Welcome to Ken’s Blog! (top)
Sans Souci is in Malta!
Here’s an index to this issue of Ken’s Blog:
- Journey Map
- St Julians Bay
- Back to St Julians Bay
- Back to Gozo
- The Trip To Siracusa
- Never trust a weather report – the run to Taormina
- Boat Geek Report
- And, in closing
Journey Map (top)
As you can see in this map, Malta is south of Italy, and centrally located in the Eastern Med. It’s location has been a mixed blessing. On one hand it’s a place with great natural beauty and warm weather, but limited natural resources. Malta’s problem has been that its central location makes it an attractive location for a naval base. Over the years Malta has been fought over, and captured, many times by a variety of countries.
It was even a battleground during World War II. During a two year period over 3,000 bombing raids were flown against Malta, earning this tiny country the dubious distinction of being one of the most heavily bombed locations during WWII. The Grand Harbor, where we moored Sans Souci received more bombs that all of London!
St Julian’s Bay, on the island of Malta (top)
In my last blog entry we were concentrating on Gozo and Comino, the northern-most of the three islands that form Malta. We enjoyed the remoteness and “small town” feel, but wanted to journey south to the capital: Valletta, on the island of Malta itself.
As we were working our way south, along the east coast of Malta, we saw a small bay, just north of Valletta called “St Julian’s Bay” that looked good. In Valletta, the main city and capital, we would be going into a marina (the Grand Harbor Marina) and wanted another night or two of relaxation before hitting the big city.
Anchoring at St Julian’s didn’t match up with Roberta’s and my “style” at all. It was like being anchored in front of a major city. We were surrounded by condos and restaurants, in a fairly small, and somewhat rolly, bay. Later, we decided that St Julian’s was probably a fun town, with lots of great restaurants, but at that moment it wasn’t what we were seeking, so we prepared dinner and stayed on the boat. Steven and Carol on Seabird, the Nordhavn 62 that we are traveling with, dropped their tender and went into town, where they had a terrific dinner.
This picture of Sans Souci was taken at dusk from Seabird. It’s one of my favorite pictures of our boat, but I’m also somewhat amused by it. The picture shows how misleading photos can be at times. Had the camera been pointed the opposite direction you’d see all the condos, restaurants and bars – plus the disco lights which were just kicking in for the evening.
We had planned two nights at St Julian’s Bay, but after one night Roberta and I decided we would go on to Valletta, which was really just around the corner. Med-mooring (parking the boat stern-to the dock with nothing but other boats beside us) for the first time in a strange marina is always stressful for us. Roberta had shoulder surgery last year and is still fearful of putting too much load on her shoulder, so is not much help with handling lines and fenders (and we have some heavy lines and big fenders!). Although Roberta is good with driving and maneuvering Sans Souci – though not when coming into a Med-mooring situation in some tight areas – I am effectively single-handing the boat and need help with our lines and fenders. (We’re totally fine with side-tying anywhere, though.) Therefore, whenever we have something to do with which we’re uncomfortable the foremost thought on our minds is, “Well. Let’s just do it and get it behind us.” Thus, we made the decision to cut short our time at St Julian’s and head to the Grand Harbor Marina in Valletta the next day. Seabird, on the other hand, wanted one more relaxing day and night at anchor and headed back to Comino Island to a wonderful anchorage that they had discovered near the Blue Lagoon.
Here we are entering “The Grand Harbor” in front of Valletta for the first time. We knew it was a busy harbor with freighters, and every other type of boat, going in and out. We still have vivid memories of our wild approach to Hong Kong where we spent hours dodging other boats; however, it turned out to be a perfectly calm day with plenty of room to maneuver.
