New season, new gear

We haven’t managed to get back to the boat since we ‘winterised’ her at the end of September. Life in the UK has got in the way but she has been admirably looked after by Peter, our caretaker. We have given him a list of jobs we needed doing over the winter and look forward to going out in a couple of weeks to catch up. In the meantime, it became apparent in September that our tender had an irreparable leak. It was probably our fault leaving her in direct sunlight during the hottest time of the day in Favignana in June but I suspect also due to the fact that we have been using her in the Med for the last 5 years. So, we bit the bullet and ordered a new one that is half the weight and, hopefully, with better glue!

The new tender, 3D Twin Air for those who need details, was duly ordered in the UK and delivered to Peter in Malta a few days later. He transported it on his scooter from his offices in Ta’xBiex to the boat. I know it’s light and packs down small but I’m not convinced it was that sensible an idea!

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What an amazing week!

I can’t believe that it’s been a week since our last blog, kindly supplied by Yvonne on her last day in Malta. We spent the Saturday evening in Valletta with Yvonne and Caron seeing some of the sights before going to one of our favourite restaurants in. Rampilla is set in the ramparts of the old city gates. We had yet another fabulous meal there and it was a lovely way to say goodbye to our friends.

Overlooking Grand Harbour

Rampilla set in the city gates

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz and I then had a decision to make regarding our second week. Did we go to Lampedusa, famous for the best beaches in the Med but close to  Syria, go to Sicily, stay around Malta and maybe visit the northern part of Gozo or stay in the marina and do something completely different? We opted to stay in the marina as the weather forecast was for very light winds so we would be mainly motoring and the swell dictated that we would have to go back to the bays we had already visited.

We decided on taking our PADI Open Water Diving Course and certification as Malta is famous for its diving. The course takes three to four days and we would then be able to dive off Nimmie in the future using the Mini B compact diving equipment we bought 18 months ago as well as go on proper dives. We had both completed a one day  basic scuba diving course in Ibiza last summer so we were keen to continue our training. Liz had done her PADI training in Australia but that was 30 years ago so she felt that a refresher may be due! We found a local diving school who had space the following day (Monday) and would even pick us up from the boat. The Diveshack diving school was a wonderful mix of professional, caring and fun. All the staff were very welcoming and really understood customer service. Our instructor, Leo, was amazing. So patient and yet always fun. It didn’t feel like we were learning but rather that we were ‘experiencing’ diving. After the first day we were exhausted with a mix of classroom and practical lessons. The shop is on the seafront in Sliema so we literally stepped outside onto the rocky beach and headed for the water. This meant no long boat rides and also we gradually got used to the deeper depths. This was important to me as I was worried that my ears wouldn’t equalise properly as we got deeper. I hadn’t appreciated that the pressure you get between 3-8m is double the surface water pressure but that it gets easier as you go deeper. We did a mixture of confined and open water diving with homework every night and then a test each morning. The week whizzed by and we were in bed by 10pm every night but slept so well! On the Wednesday afternoon for our final open water dive we were driven to Valletta so that we could dive down to the wreck of HMS Maori, a WWII ship that had been sunk in Valletta Harbour in 1942 but then moved to Marsaxsett Harbour after the war. Although the wreck is at 8-10m, we dived down to just under 18m which is the maximum depth allowed for this certification. It felt wonderful to be floating in the water at such depths.

Our final exam was set for the following morning and then, if we passed, we had booked to go on a tuna dive in the afternoon. We both passed and then the school quickly processed our accreditation so we could go on the dive. Just outside St. Paul’s Bay on the NW coast of Malta is a tuna farm. They catch the blue fin tuna in June and then feed them until October when they sell them to the Japanese for sushi. The pen we were going to dive in was 50m deep and held 2,000 tuna. We took a traditional Maltese boat out to the farm and then dived down to 5m to go through a hole in the net. We were then surrounded by tuna much bigger than us and most of them swimming clockwise, apart from one or two, creating a vortex that dragged you down without realising it. We had been dragged down to over 22m in seconds. Extraordinary. It was the most amazing feeling to be part of and an experience that will stay with both of us for a long time.

