September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye

September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation

September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing

August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez

August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind

July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap

July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec

June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico

June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua

May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising

May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica

April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There

April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama

March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money

March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal

February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal

February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific

January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week

January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef

December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2

December 01, 2011

November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise

November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question

October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers

October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World

September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come

September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity

August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work

August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish

July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books

July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas

June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala

June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise

May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now

May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala

April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas

April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas

March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon

March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!

February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2

February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1

January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude

December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane

December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba

December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao

November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing

November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks

October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe

October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal

September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing

September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea

August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao

August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving

July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire

July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles

June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent

June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time

May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle

May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines

April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon

April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II

March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1

March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing

February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations

February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands

January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa

January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............

December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing

December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco

November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med

November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone

October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol

October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise

September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles

September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well

August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca

August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca

July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast

July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia

June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa

June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails

May 15, 2009
Into Africa

May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia

April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy

April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles

March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling

March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports

February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta

February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2

January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1

January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time

December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear

December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend

November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise

November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz

October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman

October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins

September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta

September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story

August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians

July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca

July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe

June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece

June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey

May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey

April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living

April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip

April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget

March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi

March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home

February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising

February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World

January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free

January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free

January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni

January 01, 2008
About Feel Free

January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary

September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta

By Liz Tosoni

Where the heck is Malta anyway? Malta is one of those places that nearly everyone has heard of, but few actually know where it is or exactly what it is. That was certainly the case for me until Liz and I started planning our travels west from Turkey. We wanted to find a summer home for Feel Free while we went back to Canada to restock the cruising kitty. After investigating and rejecting possibilities in Greece and Italy, some marina buddies in Turkey suggested Malta. They had good things to say about the yard and Malta itself. That started the ball rolling. We began researching Malta.

The architectural details everywhere in Malta are of staggering beauty.

Here are some amazing statistics we gathered, from many different sources, about our next landfall:
–The Maltese are the happiest people in the world
–Malta is the second best place in the world to retire
–Malta has the best climate in the world
–Malta ranks 10th in the world for its medical standards.
–Malta’s main city (Valletta, built in 1610) is a UNESCO World Heritage city with 320 monuments within an area of 55 hectares.
–Malta has the lowest crime rate in Europe.
–No other country in the world matches Malta for the concentration of so much history (Phoenicians, Ottomans, Romans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, British).
–Malta’s prehistoric temples are the oldest free-standing buildings in the world.
–Malta is an independent country, and as of 2004 it is a fully fledged member of the European Union.
–Malta is comprised of two main islands, Valetta and Gozo, along with a handful of tiny islands. Valetta, the largest, accounts for most of the country’s commerce and population -- about 400,000.
–Thanks to its central position in the Mediterranean and its superb harbor, it has occupied a place in history way out of proportion to its size. Malta received independence from Britain in 1964 and was used as a major shipping center and the infrastructure and expertise remain.
–Malta is one place in the Med where you can source just about any boat part or service imaginable.
–Best of all, almost everyone speaks English.

Malta is located strategically in the middle of the Med.

Malta sits between Southern Italy and North Africa – Tunisia, actually. It’s about 55 miles south of the bottom of Sicily and about 150 miles north of Tunisia. It’s about half way between Gibraltar and Israel.

No doubt, its central location in the Med along with its proximity to Italy, Greece, Turkey, and North Africa went a long way toward securing it as an important place in European history. After finding out as much as we could about the place, we liked what we learned, and decided it would be Feel Free’s summer home.

Our point of departure for Malta was Siracusa in southeastern Sicily, where we’d just spent a superbly sybaritic 10 days of overeating the fine foods of southern Italy and indulging in the dangerously delicious and  inexpensive vino roso.

Malta Harbor is lined with massive buildings, most over 500 years old.

Our haulout date was a week away but the weather forecast was for 30 knots of southwest wind beginning in the afternoon of the next day. The boatyard manager in Malta told us we’d have to wait two weeks to get hauled if we missed our appointment. So the question was – leave immediately in good weather and hope to be in port before the wind picks up, or wait and hope the system goes through soon enough to allow us to go after the weather has passed through.

Once upon a time, cruisers didn’t have five internet sites from which they could download the latest and greatest weather predictions. Without question, it is a development that has vastly improved the lives of cruisers, right up there with GPS, wind vanes, roller furlers and wasabi. However, one is easily mesmerized by the computer displays with those wondrous wind-speed arrows, wave-height measurements, color-bar precipitation indicators, satellite images, and so on and so on, and can be convinced that any display so polished surely can’t be wrong. But of course, often they are.

Evidence of Malta’s military history is seen everywhere.

It seems to me that the weather forecasting may have marginally improved over the last 20 years, yet the weather forecast presentations have dramatically improved. This marvelous repackaging of the weather information should be seen for what it is; weather forecasts are never written in stone and seldom 100-percent accurate. As one crusty ‘ole salt once said about meteorologists, “When their lips are movin’, they’re lyin’.” A tad harsh but a touch of skepticism is no doubt a good thing.

