17 April 2018

Tues., Apr. 17, 2018

Bay of Marsaxlokk
Malta

As I have written before, little Malta is steeped in history, some of the most dramatic being in WWII. 
Still hidden in the Valletta walls, the Lascaris War Rooms were the top-secret British headquarters of WWII. 

Until Mussolini declared war on June 10, 1940, Malta was largely poorly armed and undefended.  On June 11th, Italian bombers attached Grand Harbour.  The British had only three tiny biplanes, named Faith, Hope and Charity, to defend the island.  They managed for three weeks with a continuous rotation of pilots until a squadron of modern fighters arrived.  We saw Faith in the National War Museum - totally exposed, tiny and flimsy.  
Radar was new and not very sophisticated but did allow them to know when bombers had taken off from Sicily.  
Malta was situated in an essential location for the Allies to intercept Axis shipping bound for Rommel in North Africa.  During the war, aircraft and submarines were based here to block Rommel’s supplies.  First the Italiams and then the Germans  bombers, stationed in Sicily only 20 minutes flight away made a huge effort to annihilate the island.  

Just like in the movies, staff, sworn to secrecy, manipulated model ships, bombers, fighter planes across the map.  It took the bombers 20 minutes from take off to fly over Malta.  Sirens sounded at 10 minutes away and people descended into individual house or village shelters.  The footage of this time in a film narrated by Lawrence Olivier, is especially moving.

In 1942, the siege and pounding of Malta was especially devestating - it became and still is the most heavily bombed for a given area in the world.  Photos and films of Valletta show heaped ruins of building, children going to school outside. The Axis blocked supply routes to Malta from Alexandria and Gibraltar.  Cooking was not allowed in individual homes.  To save food and precious fuel, meals were cooked in community kitchens.  In the summer of 1942, there was only enough food and fuel to last until August.  The British mobilized an enormous convoy to deliver supplies from Gibraltar.  Many of the ships were lost to Axis bombs but one, holed but still floating, oil tanker, borrowed from the Americans, got through and the island survived.  The entire population was awarded the George Cross, Britains highest award for civilian bravery.
1940's ingenious computer kept track of a ton of info on both sides of the wall.


Planes and submarines in Malta were then able to block the Axis supply line to Rommel which played a key role in their defeat at the crucial battle of El Alamein.  And, after some inventive espionage fabrications, the Nazis were fooled into thinking the European invasion would take place elsewhere while Malta was readied and successfully used as the staging point for the invasion in Sicily.
Eisenhower looked out on this huge map of Sicily for Operation Husky.



This history has become real for us in several places - the location of the submarine base on Manoel Island, the restoration of Fort Manoel, the remains of the Opera House which now act as an outside theatre surrounded by ruins, several repurposed military barracks on the island but particularly our visit to the Lascaris rooms, 40 meters below the 16th century walls of Valletta.  An exceptional tour guide, ex-history teacher and obvious WWII buff, provided facts, figures and stories that brought the history alive.  Well-worth a visit.  Only question is, why have Hollywood and British film producers never made a blockbuster of this hugely dramatic history??  It's an amazing story of resilience, fortitude, ingenuity and intrigue.

16 April 2018

Mon., Apr. 16, 2018 - Terrifying reminder!

St. Peter's Pool
Malta
St. Peter's Pool.  A sight to behold with swells crashing in from yesterday's storm.
We hiked to a lovely cove with rock descending to the water in shelves.  It was the place to be to see the enormous rollers crashing in and many people - stuck indoors as we were yesterday in the storm - were coming for the thrilling view.

Just as we came upon the cove at the top of the cliff, we saw a woman on the bottom most shelf hit by crashing surf and swept into the cold water.  It was absolutely terrifying!  We could do nothing being about 60 meters above sea level.  Even those closest to the woman were also helpless being kept from the shoreline by the tumultuous water.  All around the cove people were riveted to the scene in horror.

