Gladlee of Guernsey
June 1993 – July 1993
28th June – 5th July 1993
We set off from Msida in mid-morning, beating gently southwards in a light breeze and heading for “Armchair Bay” for a late lunch stop. On the cliffs above this anchorage tower the transmitters of “Deutsche Welle”’s Malta relay station, and “Shiba” had warned us that their signals could have a devastating effect on some makes of electronics (they’d actually had instruments burnt out on the one occasion “Shiba” had stopped there). We thought DW started sending at 16.00, but as we drifted in to anchor at 14.00 the depth sounder and wind-speed indicator both went haywire (the latter showing anything between 0 and 75 knots!) and we beat a hasty retreat towards Marsaxlokk Bay, where we anchored in a quiet cove just inside the entrance. The instruments were still acting up (bizarrely, the light behind the anchor light rocker switch stayed dimly on, even with the batteries switched off!), but we had to hope that this was still DW at work and not a symptom of permanent damage. “Shiba” turned up a little later and paused nearby for a swim before going on to demonstrate how to pilot a large yacht through the shoals into the quay at Marszxlokk.
We had a leisurely start in the morning, weighing anchor as “Shiba” steamed past on her way out of the bay. We beat west along the coast in a moderate SW wind, keeping “Shiba” more or less within reach until she settled on to a more comfortable course and drew away. By lunchtime the wind had dropped and we started the engines, only to discover a pinhole leak in the copper pipe between heat exchanger and exhaust manifold. Not too much damage, so we decided to press on to rendezvous with “Shiba” at Gueuja Bay, where the beach was crowded and the anchorage occasionally disturbed by speedboats – otherwise quite attractive surroundings. Nigel swam across to “Shiba” for a coffee and to consult about our leak, which we eventually patched with Elastoplast, self-amalgamating tape and a couple of jubilee clips! In the early evening we moved on to Anchor Bay, a narrow inlet with a short quay made famous by the quite picturesque set for the “Popeye” feature film, now a minor tourist attraction. “Shiba” was already on the quay, and Helmut and Helga were (as ever!) helpfully waiting to take our lines.
“Shiba” left in mid-morning: we took our time, and wandered round the top of the cliffs over looking the creek in search of birds and photo angles. After lunch we motored the hour or so up to the so-called “Blue Lagoon”, a lovely stretch of water between Comino Island and an off-lying islet, shallow with a sandy bottom and (indeed) a marvellous mixture of bright blues, contrasting with the rock and scrub of the island. Usually a very crowded anchorage, but by evening most of the day trippers had gone and we had a lovely evening – even the luxury of a floating ice-cream van! We managed to grab a buoy, later a second one to our stern to keep “Gladlee”’s nose to a slight swell: “Shiba” anchored 50 metres away, of course!
July began with a half-hour drive across the channel to Mgarr harbour on Gozo: “Shiba” beat the ferry in while we more cautiously stooged to let it pass, so Helmut and Helga were again on hand to help us into a pontoon berth! We had quite a long walk up the hill to the village above the harbour, but were rewarded by finding a butcher open, as well as a baker and a small supermarket. The afternoon was less successful, a horrendous time reassembling the holding tank pipes after cleaning them out, then diesel spilt while refilling from Helmut’s unwanted spare cans. We almost gave up the idea of going up to Gozo’s capital, Victoria, but in the end we got the bus and had a good wander round a very laid-back little town and up to the citadel, with magnificent views across the island (a very laid-back place altogether, compared even with Malta!) – lovely flowers, too, all along the road down to Mgarr.