As I stepped off the back of the boat the harbormaster was there to greet us. He mentioned that over the years many Nordhavns had been in the marina, but that ours was the first he had seen with a walkway on both sides of the boat. Nordhavn offers boats with an external walkway on one side, or both sides (called “symmetric” or “asymmetric.”) By eliminating one walkway running the length of the boat, the main salon and galley can be larger. However, as with everything on a boat, there are always trade-offs. It is convenient to have the walkway on both sides, especially with performing docking maneuvers, but it is also great to have more space in the salon and galley that would otherwise be taken up by the second walkway outside. In Europe the process of Med-mooring is often simpler by having the ability to quickly and easily move from the bow of the boat to the stern along either side. The dual walkway can also be an advantage when side-tied to a dock because you can thus exit the boat from either side, or dock on either side, whereas asymmetrical boats (single walkway boats) prefer being oriented to the one side with the external walkway. It’s one of those things where there is no one right answer; it’s a personal preference. The N68 has plenty of room in the salon, so we had no trouble giving up some internal space for the ‘option ability’ of docking and maneuvering.
Seabird in the process of Med-mooring. At the completion of the process there will be four lines attached to the boat: two at the bow, and two at the stern. The bow lines extend to the center of the marina basin, and the stern lines to the dock. To reach shore you need a gang plank of some sort (called a passarelle) that allows you to walk from the stern of the boat to the dock.
Valletta is the capital city of Malta and is across the channel from the marina. There is regular shuttle boat service there, but we preferred using these gondola-like water taxis. They were a little expensive (10 euros each way) but very convenient. They would pick us up directly from the boat and drop us a few minutes later very close to the base of the giant elevator which rose very high to the old city of Valletta. Our taxi driver mentioned that his water taxi business had been in his family for 155 years – and was still a family business.
Several times we took a water taxi into the city. Perhaps we just had a particularly colorful taxi driver, but we were always amused by our discussions with him. Over the days we were in Valetta we would meet his brother – also a water taxi driver — hear stories about his wife, trips to the doctor and even opinions on world politics. His English was far from perfect, and at times we would wonder if we had heard correctly, and at other times hope we hadn’t.
St. John’s Cathedral is a gem of Baroque art and architecture. It was built in the 1500s as the church for the Knights of St John. The floor is paved with 400 inlaid marble tombstones (picture in lower left,) under which several generations of the great nobility of Europe, members of the Order of St. John, are buried.
On 15 April 1942, King George VI awarded Malta the George Cross, the highest civilian award for gallantry in the Commonwealth, normally awarded to individuals: “to honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.” President Franklin Roosevelt, describing that wartime period, called Malta “one tiny bright flame in the darkness.”
On the tiny island of Malta, in the first six months of 1942, there was only one 24-hour period without air raids. Luftwaffe records indicate that between 20 March and 28 April 1942, Malta was subjected to 11,819 sorties and 6,557 tons of bombs. 1,493 civilians were killed and 3,674 wounded out of a population of 270,000.
The siege caused significant hardships for everyone on Malta. Bombs killed many and left even more homeless. Businesses and civil infrastructure were destroyed. The disruption of shipping caused food, fuel, and other commodities to be in very short supply. During the greatest times of starvation, it is said that foods were rationed to “three boiled sweets, half a sardine and a spoonful of jam a day”. Poor nutrition and sanitation led to the spread of disease. But they survived and have prospered. After observing the Maltese, Roberta and I agree that they are indeed a resilient, strong and very moral people – and industrious, to boot.
Steven (on Seabird) and I have a semi-ritual of heading to McDonalds for breakfast at least once when we are in a large city. This was the first McDonalds we had seen since Croatia so we had to check it out. To our surprise it really was…”McDonalds.” Just like at home! We’ve found more variation in the food at McDonalds than expected, as they adapt the food to match local tastes, and many McDonalds don’t serve breakfast at all (perhaps because the local country doesn’t eat the breakfast food as we habitually do in the United States – be that good or be it bad).
Once was enough, but one of the reasons I like to visit is just to look at the prices. In Malta an Egg McMuffin costs 3.25 euros ($4.40 US dollars) vs $2.79 in Seattle, or 58% more. Labor prices? Exchange rate? Higher food costs? I don’t know, and don’t know that it matters, but…I’m always curious about these things. I also tend to look in the window at real estate places, curious to see what home prices are like. Thus far, Europe may be overpaying for Egg McMuffins, but they make up for it on home prices (vs Seattle, where prices are, let’s say…high.)
