on board “Shiba”, after which Helmut took Nigel over to the Yacht Centre and persuaded a rather surly berthing master to give us their friends’ berth. Later the Ammanns helped us move “Gladlee” on to the pontoon, with Julie controlling the throttle from below while Nigel steered, and Helmut again took time to show Nigel the way to the marina office, bank etc. – good friends indeed! We collected a very welcome heap of mail (including a cheque for an article and photos from “Yachting World”) and had a first trawl round the local shops and chandleries in the afternoon.
A highly successful morning next day: with the help of a friendly Volvo Penta stockist we got the bit of the throttle/gear lever unit we needed, and Julie had the repair virtually completed by lunchtime. Meanwhile we also found the diaphragm plate we needed to fix the holding tank pump, collected Julie’s long awaited sewing machine, posted letters, sent a fax or two and made the odd phone call. Checked out more of the local shopping, biked round to Sliema in the afternoon, failed to locate “Jubilee Lady” at the Manoel Island dockyard: meanwhile “Conjo” turned up having put into Linosa on the way across because Connie wasn’t feeling well (Joe explained that she had developed diabetes, which made seasickness particularly dangerous and would, sadly, have to restrict their cruising together).
19th – 27th June 1993
We settled comfortably into life in Msida Marina, completing various repairs (including the efficient re-stitching of a mainsail batten pocket, and the plugging of a hole in one of Julie’s teeth!) and meeting friends old and new. A chance decision to stop for a coffee at the Café by the marina office building revealed where “Jubilee Lady” had got to: she was berthed on a pontoon just opposite, but a call on Bill and Linda was a bit of a letdown (they seemed remarkably apathetic, having not even worked out how to get a bus into Valletta, though they’d evidently had a rough trip over from Tunisia). We met a nice Swedish couple whom we’d spotted flying a Cruising Association burgee, exchanging visits for drinks and coffee. Helmut and Helga invited us over for a delicious dinner of octopus in red wine, and we asked them to join us for a (rather disappointing) dinner out at “19 Steps” to celebrate “Gladlee”’s 4th anniversary in our care. Nick , a former colleague of Nigel’s and his Maltese wife Michela came round for lunch and we bumped into Joe from time to time. Meanwhile we did a bit of tourism, wandering round Valletta and visiting the excellent audio-visual “Malta Experience”, then taking a bus out to Mdina for the day – the latter a very picturesque miniature mediaeval city with a festival in progress, local citizenry in period costume staging various “happenings” round the streets – and starting to walk out to Buskett Gardens before realising they were a good deal further away than we’d supposed. Back to Mdina, got a bus out to the gardens (which weren’t all that exciting) then discovered that we’d have to wait an hour for a bus back – so we walked! The following day we went into Valletta again and toured the Grand Masters’ palace – particularly interesting pictures and tapestries – having already visited the Co-Cathedral, with its remarkable floor made up of hundreds of slabs commemorating Knights of the Order of St. John. We also found the central market; rather quiet, though, since all the butchers were on strike over meat import quotas and the official formula for pricing pork carcasses (we did get some fish, however, which Julie cooked to an Algerian recipe). Not quiet was Malta’s lower airspace, since we’d arrived amid a crescendo of religious festivals leading up to the feast of St. John – and the Maltese celebrate their saints day by letting off fireworks at any time between daybreak and midnight (hence the explosions as we were negotiating the Gozo channel on our way in). These were no backyard Guy Fawkes night affairs, either: the background noise sometimes compared with Nigel’s recollection of Saigon in 1968 (Joe assured us that some of the “mortars” let off for sheer noise effect were reinforced with gelignite!). The general atmosphere in Malta was good: in common with Gibraltar was a clear British/Royal Navy link; but, unlike Gibraltar, Malta seemed to have developed much more purposefully, helped (no doubt) by its very distinct culture and identity (and a much longer continuous history). Staying in Msida certainly wasn’t doing our budget any good, though, so we planned a cruise round the islands the following week: “Shiba” likewise, with two couples arriving as their guests. The weekend was extremely hot: we biked round to the very nice Royal Malta YC for a drink and did some shopping in Sliema, and later Nigel finished annotating Helmut and Helga’s “North Africa” pilot with our corrections (in German – they very thoughtfully later presented N. with the pocket dictionary he’d borrowed from them to do the job). On Sunday there was much coming and going among the neighbouring power-boats as they went out to watch or umpire an international off-shore power-boat race, but having seen one off Ramsgate we gave the event a miss.