We’d planned to sail clockwise round Gozo (parting company with “Shiba”, who were planning a quick return trip to Sicily with their guests), but the wind didn’t hold up, and after a quick look into the narrow steep-sided inlet of Mgarr Ix-Xini we motored on to the spectacular Dwerja Bay, guarded by “Fungus Rock” where the Knights of St. John supposedly gathered a spectacular healing herb, and surrounded by steep cliffs. To our surprise there was only one other yacht (which soon left) in the anchorage: though others eventually turned up we never had more than two or three for company. A few gusts rattled over the cliffs during the afternoon, but it was quiet by evening and we were able to dine on deck under the stars. In the calm of the morning we dinghied out of the bay and round to a tunnel through the cliffs leading to the “Inland Sea”, a tiny lagoon and beach behind. Drank coffee and chatted to a friendly bar owner, then back to the bay as the wind started to pick up again, with the occasional ferocious gust alternating with almost total calm in the bay – we carried on with boat cleaning and more harbour noted, while a few tripper boats popped in and out. In the middle of the night a very noisy patrol boat turned up, flashed its searchlight carefully at each anchored yacht, left, then returned and called us out with the suggestion that Valletta “had never heard of us” (i.e. that we hadn’t checked into Malta properly). We very politely gave chapter and verse, and they made off, this time for good (could this, we wandered, have been the same patrol boat that Nigel had reported to the Mgarr HM for bombing in and out of the harbour at full speed two days earlier….?!) Quite a few new arrivals in the course of the morning: we finished off deck white-work and teak oiling, left in mid-afternoon and ran into quite choppy seas down the side of Gozo as we motored against a SE wind. It was calmer once we reached the shelter of the Comino Channel, and we dropped anchor at 1845 just inside Tower Bay on the N. coast of Malta – a curious place, surrounded by a mixture of weekend clapboard cottages and an outer fringe of converted containers serving the same function. Not pretty, but quite peaceful once the speedboats had gone to bed. We enjoyed being used as a rounding mark by the “skipper” of an elegant radio-controlled model racing yacht.
The final morning of our Malta cruise involved a straightforward drive down to Marsamxett harbour, more or less directly into a light to moderate SE wind: we called up Valletta and reported difficulties in receiving them on one of their channels (they seemed to take this seriously and thanked us for letting them know). Back into Msida, where we were allocated a berth on a row of power boats, one pontoon down from our previous home: our next-door neighbours might have come straight out of an Ayckbourn play (“The Way Downstream”, perhaps) – a wonderfully stereotyped North Country family on a small motor-cruiser called “Happy Landings” (they made us very welcome, though, with excellent and welcome cups of tea!) “Shiba” was back from Sicily, and we also bumped into Joe, with a granddaughter in tow. Sadly, planned dinner with Nick had to be called off, since Michela and daughter had developed a knock-out bug over the weekend. We spent the rest of the day chasing up admin, spare parts and other loose ends with a view to leaving for Sicily in a couple of days: it was very hot and humid again.
6th – 8th July 1993
Another very hot day as we rushed around trying to organise our departure – calls at chandlers, a ridiculous last minute attempt to get our burnt-out spare alternator fixed (we’d clean forgotten about it, but even at two hours’ notice an excellent mechanic round the corner managed to track down a pal with a slightly used unit for sale, the rotor of which could be fitted to our stator when we found someone who knew how….. Another 24 hours and we could have had the whole lot installed!), delivery of a hefty consignment of duty-free, call on customs, shopping, last-minute letter writing, boat cleaning and laundry. Nick came round for a few beers, we said our goodbyes to Helmut and Helga, but sadly we missed Joe and Connie – meanwhile we were determined to dine off roast lamb, and amid all the other distractions, Julie managed to produce a perfect joint, if a little later than planned!
9th July 1993
The forecast for the morning didn’t look too brilliant, and when we woke up to the alarm at 05.30 the wind was moaning through the collective rigging in the marina. First instincts were to stay put, but a reasonable Italian forecast an hour later (and the thought of having to unscramble Customs etc.) persuaded us to give it a go. Out of the harbour by 07.30 we found a NW wind at the top end of F5 (the forecast was for a gradual increase to F6), and we had a second reef in the main by 08.30, by which time we were nearly 6 miles offshore and going like a train in 25-30 knots of wind – we would have had a third reef in if the reefing line hadn’t come undone! The sea was quite rough at first, but once we got used to the wind and waves it developed into a good sail, except for the occasional rogue wave slopping over the side (we twice had solid water over the cockpit, once actually into the reefed main-sail for the first time ever, getting well drenched in the process, of course). For most of the crossing the wind settled to a steady 20-25 knots, but as we made our landfall at Sicily the gusts became more frequent, and as we approached Porto Palo we had a full F7, causing us some problems over taking in the genoa (either too much pressure of wind in the sail to roll it in, or head to wind with the sail threatening to flog itself to bits). Eventually we got everything under control and motored into the relative shelter of Porto Palo, a spacious anchorage behind breakwaters, where we got the main down and gratefully dropped anchor in a comfortable 5 metres or so. It had been quite hard work, but very satisfying to have covered 56 miles by log (sails up, to genoa in off Porto Palo) in ten minutes over 8 hours – an amazingly fast average speed for “Gladlee”, and achieved quite comfortably in spite of the odd soaking.