Our marina, the Grand Harbor, is actually located in a town called Vittoriosa, and while exploring it the first evening we saw an advertisement for “Rolling Geeks,” a tourist business based at the marina. They rent you A beefed-up golf cart with a GPS-synched and automated tour guide. The GPS is programmed with a 17-mile route around three surrounding cities, including Vittoriosa. It seemed like something fun to do; a chance to explore outside the main tourist zone of Valletta, and without having to walk in the heat of the day to see things.
What I didn’t realize is that the business was just opening and we were only their second customer!
I also didn’t realize that we’d actually be on real roads driving in real car traffic – where they drive on the left instead of the right as we’re used to in the U.S. The GPS-talking-tour guide was supposed to intelligently guide us around, but the synchronization was off in some places, then halfway through our tour, we went over a small bump (not speeding, don’t worry!) and our GPS-talking tour guide went blank! Without it, we didn’t know where we were and what we were supposed to be seeing. We made our way back to the marina via my cellphone and Google Map! It’s a cool idea and we liked that we could move at our own pace (theoretically the tour guide would trigger its speech-tour based on our location.) But it obviously didn’t work out quite as it should. The lady who ran the business (who was REALLY nice and helpful) was monitoring us from back at her office, and was observing remotely as we went miles off course, and even went into a loop at one point, being guided around a two mile circle. When we finally returned the cart, she looked at us like we didn’t know how to read a map, or maybe didn’t understand GPS or computers! I tried to convince her that we had somehow cruised a boat from Seattle to Malta, and that maps and computers are our strengths. But she looked doubtful. All of that said, I like the idea, and people running a business, and wish them all the luck in the world – once they work out the bugs! Even though we deviated from time to time and missed one city out of the three, it was a really fun day! We even went back two days later to rent the cart again, this time to drive several miles to a well-stocked supermarket for provisions.
These pictures show one of the stops on our tour: Smart City. Malta is a tiny set of three islands out in the middle of the Mediterranean, with limited natural resources. As we travel the world, part of the fascination for me is to look at how different countries play the cards they are dealt, and how their economies respond. Smart City is a joint venture between Dubai and Malta to create a high-tech “city,” in an attempt to bring high-tech businesses to Malta. The project is early in development but big money is being spent to create an environment with residential, educational and commercial real estate, paired with massive bandwidth, restaurants, and amenities like beach walks and man-made lagoons. It’s a very long-term effort to try to bring high paying jobs to Malta. To some extent we’ve seen this in Seattle where Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) has basically transformed the south Lake Union area of Seattle over the years by targeting high-tech companies like Amazon, and creating the kind of living/working environment that appeals to young well-educational professionals.
Another example of this same goal of proactively bringing jobs to Malta was a film studio that we drove past. Malta is trying to lure mainstream film production to Malta (emphasis on “trying”) with a combination of financial incentives and Malta’s excellent weather.
And, Malta also receives a boost to the economy from the many British who retire there or who buy second homes. They also encourage friendly tax policies and tourism.
There are probably many more examples. But, based on the little that I’ve seen, and the people with whom I’ve spoken, the Maltese seem to be entrepreneurial, religious, hardworking, family-oriented and exceptionally friendly!
After four days in the Grand Harbor Marina we decided it was time to move on.
Sans Souci carries 3,000 gallons of fuel, although I probably only started the trip with about 2,800. The Montenegro fuel dock had made it clear that personal disembowelment was a distinct possibility if I let one drop of fuel touch their pristine water! Thus I left some room at the top of each tank and we departed Montenegro with approximately 2,800 gallons. In Malta, I was now at 1,700 gallons remaining. With well over half of my fuel remaining I could almost certainly squeak by for the balance of the trip. However, my philosophy is to take fuel whenever I need more than 500 gallons and see an easily accessible fuel dock.
The Grand Harbor Marina doesn’t really have a fuel dock. To take fuel, you look for empty space amongst their super-yacht moorings, side-tie to the wall and make an appointment with a fuel truck.