Back to the dilemma at hand -- to go before the weather system or after the system passes. According to computer models, we should be in port 12 hours before the winds howl, but personal experience predicting the timing of these weather disturbances is even more difficult than the wind speeds. So, we ask ourselves, “Do we feel lucky today?”

Yeah, sort of. Besides, it’s lovely out now, and it’s always easier to leave port on a sunny day. More significantly, what happens if the system stalls and the system lingers? We’d still be in harbor, frustrated, bored, and generally being anxious having to leave in truly lousy conditions. “The hell with it,” I said to Liz. “Let’s go!”

Malta is like an architectural theme park, filled with marvelously executed buildings and sculptures hewn of stone.

Within 15 minutes of weighing anchor we had a lovely 10 knots of northwesterly wind off the beam. As is so often the case when cruising, the wind was perfect if you were out for a day sail in the bay or you had only a short hop to make, but we had 88 miles to go with strong winds, 30 knots plus called for in the extended long-range forecast, so even with diesel prices north of $7 per US gallon, we opted to turn on the “Japanese breeze,” our trusty 70-horse Japanese-made Isuzu engine.

One hour later, the wind filled enough to give us 5 to 6 knots with sail alone, so off went the engine for the duration of the trip. The sky remained clear except for a band of cirrus clouds to the west that portended a change in conditions sometime soon, but all afternoon and through the evening we enjoyed idyllic sailing – a beam reach with a following slight sea.

Tom in the process of folding the mainsail for four months of storage

We especially savored the occasion because we knew this would be our last sail for four or five months. Had we not made the mistake of turning on the VHF radio at 10 p.m. to hear about the gale warning, we would’ve enjoyed our last eight hours of the trip even more. But we did and there it was.

Sure enough the wind increased to 20 and then 25 knots, but the sky still looked OK and we were in the 7-8-knot mode, so even though the gale-force winds were coming early, we thought we’d miss the brunt of them. Nonetheless, our contentment level dropped at about the same rate as our anxiety level rose. Our increased speed brought us to the entrance of Valetta harbor one and a half hours before dawn. The now very-lumpy seas, strong onshore winds, and unfamiliarity with this large port made the call to heave-to with double reefed main an easy one.

As it turned out, another sailboat chose to heave-to with us a mile from the harbor. At the time, we didn’t realize they were heaving-to because they were moving so much faster than we were. At the time, we thought they were heavily reefed and elected to keep sailing into the harbor in the dark.

The public transportation is frequent and efficient, and roads beautiful.

 “Well, they’re certainly braver than we are,” I thought. Then all of a sudden, they executed a 180 and were bashing back out to sea. We thought it strange behavior until we met the crew one day later. They reported that they too were heaving-to, but with their small fin keel, spade rudder, and light displacement, they couldn’t slow the boat down enough and had to fire up the engine and pound their way back out to sea.

There’s a lot to be said for a boat that can heave-to comfortably without moving too much through the water. On the subject of heaving-to, I strongly advise people who haven’t heaved-to in their boat to practice in windy conditions and experiment with different sail configurations noting how their boat behaves.

After our experiences heaving-to with our first boat of 14 years (Hoki Mai), a heavy-displacement steel ketch with a full keel and attached rudder, we thought heaving-to in any boat would be a straightforward case. Not so.

Our present boat, Feel Free, has less wetted surface, fin keel and skeg, and a bigger mast. Attempts to heave-to with reefed main, partially rolled up jib, and rudder turned upwind (the method used with Hoki Mai) results in Feel Free moving forward and eventually coming about on her own – a bad situation. Heaving-to aboard Feel Free means single- or double-reefed main (no jib at all) and rudder turned upwind. This results in the boat lying about 70 degrees off the wind and the boat falling off to leeward with very little forward motion.

We were amazed by the incredible display of churches and fortresses as we arrived in Malta at dawn.

It was a cold grey dawn approach into a harbor that has to be seen to be believed. Massive walled fortresses sit high on the promontories that extend from the two bays that make up Malta’s natural harbors -- Valetta and the smaller adjoining harbor, Msida. It really is like one giant theme park architecturally, very small and very concentrated and built up, but there are no high rises and the buildings are all over 500 years old, made of weathered stone, huge blocks of limestone, and there are splendid fortresses, palaces and churches, everywhere you look.

Why so many forts and churches for such a small island? Unlike Turkey, Greece, and Italy where the ruins of wondrous architecture of ancient civilizations remain, in Malta, the remains of ancient civilizations are still very much intact and in use.

It was only an hour or so after we were well secured in the Msida Marina when the winds really intensified. For the next week the winds raged from the northwest and north and it was rainy and cold as we prepared Feel Free for haulout. Surely this couldn’t be the Malta that boasts one of the finest climates in the world?

The old buildings are everywhere, even right along the waterfront – a normal part of everyday life on Malta.

All week we heard that old refrain, “The weather is very unusual for this time of year.” Finally, the skies did clear, and we experienced the famous fine weather in the yard before we headed back to Canada for a work stint for the summer. And we got a glimpse of the spectacular island where Feel Free would make her home, without us, while Liz and I head back to Canada for a bit to earn some money, reconnect with our families, and plan our next chapter. Log on in two weeks, and we’ll let you know how it’s all going!

Feel Free is lifted for dry storage at Manoel Island Yacht Yard, so we can head back to Canada for our summer job.