Porto Palo felt a bit exposed, even when the wind died down, but it had a certain bleak charm, and we felt we might have lingered a day or two in other circumstances. As it the bay got us going by mid-morning. As so often the swell spoiled what would otherwise have been a leisurely sail, with a light breeze on the quarter, but we did have a memorable encounter with a school of grampuses (?) – grey with white striations, blunt-nosed like whales, otherwise behaving like large dolphins – which came and played acrobatically round the boat for 15 minutes or so (much competitive swimming, diving, even barrel rolls under our keel!) We motored into Syracuse Bay soon after 16.30, executing an efficient stern-to moor on the quay of “Grand Harbour” below the old town, in not the easiest of conditions. We had a very pleasant wander round the alleys and squares of Ortiga, the original town on the headland guarding the bay, before returning to the quay to see the arrival of two huge UK-registered gin palaces, complete with nattily-uniformed crews. The nearest one scored off us slightly when the owner’s wife asked us whether we came from Guernsey – we didn’t, they did! The quay came to life later, with stalls, restaurant/cafés and a variety of promenaders, but even the coconut shy (actually wooden balls and heaps of beer-cans) opposite couldn’t keep us awake for long.
10th-11th July 1993
Wandering along the quay in the morning to find water we came across “Shelley” from Bizerte – just as well, since they had ingenuously improvised an adaptor for the hydrant and lent it to us! Nigel went down to the port office and went through the wearisome business of getting a “Constituto” (probably quite unnecessarily, as it turned out), then to the bank next door, in both places running into American neighbours, the Sharabitis, whom we invited for a drink later (fortunately avoided getting embroiled with another, rather clueless, American couple whom we bumped into in a supermarket in the afternoon!) We found the excellent market – friendly people, lovely fruit and veg. (and Parmesan), bought pork chops (still a novelty). After lunch we set off on our bicycles for the museum (unfortunately shut) and the “archaeological park” with fine Greek theatre, less fine Roman arena and an unusual garden-cum-lemon grove at the bottom of what might have been a quarry, leading to a narrow but very high cave curving into the cliff – supermarket shop on the way back. Sharabatis (he of Saudi origin) came round with a bottle of Greek wine and proved interesting guests: in particular, they turned out to be co-authors of a book on Red Sea shells, of which they kindly presented us with a copy, together with much good advice from their travels round the Eastern Med. The quayside was even livelier than on the previous evening (this being Saturday), with a rather good girl singer at café along the way.
Sunday morning was lovely, with only a slight haze and flat calm as we left at 07.30 and set a course for the bottom end of the Italian mainland. Julie spotted a shark, and for some time we could see the peak of Mount Etna above the haze, but otherwise nothing to report until we got a breath of wind from the SE around lunchtime and managed to sail gently for 2½ hours (we even had the ‘chute up for the last half hour) before the wind died again and we started to get some cross-tide effect from the Straits of Messina. By this time the tall chimney at Saline Joniche was clearly visible, and we reached the (more or less) disused industrial port there soon after 18.30: a slightly awkward moor to chains off huge fenders on a very high quay, with helpful advice, from locals peering down, about the potential risk of swell (it was, as it turned out, quite uncomfortable later). We exchange greetings with a British catamaran moored ahead of us, “Faréal”. No cause to hang about in the morning, so we cast off at 07.45, (slightly) guiltily ignoring a request for a replacement alternator belt from Belgians on a Westerly Corsair (it would take them only a few hours to get one from Reggis di Calabria, and we had only one spare – in the event they bludged one from a very nice Swede whom we were to meet later). We motored eastwards in next to no wind towards Cape Spartivento, encountering a motor launch on the way whose owner ( a travel agent) insisted on presenting us with a couple of dogfish!
Once round the cape we got a moderate SW breeze and ran with the genoa poled out for most of the afternoon (the ‘chute came out again a couple of times as well) until we found ourselves getting the sails down in 20-25 knots out of nowhere outside Rocella Ionica. The fishing harbour was still far from finished, but a couple of quays had been added since our latest information, and there was plenty of room for us to moor stern-to opposite a few yachts already in residence. Brian and Julie of “Faréal” dropped anchor nearby a short while later. Not very pretty surroundings, but rather more comfortable than we’d expected. Dogfish chowder for dinner!