Saturday, 10 March 2012


February 25 – March 6 2012

Crossing Grand Harbor to Valetta with Alfredo
We had been looking forward to the weather warming up in Malta and while Sunday dawned with mainly clear skies and sunshine the temperature remained in the low teens as we headed ashore to enjoy a rest day after the passage from Italy and do some exploring. Crewmate Phil joined us and we hailed a local boatman to transport us across Grand Harbour to a stone wharf just below the Victoria Gate that has guarded the city of Valetta for many centuries. On the way over Alfredo, our boatman, told us of his time in the merchant navy and how he had visited many ports in Australia. He also told us Malta was experiencing a very cold and wet winter which was very unusual. We confirmed later that it was indeed the coldest on record since 1956 and the island had received five times the average winter rainfall. Just our luck.
Malta and Valetta in particular, has a fascinating history stretching back virtually to the dawn of civilisation. It’s also best know for surviving incredible onslaughts including the great siege of 1565 by the Ottoman Empire and of course the Nazi onslaught in WW2 which saw the island as a whole awarded the George Cross for Gallantry.
The name "Valetta" is traditionally reserved for the historic walled citadel that serves as Malta's principal administrative centre but "Greater Valetta" stretches far beyond the historic walls as a far more modern city. Old Valetta contains many buildings from the 1500s onwards, built during the rule of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as Knights Hospitaller who came to the island in 1530. A modern manifestation of the order is the St John's Ambulance Service so well known in many countries including Australia. The city is essentially Baroque in character and though World War II left major scars on the city a remarkable rebuilding job has been done paying close attention to the historic architecture and construction materials so that in many places it's hard to distinguish the original from the rebuilt. The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. Wikepedia provides an interesting overview of Malta and its history at

Down into the depths of the Knights Hospitaller
We were immediately captivated by Valetta’s fortifications and stone buildings. History stares you in the face everywhere. Centuries old cannon were are so common on the island that hundreds were turned into bollards around the harbours and no doubt have held the ropes of many ships in their time. Our first stop was the historical hospital of the  Knights Hospitaller that dates back to the 16th century. The original ward is a magnificent single room 155 metres long hall that is now used as a conference and function centre. Below though, many levels had been excavated into the solid limestone and are now home to an eye opening series of displays going all the way down to the gloomy cells where the insane were housed chained to the walls hundreds of feet below ground. Some of the surgical practices described in the various displays were enough to make your eyes water. Ouch!

Fort St Elmo

We then spent a lot of time simply wandering the city’s narrow streets and lanes reading the numerous plaques on building explaining their history.  Fort St Elmo was also a very interesting place to visit complete with its massive ramparts and defensive features along with the island’s official war museum occupying a portion of its extensive buildings. Way too soon we were back in Alfredo’s little boat making our way back to the marina well aware we had not even scratched the surface of all the amazing sights Malta had to offer.
Moksha alongside in Grand Harbor Marina

 While most of our blog relates our experiences sailing from place to place and exploring new destinations, crewing on a yacht is certainly not all sitting back watching the world go by. We earn our way on these passages with our labour. We spent a month working alongside Moksha's boat manager, Tim, in Monfalcone getting Moksha ready for her second season of cruising and here in Malta there was still plenty to do onboard particularly before her owners, Richard and Jayatma arrived from Sydney to join us. We wanted to make sure everything was just right when they stepped aboard.

Pride of place in front of the casino
After our rest day, on Monday we began at the bowspit and started giving the boat the massive spring clean that had not been possible in Italy due to the number of tradesmen and technicians aboard completing various upgrades etc and the atrocious weather. Now we washed all the superstructure, scrubbed every inch of the teak decks on our hands and knees, cleaned and polished every stainless steel rail and fitting, cleaned the sprayhood and bimini, washed and chameed the hull  turning a clean and tidy boat into a gleaming yacht we were all very proud to be sailing on. Hard work but incredibly satisfying when you see the admiring looks of the groups of people who continually stop and stare as the make their way sightseeing down the quay. Then it was time to do a similar job down below.
In Malta another crewmember, Wolfgang, also joined the boat. A German anaesthetist, he has been working in Australia for the past few years and had just finished a contract working at Mackay Base Hospital and was looking to do some sailing before taking on his next contract placement.
Inside the Inquisitor's Palace