Sans Souci, snuggled between two super-yachts taking fuel from a truck. There was plenty of room to go between the boats, but there was also 20 knots of wind, and I knew that if I scratched one of the big boats it would be an expensive mistake. The fuel was reasonably priced for being Europe: $7 per gallon.
Back to St Julians Bay (top)
I am not someone who believes in backtracking, but sometimes you have no choice. From Malta, our next destination would be back to Siracusa (Syracuse). From there, we would leave Sicily, traveling north through the Messina Strait, and start working our way through the Aeolian Islands, the west coast of Italy, Sardinia and Corsica.
We had an uncomfortable ride when coming south to Malta, and wanted a smooth ride for the trip back north. We all wanted at least one more night at anchor before heading north and thought a return to St. Julian’s Bay might be a good idea. We were expecting some wind, but St. Julian’s bay is open only to the northeast and the wind would be coming from the northwest. Roberta and I felt that we hadn’t given St. Julian’s Bay a fair shake and wanted to spend a night there and eat at one of the great restaurants for dinner. Specifically, we had heard the nearby Hilton Hotel had a high-end Thai restaurant, the Blue Elephant, that we wanted to visit.
Just after dropping the hook we realized that we should have stayed another night at the Grand Harbor Marina. Whereas on our first trip to St. Julian’s we’d had a relatively smooth night, this time, we could see a swell coming into the bay. We had predicted the wind direction correctly, so…there shouldn’t have been “much” of a swell, but…there was, and it was a strong one. Not only would we NOT be going out for Thai food, sleep was looking unlikely as well.
When anchoring conditions are less than perfect I usually head for the pilot house. Roberta never understands why, if all is safe – as it really was. I really have no good explanation. I just feel more comfortable when I’m where I can keep track of our swing circle and see what the wind is. If I’m not going to be sleeping anyway – I reason — why not be where I can at least monitor the situation?
In the middle of the night, as we were being rolled from side to side in a beam swell, I started thinking about my blog and what adjectives I’d use to describe it. Would I say it was a “moderate swell,” a “heavy swell,” or … an “extreme swell.” Ultimately, none of these words mean much of anything. They are too ambiguous. I decided to search the internet for an app that would quantify the amount of roll, and found one: “myGyrosope” for the iPad. I am not endorsing that particular app, it was just the one I found in the middle of the night. I wanted to be able to say something like, “We were rolling 5 degrees in each direction.” These are the things we retired software guys think about at 4 a.m. Was there ever any doubt?
Anyway…I ran the software and produced the graph below. The answer: We were rolling +/- 7 degrees. I’ll be darned. It felt a lot more than that!
Return to Gozo (top)
With the weather not cooperating, all ideas of anchoring anywhere were off the table. We decided to make the short run back to Gozo, to position for the passage north, and just return to the Mgarr marina. It’s funny that a marina we had never planned to go into suddenly dominated our time in Malta, and that we went there on three separate occasions. Oh well…that’s boating for you. Ultimately, all cruising plans are “best written on sand — at low tide.”
Roberta and I wanted to give the dogs a walk and also wanted to get a picture of the Gozo Mgarr Marina from high up. During our walk, we discovered an old walled fort, dating back to the 1700s, which, after hundreds of years of decaying was being redeveloped as high-end condos.
Click this link to see a panoramic image of the view over the islands from the fort:
Although we were forced into port by the weather, we weren’t suffering. This is the four of us having dinner by the sea in Xlendi, a small seaside town on Gozo. Xlendi is a beautiful little place with a waterfront lined with restaurants. It was only about three miles from the marina, but a 20 minute drive by land. I considered using the tender to get to dinner, but as this picture shows, it would have been a bad idea, as the entrance to the bay looks rough because of the wind. Allegedly boats our size can enter the bay to anchor, but I don’t think I’d try it.
Both Seabird and Sans Souci were moored just across from where a large ferry arrives and departs every 45 minutes. Normally, the wake from the ferry is only a mild annoyance, but every once in a while the ferry does a spinning maneuver to move from one dock to the next, employing its giant thrusters. When it does this it passes so close to Seabird that Steven sitting on the back deck felt he could almost touch the ferry. The thrusters put out so much force you feel you are in a fast-moving river.
