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
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


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


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

 

By Liz Tosoni

For cruisers, winters in the Med are all about finding a good place for you and your boat to hunker down. It has to do with “location, location, location,” and Malta is one of the primo spots. Its strategic position between Africa and Europe has meant that this tiny group of islands with an area of a mere 122 square miles, has been coveted by many different nations as a stepping stone between the two continents. Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Norman, Turkish, French, and British armies and navies have trampled back and forth across Malta and claimed her for their own over the centuries, finally leaving her in peace with Independence in 1964.

Being right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is ideally situated as a stepping stone between Africa and Europe.

Now, yachties from different nations can enjoy the luxury of trampling back and forth across the islands, afloat and afoot. Malta’s climate is reputed to be one of the best in the world; however, this past winter we were told by locals repeatedly “this is the windiest, wettest, coldest winter in decades.”

There certainly was plenty of the wet stuff along with strong winds, thunder, lightning, and hail. The world appeared drab as rain slicked decks and colored the sky the shade of aged pewter. For months we battened down hatches, used a heater, “cocooned” with indoor projects, watched DVDs, took in musical concerts and the annual international film festival. The Malta Cruising Club invited Tom and me to do a slide show, so one evening we did a Powerpoint presentation to a crowd of about 70, about our voyage from Thailand to Turkey. We loved the experience and hope to do it again some day.

The Maltese pride themselves on their winter weather and seemed almost embarrassed by the inclement conditions. The northeast gregale is the wind to be feared during winter as it blows at gale force and sometimes more, right into the main harbor with winds up to Force 9 and 10 recorded, and it lasts for about three days. Surprisingly, there were few gregales during our stay, just a lot of wet, grey, gloomy days.

There were glorious breaks in the weather too, usually lasting two or even three days, with brilliant blue skies and almost balmy temperatures. “This is Malta’s usual weather in the winter,” locals declared righteously. Then we could break away like birds being freed from cages, either by boat to nearby anchorages, or by foot to the many hiking paths around the islands. Because of all the rain, the countryside was verdant and bursting with wildflowers.

When the sun shines and the skies clear during our winter in Malta, we head for the hills by foot, or out to the nearby anchorages by boat.

Special events such as feast day festivals (festi in Maltese) were welcome punctuation marks to the winter months. They take place in the numerous towns and villages and are dedicated to the anniversary of whichever saint is the patron of the parish and no fewer than 90 feasts occur throughout the year. Bells ring, bands play and everyone takes to the confetti-strewn streets as groups of men carry a statue of the saint around the town on their shoulders.

Most revered among the saints is St. Paul, the patron saint of the Maltese islands, and the cult surrounding him is Malta’s most rooted tradition. He was sailing from Anatolia (Turkey) en route to Rome in 60 AD when he was shipwrecked and ended up staying and introducing Christianity to the population. Hundreds of sites are dedicated to him including catacombs and a magnificent cathedral in the old town of Valletta. His statue is adoringly carried through the streets on his feast day, also a public holiday, on February 10. At anchor in St. Paul’s Bay you can view another statue devoted to him on the island within the very bay where the shipwreck took place, and walk the winding paths surrounding the lovely, historic locale. It has proven to be one of our favorite getaways, being just a couple of hours sail away from the marina.

St. Paul’s Bay was a favorite winter getaway for Feel Free as it’s just a short sail away from the marina and has good hiking paths. Notice the statue of St. Paul in the distance and the ancient salt pans below the cliff.

One of the many jobs on Tom’s winter to-do list was to fix our ever reliable, stalwart autopilot that has needed little maintenance over the years, but has recently been behaving erratically. After several attempts at tweaking various things, Tom seemed to have the right solution; the unit was finally actually responding correctly while sitting in the marina, so it was time to give it a trial run. We got a beautiful three-day weather window and were off. We’d been eager to sail to the famous Blue Lagoon on tiny Comino Island since arriving in Malta and this was our chance. Because the whole of Malta – consisting of Malta, Gozo, Comino, and a few small islets – is so small, distances between bays and harbors are not great and daysailing is easy.