Our week wasn’t all work and no play though as we also found time to explore the Vittorosio area near the marina including the Inquisitor’s Palace that dated back to 1574. It was a one stop shop with the Chief Inquisitor living in luxury in the upper floors surrounded by amazing artworks while below lay the courtroom, cells and torture chamber with the executioner living close and handy just around the corner. Once again, just wandering through the area's 500 year old streets, and fortress was fantastic. We also discovered a great little bar/restaurant popular with boat crews and quickly adopted “Blue Doors” as our Malta local.
We joined Phil and Tim on a tour of the The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum which is the world's only known subterranean structure from the Bronze Age. It was discovered by accident during housing construction works in 1902. The three underground levels date from 3600 B.C. It was used both as a sanctuary and a cemetery. The bones of 7000 people have been found here. It’s underground chambers feature incredible carvings of stone columns etc all fashioned long before the use of metal tools. It’s very hard to imagine how they did such fine work with a stone chisel by firelight over 5000 years ago. The monument is considered one of the essential prehistoric monuments in the world. Entrance is limited to 80 persons a day and we were very lucky to get some of the 20 tickets they release the day before as the other 60 are normally sold out up to two months in advance.
We also returned to Valetta to visit St John’s Cathedral. Overwhelming is the best way to describe the opulent interior and artworks of this amazing place. We spent three hours inside and still couldn’t take it all in. After seeing a number of the island’s palaces built by the Knights of ST John, any last ideas I’d had of them doing it tough enduring all sorts of hardships fighting off the infidels were well and truly dispelled by the sheer opulence on display here. (Click the link on the right and have a look at our Malta album on Photobucket to see more pics of this incredible Cathedral and many other great sights from the island).
While we were surrounded by many large and beautiful motor and sail boats in the Grand Harbour Marina we couldn’t help but be extra impressed when a huge grey and white monster eased into tie up stern to a short distance from us. Aviva is owned by Joe Lewis, a British Billionaire tax exile that amongst other things owns Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club. Aviva acts as Lewis's personal mobile office and he has been known to live on board for months at a time. The yacht houses Lewis's personal art collection valued at around $200 million. Karen would of killed for an invite on board but none was forthcoming unfortunately.
With Richard and Jayatma flying in on the Friday, Tim suggested we crew all head off for a full day’s sightseeing so they could settle in and relax without a boatload of people around. While Wolfgang headed over to Valetta we hired a car with Phil and took off for the old walled city of Mdina in the island’s interior. While Malta is quite small, it is also densely populated so getting around the mostly narrow roads takes a little time. Mdina is perched atop a hill with steep cliffs on two sides and it’s not hard to see why the site was chosen.
The walled city of Mdina is absolutely spectacular and we even liked the weather for a change

A wide, deep, defensive ditch guards the other sides making the fortress virtually impenetrable. Indeed, long before the Knights of St John came to Malta, Mdina had seen off a number of sieges by different invading forces. Only a limited number of residents cars are permitted within the city walls making the whole place a pedestrian’s paradise. We were able to enjoy an excellent, self guided walking tour with audio handsets explaining the history of the various buildings dating back to the 1200s. The city is actually built over the foundations of a Roman fortified settlement from times BC. The views over Malta from the fortress walls were fantastic.

We then hit the road exploring the south coast and meandering off the beaten track. Picking secondary roads off the map proved interesting to say the least as many proved to be no more than narrow tracks lined by stone fences so close that Rob was ready to fold in the wing mirrors on our little Renault hatch to fit through. The spectacular sea cliffs and range of small but interesting towns and villages made it well worth it though. It seemed we never drove more than a few hundred metres at a time before we were stopping again to look at some new scene and get the camera out.
We finally stopped for a late lunch in the very picturesque fishing port of Marsaxlokk. The whole waterfront is lined with open air restaurants offering a great range of fresh seafood. The bay is absolutely full of brightly painted traditional fishing boats laying at anchor providing yet another postcard setting. We both settled on the seafood plate to taste a cross selection of the local fare and were a little taken aback when two huge platters were delivered to our table. Absolutely delicious but our late lunch also became dinner because there was no way we could eat another thing.
It was great to get back to the boat late that afternoon and finally meet Richard and Jayatma. We had a long Skype call back in December when we were initially talking with them about joining  the Moksha crew but this was the first time we’d been face to face for real. Being fellow Aussies we found it a very easygoing introduction and t hey soon made us feel very much at ease. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss their plans for the summer and get a better idea of when and where we’d be heading.
We made use of the car the next morning to visit one of the other big marinas on the other side of Valetta and take a walk amongst all the yachts discussing what features we liked and didn’t like. All very pleasant in the finally warmer sunshine and very valuable research as we consider just what sort of yacht we may want to get when we finally take the plunge and get our own boat.
That afternoon members of the Malta Drag Racing Association hosted us at the opening event of their season. They have a very good, quarter mile facility in an industrial area just near the international airport and although the event was a relatively low level run what you brung test day, the pits were full off race cars and bikes.

Rob gets a memento from MDRA's Jason Camelleri
 In stark contrast to Australia we didn’t see one V8 but  rather lots and lots of very quick turbo four and six cylinder cars. There were the most Ford Escorts we’ve ever seen in one place that’s for sure. Malta also has classes for diesel cars and it was very different watching small four cylinder turbo diesel hatchbacks clocking 11 second quarter miles at over 125 mph. Motorcycles are also extremely popular with numerous high eight – low nine second bikes. We had a very enjoyable afternoon thanks to the hospitality of the raceway committee members.
Sunday morning was spent on a number of tasks around the boat followed by another afternoon of exploring the neighbourhood and a relaxing bottle of local red in Blue Doors. Monday was our last day in port so the day was spent gathering final provisions to feed the now seven mouths on board and preparing the boat for sea. Nothing is left to chance on Moksha and every smallest detail is made ready and checked long before the ropes are cast off.
Next stop Tunisia and our first taste of North Africa.
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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.

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