Roberta and I and the pups took the ferry one day, to visit the main island of Malta, rent a car and drive around. Here’s our view from the ferry as we departed.
Driving around Malta was more of an adventure than expected. The Maltese drive on the left side of the road, like the British. That was a little difficult, but the worst was having the stick shift on the “wrong” side – for us Americans, that is.
While were driving around Malta I took this panoramic image of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the medieval walled city of Mdina. It is built on the site where governor Publius was reported to have met Saint Paul following his shipwreck off the Maltese coast.
And .. a story well worth reading about St. Paul’s shipwreck… http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2010/february/searching-for-pauls-shipwreck-on-malta/
Our strategy of waiting in Malta until we had a nice clean weather window worked flawlessly. We were up at 4:30 a.m. for a departure at daybreak. The ride north was smooth, with us arriving back at Siracusa, Sicily by the afternoon.
Whereas on our first trip to Siracusa we wanted to explore the city and discover the sites and restaurants, this time we were just looking for a place to rest on our travels north. I was also hoping to get a mechanic on board to work on my watermakers, and I was also going to be effectively replacing my satellite internet system (more on these topics in my “boat geek” report).
Never trust a weather report – the journey to Taormina (top)
I’ll finish off this edition of the blog (except for those who want to read the boat-techy report below) with a video showing what happened on our passage north from Siracusa to the cliff-hugging town of Toarmina, which would be our last stop in Sicily. It was supposed to have been a totally calm day. We would have 60 nautical miles of the best cruising we could want, with a nice calm anchorage waiting at the other end.
But, it didn’t work out that way….
Instead, we had a solid six hours of nothing but lumpy, choppy seas with 20 knots of wind in our face. The waves weren’t that high (at the worst eight to ten feet), and it was never dangerous, but because the waves were so close together it was just a miserable ride.
Here’s a video which is perhaps too long, but will give you a small sense of what we encountered. Unfortunately, though, video never really captures how it really feels. The waves in this video appear much smaller than they looked at the time. Our two boats did perfectly fine, but it was definitely a day when I was happy that I own a Nordhavn. Really, the worst of it was wondering, “If it is this rough here, what will our anchorage look like on arrival?” And, “If the weather forecasters blew it this bad on forecasting the weather today, what happens when we are headed out on much longer passages?”
And, actually, it wasn’t the wave height that was an issue. We’ve been out in much bigger seas. It was the distance between wave crests that made it uncomfortable, and of course, the fact that it was so unexpected.
Here’s the video. I hope you enjoy it. And, I hope you’ll look forward to my next blog entry when I’ll explain the surprise that awaited us in Taormina!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If for some reason you don’t see a video above (some email programs filter the video out), try clicking on this link:
Video showing Sans Souci caught in rougher than expected seas. It’s a good one! (albeit perhaps longer than it should be – but, we got to see it for six solid hours. This is just a two minute taste of the action.)
Boat Geek Report (top)
While in Siracusa I was able to find a technician to come on board and look at our watermaker. He had a great idea….
My watermaker has an LED showing the salinity of the water being produced. This LED is effectively an indication of the effectiveness of the membranes. If they are producing water in the 100-300 range, the membranes are virtually new. In the 400-600 range, either something is happening with the temperature or clarity of the water, or more likely the membranes are starting to die.
Once the watermakers start producing water over 700, unless there is something else going on, it’s time for new membranes.
One of my two watermakers (known as WM#2) had died completely. The technician felt the problem was the high pressure pump, but my theory was that the membranes were so clogged they were jamming up the whole system. The second watermaker (aka WM#1) was working, but producing water in the 700 to 800 range, and was randomly spiking to the 1200 range.
Paolo, the technician, felt that we should put the membranes from WM#2 onto WM#1. This would tell us once and for all of the problem was the membranes or the high pressure pump. And, actually, we went a step past that. We did some re-plumbing such that the watermaker (WM#1) could be run on a single membrane. We then ran WM#1 on one membrane at a time, trying each of the four membranes (my watermakers each had two.)