This old map of the islands of Malta shows tiny Comino in between Malta and Gozo

Winds were light, so it was a motorboat ride, perfect for testing the autopilot (Tom’s fix worked, by the way), and perfect for the anchorage, which is exposed to the north. Typically during summer months, the splendid coves of this small island of impressively eroded cliffs, natural arches, caves, and striated rock, are wall to wall boats. “You can almost walk from boat to boat, it’s so crowded,” we were told. But because it was off season, we had it to ourselves. Once tied to a sturdy mooring and after an exploratory dinghy ride, it was easy to understand why the Blue Lagoon is such a popular boating destination.

Blue Lagoon on tiny Comino Island is a beauty with natural arches, caves, cliffs, turquoise waters and of course, good hiking trails.

Dating back to the 1500s, Carnival week has a long and distinguished tradition in Malta. It celebrates the beginning of the Lenten season and is looked forward to by one and all. This was our very first Carnival and we were gobsmacked by the elaborate costumes and fabulous floats, parades, and dance competitions.

Crowds turn up in the thousands for Malta’s annual Carnival, an explosion of color and laughter, with fantastic costumes, dance competitions, lots of food and fun and parades of flamboyant floats.

Another charm of Malta is that the past is everywhere – so visible and alive. Around every corner are ancient palaces, forts, churches, and temples. It oozes history. People live in stone houses and walk on cobbled streets smoothed by centuries of use. In prehistoric days, even as far back as 7,000 years ago, there was civilization in Malta. In fact, the oldest standing stone structures in the world are found here, built by the first inhabitants who probably crossed over from Sicily sometime before 5000 BC. The temples were built using limestone blocks, some of them being more than 15 feet long and weighing more than 50 tons! There are several temple sites around the islands dating to different periods.

One day, we hiked to the remarkable Tarxien temples, discovered in 1914 by local farmers who struck large stone blocks while plowing a field. It’s the most complex of all the sites in Malta and renowned for the detail of the carvings showing domestic animals in relief, altars, and screens decorated with spiral designs and other patterns.

The prehistoric temples of Malta, dating from 3600 to 2500 BC are the oldest standing buildings in the world.

Shall I talk about the people? Instead of saying, “How are you?” the usual greeting in Malta is, “Allright?” – spoken with their direct way of looking at you. I find it endearing and warm. There was a study that concluded that the Maltese were the happiest people in the world and Tom and I believe it. We’ve found them to be friendly, cheerful, polite, ever so helpful and what a bonus that just about everyone is fluent in English. Time and again in shops they go out of their way to help you find what you need, regardless of the cost.

No, that’s not an elaborate bumper system on Tom’s bike! He’s just delivering it to the welder. 

You’re probably thinking “so what’s the down side of Malta (besides the winter weather ONLY this year)?” Well, pollution. There are more cars per capita in Malta than anywhere else in Europe, and traffic is bad. Drivers dart up to pedestrians and cyclists out of nowhere like bats out of hell, which freaks you out. (But because they are polite the horn honking is negligible.)The dust in the air is serious. There’s road and building construction all over the place, and plenty of roads with potholes. Fruits and vegetables are expensive, as are most things. Oh, and the doggie pooh is in the streets – very bad. Yes, there’s a law against it, but it’s not enforced.

Now we’re back at base camp, Msida Marina, and it’s getting closer and closer to departure time. Winter projects are complete, provisions have been laid on and Feel Free is ready to go. The only snag? It’s howling a gale right now and GRIB files tell us it’s expected to last for several more days and, you guessed it, the winds are out of the west, the direction we’ll be heading for our next landfall, Tunisia, North Africa. No problem, it gives us the chance to spend a few more evenings with our new friends and maybe explore some more of those meandering trails.