Now this is not an average cove.  There is no soft sand beach.  Only rock.  At the bottom of the cove the rock has been hollowed out so that the water sweeps into an underwater cave with the ledge hanging over it.  Luckily, the woman had not fallen there but just outside where it widens to about 20 meters but is still surrounded by sharp rock cliffs.  The eddies and current seemed to keep her out of the worst.  But she was being pummelled by huge breakers, being swept back and forth with the surf, perilously close to the rocky cliffs.
The woman in the centre of the bay was attempting to make her way to closer side.  It was a slow and painful 10 minutes of inching forward, swept back.  Awful!

Swells come in groups of increasing height and then subside a bit.  Between the largest she was slowly able to swim away from the cliff and gradually make her way to a jagged lower area.  Brave people formed a chain to haul her out.  Just as her feet had planted on the submerged rock, another of the larger swells pounded the rock.  She and her live chain were soaked but still somehow stayed secure.  One last haul brought the woman to safety.  Just in time as the swells continued to increase.
Safe!  She had been swept off the far side where the ledge in this picture is dripping like a waterfall after another huge swell came in.

It was terrifying to say the least!  The woman's legs gave out several times as she made her way to a dry spot but she seemed otherwise physically fine.  She was very, very lucky!

A horrible reminder of the power of the sea!

15 April 2018

Sun., Apr. 15, 2018 - post storm

Bay of Marsaxlokk
Malta
This little rise on the peninsula separating us from the sea, protected us from the wrath of the waves.
Well, the storm never ramped up to predicted wind or waves...at least where we were.  We picked out shelter well.  In Sliema Creek, the waves were 2.5 meters and at the very shallow bottom of the bay where all the small wooden fishing boats are, it must have been very scary, indeed.  Glad the powers that be kicked us  out of there!

Here, we weathered some gusts over 30 knots but nothing extraordinary or that we haven't managed before.  And the water was flat, which was the best.  Our neighbours - in a monohull - were rolling a bit with the swell that curved around the headland but we were comfy.

Now we have to put the boat back together - screecher up, second anchor in before the two anchor chains twist together, and put sundry items back in place.  Then a walk to the seaside to see any residual wave action.  Plan is to leave here tomorrow, check out in Gozo, and day sail to Sicily on Tuesday.


Hard to believe that the dust is as thick as fog.  This from our walk today, post storm.

This same view a few weeks ago.

All is calm here though not so bright.  The sun is still covered in a haze of sand.



13 April 2018

Fri., Apr. 13, 2018 - Storm Preparation

Bay of Marsaxlokk 
Malta

Sailing lore says never to begin a passage on a Friday and Friday the 13th seems to be courting trouble.  However, we got up early to motor to a large fishing harbour, Bay of Marsaxlokk, protected from the expected east to just north of east winds expected early tomorrow morning and into the day to avoid trouble. And dolphins spotted on the bow on our way seemed to bode only good things.

Force 9 on the Beaufort scale are forecasted, categorized as a severe gale and described as “High waves (7 meter forecast). Dense streaks of foam are blown along the direction of the wind.  Crests of waves begin to topple, tumble and roll over.  Spray may affect visibility.”  Toppling and tumbling waves sound rather playful but we are very happy to not be seeing them at sea.  Their is an advisory that those with susceptible lungs will have difficulty breathing.  We can see the Sahara dust in the air.  To blame is a cold front from Russia meeting a strong heat low pressure system over North Africa.  Huge temperature contrasts may produce thunderstorms and “a dry microburst with devastating wind gusts is not excluded.”  Devastating is not a nice word.
Milly, secure at anchor.

We are anchored in an open but protected fishing harbour with two of our cruising boat buddies.  All day the harbour has been filling with small wooden fishing craft and some larger industrial type.  We went for a hike on the hills along the coast, knowing that tomorrow we would be boat bound.

Poppies and yellow daisies.  Couldn't resist.

The forecast predicts mounting wind speed topping out tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. gusting 48 knots.  All day, fishermen have been warning us of the upcoming east wind. I asked with great confidence, “It’s a good place to anchor?  Should be fine here?”  One guy said rather reluctantly, I thought, that it was ok, wagging his hand back and forth in that so-so manner and making a face that suggested unpleasantness.  We told him that we had come from Sliema Creek and he emphatically agreed that it would be much better here.  We were once again glad we had been kicked off our mooring buoy.