Ready for our tuna diving

Friday was a rest day, although we ended up doing various chores on the boat. Liz had booked a fishing trip for Saturday morning so had to be up and ready for 6am! She had a fabulous time catching local fish and even brought some back for supper.

Liz caught a baby tuna

Supper!

Proof that there really is fish in the Med!

The rest of Saturday consisted of washing, clothes and boat, and getting Nimmie ready for winter. A brilliant two weeks and I can’t wait to be back to do my Advanced Diving Course in the spring!

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Nimrod Olympics – Guest Blog by Yvonne Barker

So after a quick catch up with Jo and Liz we set off from the Msida Creek marina towards Fungus Rock n Gozo. There was not enough wind to sail so we motor sailed, but it was a nice trip along the coast with Jo and Liz providing sightseeing commentary along the way for Malta and Gozo. There were just a couple of other boats in the bay on arrival and a little bit of a swell, but it’s a scenic and quiet location so we decided to stop the night. Despite the rain, thunder and lightening arriving soon after we had a lovely meal and evening onboard watching the sun go down and eventually, when the cloud partially cleared, seeing the stars. Jo saw her first shooting star and made a wish, we’re not sure what it was for though!  

Fungus Rock

As the worst of the weather arrived during the night the swell in the bay gradually picked up and by the early hours of the morning we were well and truly rocking and rolling. I think a fast spin in a washing machine would be similar to our night, and only the distance from the next available safe harbour plus Liz deciding that the anchor might be caught on a rock (it wasn’t) stopped a middle of the night departure! Cue 4 somewhat grumpy and tired women in the morning and a reasonably early departure with only a passing glance at the Azzure window we had come to see. Jo didn’t say a word but her prediction that the sea state might cause an uncomfortable night in the bay had proved correct! Damn!

The other side


A lovely downwind sail in the sunshine however improved everyone’s mood and after a few hours we arrived at Il-Hofraz-Z-Zghira. We anchored in the centre with a 360 degree view around us and chilled out. Jo found some energy and donned her scuba gear to clean under the boat, whilst the rest of us relaxed and had a swim. Out came the barbecue as the perfect end to the day. 

A couple of swingers

New model army


Waking up to a beautiful blue sky we had a lovely chilled out morning – leisurely breakfast, sunbathing and relaxing on Nimrod in the bay. The afternoon involved slightly more activity with a trip out on the tender to see the hole in the rock and the bay on the other side. Liz thought she would slide down the rock in her crocs, sitting down only to stop her descent into the sea! We then went over to see St Peters pool but despite a couple of hopeful attempts our landing options were either a surf in on a tidal wave or to skate over the rocks so we decided to opt for safety and gave stopping a miss.

Synchro Squad

An afternoon swim beckoned instead and the Nimrod Olympics commenced with lilo turns, fender rodeo, scuba brushing, tender flipping and synchro swimming – pure magic! Liz also donned the alien scuba mask to do the other half of the hull scrub. Dinner in the evening was enhanced by the local entertainment including a dog on a paddle board, capturing the Maltese boat going through the hole (which required perfect photographic timing) and super yacht arrival complete with blue lights. A lovely day all round!

Alien on the stern!

 

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Fort Rinella

Sunday was taken up with more chores so that the boat was ready for our guests, Caron and Yvonne, who were arriving over the next few days. Sunday evening was spent in the company of fellow Cruising Association members for an impromptu get together on Dave and Lyndsey’s Southerly, Rosa Di Venti. 

Monday morning and Caron arrived so after a brief catchup we decided to visit Fort Rinella near Kalkara on the other side of Grand Harbour. It’s a Victorian fort with a 100 ton gun. The gun has a range of 8 miles but was never fired in anger as, soon after it was built with all its amazing engineering, it became obsolete. It was a front loader rather than a breach loader so it had to be turned 90 degrees each time to be loaded. Not necessary, of course, when the gun can be loaded from the back. The foundation that runs the fort provided demonstrations on musket fire, cavalry and cannons. The staff were both informative and amusing. A great afternoon out. 

