Sailing From Sicily to Malta

Thursday morning was mass exodus day from Marina di Ragusa – the first calm weather day since Saturday. We were in the first batch of departees at 6am when the marineros came on duty and could help us and others without a bow thruster to turn in the narrow gaps between the pontoons.

Bye bye Marina di Ragusa, it was a great two winters
Bye bye Marina di Ragusa, it was a great two winters

We had to wait a few minutes for our turn but then we were off, being waved farewell and out into a flat but rolling sea. Ahead of us were 6 boats heading off at different angles for various harbours in Malta with another group eastwards bound.

A Flat Calm Sea

We motored with main sail up to help ease the roll under a blue sky with warming sun and a light offshore wind – we were almost doing 6kts. Unfortunately the wind soon melted away but it did mean the sea roll eased allowing my breakfast of yesterday’s left over ‘last pizza in Sicily’ to stay put in my tum.

If you stick your eye really close to the screen, you might just be able to make out the by-the-wind sailors. And aren't the blues of the sea beautiful?
If you squint at the screen, you might just be able to make out the triangular shapes of the by-the-wind sailors. And aren’t the blues of the sea beautiful?

With the calm sea we could easily spot turtles looking like lumps of wood floating by and hundreds of small, strange looking sail-like objects. It turns out they are a type of jellyfish called Valella valella – also known as ‘by-the-wind sailors’ (click here to read more about them and see what they really look like). Underwater is a flat blue coloured plate and on top is a rigid sail like structure; they have no direction control so spend their life eating plankton being blown wherever the wind blows them. They look quite beautiful as they glide by.

It didn’t seem like long before Gozo could be seen in the distance and then Malta.

Time to change the courtesy flag
Time to change the courtesy flag

Arrival at Valletta

By about 4pm we were off Valletta when the wind began to increase from the south. Nearly a knot of speed was knocked off our progress and it was time to remind ourselves that Emerald does not beat to windward – especially when there are perfectly good anchorages just a couple of miles to starboard. So we gave up on our planned destination of Marsaxlokk and made a right turn for Grand Harbour.

As we got close to the entrance there were no ships around so it seemed like a good time to get the main down. Turning into the wind we were surprised by an almightly honking from down in the harbour and the nose of a Norwegian cruise ship came into view. We got the sail down quick like and ran away from it’s path. Discretion being the better part of valour of course.

Approaching Valletta. Best to let the big ship get out of the way first
Approaching Valletta. Best to let the big ship get out of the way first

Turn Left to Rinella Creek

Once it was clear we headed for the breakwaters; at which point a commercial ship appeared. We had to wait for that to pass and some pleasure yachts before we could cross the channel to Rinella Creek. We must have arrived at rush hour.

One other boat was in the creek and we still had plenty of space. The anchor set, Emerald tidied away and put to bed we could sit back and enjoy the sun setting behind the Valletta skyline and watch the ships going in and out. As darkness fell the walled city was lit up.

Valletta skyline at sunset
Valletta skyline at sunset

Time to Explore

Friday was exploring day. The creek has easy access to get ashore. Within 20 minutes of walking we were amongst the super yachts of Grand Harbour marina. We wandered up and down the narrow streets of the old Three Cities area, admiring the pretty houses with their brightly painted overhanging window boxes. We walked out to the viewpoint at Gardjola Gardens at the tip of Senglea. From there we could see right around the harbour, the sandstone walls and forts glowing in the sunshine.

Grand Harbour Marina - not for the likes of us
Grand Harbour Marina – not for the likes of us
The sentry box at Gondgaja Gardens. The eye, ear and crane symbolise vigilance
The sentry box at Gardjola Gardens. The eye, ear and crane symbolise vigilance

We spotted British postboxes and reminded ourselves that the Maltese drive on the same side of the road as the UK when crossing. And the cars stop for people at a zebra crossing. It’s always a little nerve wracking testing that out in a new country.

Another thing we noticed is that the Maltese like their flags and they like them BIG!

BIG flags in Malta
BIG flags in Malta

Oh No! There’s Water Coming In!

We were woken at 6am the next morning by the automatic bilge pump running. Colin emptied it completely and we went back to bed to see if was just the collected run off from filling the tanks and washing the boat. On looking in the bilge a few hours later, more water had gathered – we had a leak.

After all the obvious possibilities were eliminated we were left with the stern tube and rudder stock as the suspects. The stern tube is easy to check as it under the aft cabin floor with a lift up hatch to get access. Other than a bit of salt and dirt buildup all was dry. The rudder stock isn’t so easy to access as it is under the bed. The bed has many layers of wooden slats and several mattresses. It was a rainy and windy day out anyway so might as well get on with removing them all.

Emerald's rudder stock and steering quadrant
Emerald’s rudder stock and steering quadrant

And yes, there was a bubbling of water up around the stock. Colin added some grease and I turned the helm. The hope was that some of the grease would work its way down and close up any miniscule gaps. No luck, water was still seeping out. Next was to tighten down the stock a bit. Not so easy a job using the huge pipe wrench given the limted access. All done, the helm was turned back and forth to test out the fix. We waited….. No more water. A bit more grease and wait a while longer. Still dry. Phew!

Sailing Details

Marina to Ragusa, Sicily to Rinella Creek, Malta: 56nm travelled (all motor-sailed)
Position: 35 53.68’N 14 31.57’E
Weather: Very light winds, going southerly in afternoon F4-F5. Dry, sunny