What we discovered was that three of my four membranes were completely dead, with one struggling, producing water in the high 300s and low 400s.
Paolo has ordered four new membranes, which will arrive on Monday. Our current battle is with logistics. It isn’t clear where we and Paolo will be able to hook up, so that he can install the new membranes. And, our other HUGE unknown is, “Why do I need four new membranes?” These were new just two years ago. I’m not sure I’ll ever solve that particular mystery.
For years I’ve been fighting with my KVH internet satellite.
I have a nasty tendency to want to be amongst the first with any cool new technology. That means I often have release 1.0 equipment, and that is certainly true with my VSAT unit. My VSAT unit (from KVH) was one of the first ones made. Over the past seven years my satellite internet has had non-stop problems. It has been awesome when it worked, but it has been prone to random failure. I’ve been on a first name basis with KVH’s Vsat support team and they have gotten to know me much better than any of us would like.
During a call last week I told them that if they could find a way to swap my unit in one day, while in Siracusa, it would make both our lives a lot better. They said they’d give it a try, and worked their system to get me the lowest possible price. I was in Malta when I made that call, but planning to be in Siracusa, Sicily a few days later. We were only scheduled to be in Siracusa for a day or two, but KVH said they could make it happen, and they did.
On our second day in Siracusa, two technicians started out from Messina, a two-hour drive away, and showed up at the boat by 8 a.m. I picked them up from shore in the tender, Steven (from Seabird) carried the new V7 dome on his tender, and the techs worked without stopping, except for lunch, until 10:30 p.m.
They did a great job! Sans Souci’s VSAT is now the latest technology and is locking onto the satellite in minutes. A very special thanks to KVH who worked hard to make this happen, and especially to the two guys who were on my boat (Giovanni and his son.) The project did come at a cost, but I wish I had done it years before.
P.S. If anyone needs electronics work done in Sicily, contact: Giovanni, at Elettromar (Elettromar di Lo Forte Rosalia, Tel./Fax. 0941 874000 (Portorosa) , Mobile +39 3385852034 , Mobile +39 3351045636 , e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org , http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elettromar-Messina/323823081154) VERY highly recommended.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you don’t see a video above, click this link:
This is a short video showing Roberta and I up at 4:30 a.m. to ready the boat for departure. The bad thing about leaving so early is that no one is around to help with lines. Because of the earlier high winds I had nine lines onto the boat. They were tied to rings down at the water line, and had been tied by dock attendants who had created knots that were difficult to untie. I spent 20 minutes laying on my belly cursing at knots.
In the video, you hear Roberta mentioning that we want to “loop the lines” .. this is just us creating a simple loop at the front and the back of the boat to hold the boat in place, while all the other lines are removed, so that I can step back onto the boat at the end of the process and release the boat from shore by simply letting go of the ends of those two lines. It’s a way of leaving the dock with no one on shore to help.
The second part of the video shows Seabird running ahead of us. The last four hours of our ten-hour run were in following seas, with 20 knot winds, and the swell coming from exactly behind us. It doesn’t seem to happen very often that the waves are coming from the stern, but when it does, the auto-pilots don’t like it. The boats tend to zig-zag rather than going in a straight line. Both Seabird and Sans Souci were swinging +/- 5 degrees from our intended course. It bugged us inside the boats, but in actuality we didn’t lose more than a few minutes on our journey, and as you can see in this video, it isn’t obvious when watching from outside. I shot 10 minutes of Seabird zigzagging and trimmed it to this 10 second shot simply because there is nothing to see. Actually, I was convinced we weren’t zig-zagging at all, until I really studied it, and realized that we were – but, not much. No big deal.
And, in closing… (top)
And, that’s it for this issue of KensBlog… Thank you for following along on our big voyage!
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Ken and Roberta Williams
MV Sans Souci
PS – In case you haven’t figured it out, clicking on any of the pictures above will give you a higher-resolution (bigger) version of the picture.