Liz learns to shoot!

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Back where we belong

The 1935 Ryanair flight yesterday, Fri Sept 2nd, was delayed for best part of an hour so it was nearly 0100 before we even got to the taxi rank at Malta airport. For the first time ever, we had to queue for a taxi after paying €20 at the kiosk. It’s a prepaid, set fare system irrespective of time or day so you always know what you are paying. Previously, there has been a small queue to pay but usually there are loads of taxis waiting. Not sure if the Malta vs Scotland  Football World Cup qualifier had anything to do with it as someone said that they were expecting 10,000 supporters. Anyway, it was after 0200 when we finally went to bed, both pretty tired after a 0600 start to the day at home to ensure we had done our work before catching our flight. 

Nimrod has been moved to the breakwater as it’s high season and the owners’ of the various berths we ‘borrow’ the rest of the year are, unsurprisingly, wanting to moor their boat in their own spots!  Peter had done a grand job looking after Nimrod over the year including repainting the top sides. 

Before and after!


It always takes much more time than you think it will to get a boat ready when you’ve left it for a couple of months what with putting everything back out on deck, blowing up the dinghy (which appears to not want to stay inflated) and getting a food shop to name a few. The trip to the supermarket took us a while as we had run our stocks down last time deliberately. We thought we had spent around €100 and that would mean that we were entitled to 12 litres of free mineral water. In the end, we had spent over €200 and so we were given 24 litres instead so we treated ourselves to a cab back to the boat! 

Being in Malta never fails to impress us with its fantastic views and laid back style. Just by the marina there is a public bathing spot in the harbour. The rocks were packed today with locals but I’m not sure I’d want to swim in harbour water knowing the kind of stuff that’s regularly discharged into it. 

Public bathing in Ta’Xbiex

We decided that tonight we would eat on board as we wouldn’t be tied to a time, which was just as well as we didn’t have lunch until 5pm and then Liz decided she wanted to reglue the headlining in the main saloon. It was probably a wise decision as the temperature had been in the mid 30s all day and was dropping to a cool 24 degrees C for the evening/night. Perfect for sitting in the cockpit and watching the world go by as the sun sets. 

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Wonderful two weeks but oh so short!

Whilst it is fantastic having the boat in Malta, it does mean that we spend two days at the beginning and another two at the end either getting the boat ready and then closing her down so she is safe for the next two months. As you will know by now, everything on a boat takes twice as long as you think and ends up never being a simple job! 

We arrived back in Malta yesterday morning having had an uneventful, overnight trip from San Leone in southern Sicily to Msida Creek. The highlight was hearing an American announce that as part of the international task force, they were 8nm off the port bow of another boat.  Not sure what was going on but you did feel that you wouldn’t want to mess with them! We had managed to get the AIS working a couple of days ago so it made the crossing so much easier as we could identify other boats from up to 10 miles away.  

So, some statistics from our two weeks away. We sailed 476nm in 89 hours. Our longest passage was 26 hours from Malta to Pantelleria.  The shortest was 3.5 hours from Msida Creek to Hofra Zghira on the Southeastern corner of Malta. We completed 3 night passages and did our usual 4 hour watch system that works for us. We also spent three nights in a marina and the rest were either anchored, mooring buoys or on passage – all free, apart from the marinas!

Our favourite place was the island of Favignana that was a mixture of unspoilt beaches, a slow pace of life as most people cycled and generally a very friendly island. 

Tonight, we are going to treat ourselves and go out for a meal at our favourite local restaurant, Mamma Mia – a mere 5 min walk away and then back to the UK tomorrow morning. Looking forward to being back here in September for another two weeks. 