Our storm prep included: 
  • putting out a second anchor at about 30 degrees (very approximate) to our first.
  • taking down and storing our screecher sail.  Sister ship had had their sail come loose during an unexpected and fierce storm.  We did not want a repeat!  Nothing worse than wrestling with a wild sail in the wind.
  • putting a few extra furls on our genoa so it is secure
  • ensuring that all lines, sail cover are secure and unlikely to flap or whip about.
  • furling our Canadian flag
  • securing the dinghy with some extra lines
  • removing all extra stuff on deck.
  • securing our cockpit enclosure
  • pay extra vigilance to the weather forecast
  • have a glass of wine/beer and watch a movie.
Everybody going about their business.  
Already the winds are not as strong as forecast.  Hopefully, the scientists are predicting the worst.  But if not we are prepared and ready!  Will keep you posted.



Thurs., Apr. 12, 2018

Rinella Creek,
Malta

Milly had been moored on a ball in Sliema Creek for the month plus that we have been in Malta.  We had picked it up when we arrived after the advice of a Maltese cruising friend of ours who gave us the secret and highly valuable directions to the balls.  Well, today the officious officials came by at 6:00 p.m. to kick us off.  There is a big storm coming in on Saturday in the direction that is wide open to Sliema Creek.  The bay gets enormous waves that strain and break the lines.  We were surrounded by very large, steel tourist boats.  I'm sure the officials are clearing out as many boats as possible.

We are now anchored in a delightful small bay on the south side of Valletta.  It seems exceptionally sheltered but, as our Maltese friend has warned, if we needed to get out during the storm the channel entrance to the Grand Harbour would be impossibly dangerous.  So we are headed south this a.m. before the wind starts to build this afternoon, to a lovely fishing harbour called Marsaxlokk, that is protected from the east.  Our Maltese source is there in his boat - he should know.

The winds are building over Saturday with the highest at night, in the dark, of course.  It's not the wind as much as the waves that concern sailors and Malta is surrounded by very lengthy fetch on all sides!  It will be good to be in a snug fishing harbour.


12 April 2018

Wed., Apr. 11, 2018

Sliema Creek
Malta

The Sahara can't let us go!  Poor Milly's deck, windscreen, anything open to the sky essentially, were covered with a not so thin layer of fine red Sahara sand.  Whenever the wind blows from anywhere in the sun the sky is hazy and with rain, even a few sprinkles as happened last night, the dust settles.

Our white sunbrella is now "Sahara tan".  The sand covers everything but gathers at wind blocks like tiny snow drifts.
On Milly's white decks and white or pale grey canvas the results are discouraging.  The majority can be swept off when the deck is dry but to get the fine film that discolours and clings to feet, a good soapy swabbing of the decks and scrubbing of everything else is required.  The non-skid rough surface of the deck is essential in rolling seas but the dust settles around every little protrusion.

The transom gathers all the sand that blows down the length of the boat.  It's the worst and is where we step everyday.

We are a barefoot boat but with Sahara sand, shoes are required.  
The rub is that whenever the conditions are right it happens again.  And apparently, the skies of Italy, Greece and Turkey all suffer from the same phenomenon.  Ah well, one of the pitfalls of sailing "beside" the biggest, - and reddest? - desert in the world.

9 April 2018

Sat., Apr. 7, 2018

Sleima Creek
Malta




Today we dinghied around the Valletta point to Grand Harbour to watch The Freedom Day Regatta - celebrating the withdrawal of British military and navy in 1979.  The highlight of the day is a paddling regatta of traditional Maltese boats from the local town clubs.  A colourful event with crowds doing more carousing than watching.  Fun to watch, from TomTom rafted to our friends dinghy.

These traditional boats- Maltese gondolas- with motor are used to taxi tourists back and forth across the harbour.


Lovely boats, cared for with pride by the all male rowers.  Didn't see one female.
This rowing pair with little boy coxswain were the winners of their race after rowing in three previous races.

Maltese are serious boaters. It's obvious from their choices of park art.



Memorial for child refugees at Pinto Wharf.
And then there are the boats that bring in the big bucks...and the crowds.