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Agrigento 

Having sorted ourselves out, had a late breakfast, washed the boat and had a nap, we set off to the Valley of Temples near Agrigento. We found the bus stop near the edge of town and a bus arrived within a few minutes, which was lucky as they only run hourly! Apparently, we needed to buy a ticket before boarding so the driver stopped at the nearby campsite so we could purchase them at €1 each way. Back on board the bus, we saw the amazing Temple of Concordia up on the hillside. We actually got dropped off by the exit to the site and wandered in looking for a ticket booth. We never did find one so spent the next two and a half hours wandering around this fascinating site for free!

Temple of Concordia

Back in San Leone, we decided to splash out on a meal out as this would probably be our last time in Sicily and had a superb meal at one of the many fish restaurants along the front by the marina. 

Fresh fish!

On Thursday we set sail back to Malta. It should take us about 19 hours so we will leave around lunchtime to arrive on Friday morning. 

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Caio northern Sicily

We have arrived in a very pleasant harbour at San Leone so that we can catch a bus to see the temples at Agrigento, having spent the last few days in Northern Sicily. On Saturday, we took our fold up bikes to shore and cycled round most of Favignana to see the main  town and visit the tuna museum. Tuna fishing was big business here until fairly recently. A tuna factory was set up in the 19th century to cover the whole process from catching the fish to putting the meat in tins. The boats they used were huge and were rowed into place with large nets dropped to the sea bed and held by anchors. The tuna were then speared and dragged into the boats. It looked like back breaking work. Once back on shore, the fish was gutted, cleaned, cooked and then tinned all on site.

Anchors used in tuna fishing

Tuna boats

We set off on Sunday morning north, towards San Vito lo Capo at the top of Sicily as it was supposed to be quite quaint. We were going to stop over at Levanzo, one of the sister islands to Favignana but we didn’t like the look of it when we got there so we just kept going.

About 2 hours in, the Italian customs decided to pay us a visit. They didn’t recognise our blue ensign and had no idea where Plymouth (Nimrod’s home port) was. Eventually we cleared things up without them having to board us but that didn’t stop Liz taking a photo!

Italian Customs

We arrived at San Vito around 4pm and managed to secure one of the few remaining visitors’ berths. It is a sweet little tourist town with a lovely beach and all the amenities you could wish for so we bought provisions and a new refill for the gas bottle. It felt a bit like Gibraltar with the imposing cape in the background but with a lot more style! We decided to eat out and went to one of the recommendations from the marina manager. No doubt a friend of his but the food was delicious and it was away from the main tourist drag.

The marina at San Vito with lo Capo in the background

On Monday morning, the plan was to leave after breakfast and go down to a small village called Scopello, which is supposed to be a bit like Deia on Mallorca. We also needed fuel but the fuel berth was occupied the evening before so thought we would get it in the morning when all of the pleasure day boats had left. Just as we were leaving our berth a squall came through from the east and the wind went from 4 to 25 knots in about three minutes. This was not forecast at all! We thought we might be storm bound for another day, which at €50 a night could have been a tad expensive! As it happened, about an hour later, all became calm again so we refuelled and set off to Scopello via the Zingaro National Park. Scopello didn’t disappoint although it was blowing a hooley all the way there. I think from the katabatic effect of the wind funnelling down the mountains.

Scopello

We had high winds coming back up the coast towards San Vito so had a great sail but then the wind direction changed at the Cape and it was once again on the nose so we motored back to Favignana and picked up another (free) mooring buoy. The forecast was for gale force winds along the south of Sicily so we thought we would wait for the worse to be over in our sheltered bay then catch the last of it to sail down towards Agrigento on the south coast of Sicily. As we had nothing planned for the Tuesday apart from an early evening departure, we decided to treat ourselves to lunch in a converted quarry that was now an hotel. Lovely food and an interesting setting.

We left our mooring at 9pm as it would take between 12 and 14 hours and we wanted to arrive in the morning so we could spend the day in Agrigento. Again, the forecast was wrong as there was virtually no wind and what little there was came from behind so you need that bit more to push you along. We motored the whole way so just as well we had filled up in San Vito!

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Favignana 

We left Pantelleria at 0630 on Thursday, June 23rd bound for the Egadi Islands off the west coast of Sicily. It should have taken us around 14 hours max but after a superb start sailing at 6 knots, the wind came round to be on the nose and also increased in speed. We made great progress when we were going in the wrong direction! We persevered and ended up motor sailing to try and be vaguely on course. It was slow going as the swell had increased as well. Our AIS is still not working so we were kept very busy crossing the shipping lanes in the Straits of Sicily. Eventually, we sighted the island of Favignana, our destination. Coming in was tricky because the light was going and there were a lot of fishing pots with virtually no markings at all. The last thing we needed was a rope wrapped around the propeller.  We picked up a mooring buoy as it’s a national park and you’re not allowed to anchor after 6pm. It looked lovely but hard to tell as it was virtually dusk when we arrived. We were shattered so a quick meal of pasta and we went to bed. There was only one other boat in the bay. 

This morning we awoke to the result of the EU referendum and also this view. Amazing turquoise water amidst the volcanic rock. 

Cala Azzura


The place gets very busy during the day with people on the beach and day tripper boats but all quite pleasant. After a swim and breakfast, we decided to try and identify where a water leak was originating from. We think it is the reservoir box between the two tanks but we will confirm when we next fill up. 

Not sure where the day went but we didn’t get off the boat until 5pm and rowed towards the shore to do some exploring. We walked round the south eastern part of the island to check out the beaches including Bue Marino and Cala Rossa. We decided that none of them were as nice as the one we were in! There are a lot of mooring buoys scattered around the island but so far the one we are in is giving the best protection from the swell and wind. The island itself is volcanic and had a lot of quarrying in days gone by. Very weird gulleys and chasms that people now use to sunbath on. 

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Pantelleria

We left our secluded bay in Malta on Tuesday morning and began our journey towards Sicily. We decided to stop off at Pantelleria, which is nearer Tunisia than Sicily as we had read about how exclusive a resort island it was with Armani and Madonna having homes there.  As we had waited for the swell to die down (as it would have meant going headlong into it and therefore at much reduced speed or much increased fuel consumption), alas there was very little wind so we motored the entire 25 hours. 

We made good time and met very little traffic although our AIS stopped working (again) so we had to check whether we were on a collision course the old fashioned way. We split the night shift so each of us got about 4 hours sleep. I was the lucky one to catch the sun rising. We had hoped to anchor next to Elephant Rock in Pantelleria but there was very little shelter so we ended up in the main marina. Luckily, there was space but no toilets or showers although €30 a night is pretty cheap anywhere in Italy in June!

Elephant Rock


Sunrise on the way to Pantelleria

Once we were safely moored up, one of the lads who had helped us also knew of a local car hire firm who was cheap. He rang them and an elderly gentleman turned up to take our details. He didn’t speak a word of English, had never seen an UK driving licence and was completely flummoxed. After an hour at his ‘office’, he drove me back to the harbour so that he could get someone else to fill out his contract form properly. He and I then went round the town trying to find a photocopier but failed as everything was now shut for lunch. Eventually, he gave up and just gave me the keys to the car. I use that term loosely as it as a beat up old Panda that could not have passed any sort of MOT in the last 5 years. The odometer was stuck at 155,744 km, the brakes didn’t work particularly well, the only door you could lock with a key was the driver’s side and the boot didn’t open at all! However, it did allow us to drive round the island for the afternoon. It is amazingly fertile with many vineyards. As the island is pretty much all volcanic rock, there are a number of hot springs and even a lagoon in the middle. 

Blue lagoon – Pantelleria style

Sea baths – Italian style


Black volcnic rock abounds

We managed to find the local sea baths but they didn’t smell great and the eternal want that warm!

Liz thinking about getting more than her feet wet!

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