Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ferry across the strait to Courtenay

Sorry, no pictures, I'm on a public computer. How lovely to be in Courtenay, the drive up was gorgeous, a balmy Indian summer in British Columbia. Green, crisp, sunny and clean.
I picked up my son, Johnny at the new Richmond skytrian station - strategically place beside the River Rock gambling casino - do you think they helped pay for it, and we got on the 10.15am ferry to Nanaimo. The ferry ride over was such a treat. Even though it was blowing about 25-30 I couldn't care less - it wasn't my responsibility and the great big ferry didn't seem to mind a bit. Would have gone to Victoria to pick up youngest daughter Josie and brought her up to Courtenay but she had school commitments. We came to Courtenay to see my other daughter Mary, who has moved here with her partner, Elias. They've found themselves a restaurant music venue called Joe's Garage to help manage, Elias is a very good Chef and Mary works the front. Its actually a great place right down by the clearest river I've ever seen. There were actually people snorkelling in it yesterday and seals swimming underwater picking up the salmon which are currently running Courtenay reminds me of places like Nelson, Carmel and Friday Harbour, much more sophisticated than I expected. So Yesterday was a lovely day, spending lots of time with my son, having a gorgeous long drive which I haven't done for almost a year. 100kms is very fast compared to 5 knots. And meeting my daughter's partner for the first time. We can see why she loves him and are very happy for them both. Mary is pregnant for the first time, and is expecting a baby in the Spring.
I popped into Parksville to check on my house - it looked lovely, is obviously being well looked after by the tenants, with hanging baskets by the front door, and generally looking well kept. I felt a little bit envious actually, that they are enjoying the house I haven't even lived in yet - well maybe one day- who knows when.
When Johnny gets up we'll go and help Mary and Elias move into their new home, visit for a bit and then get back on the road.

We have spent a bit of time visiting with friends in White Rock. Its so good to see all of our friends again, and of course Tony's family. We've had various offers to go sailing next week, if the weather's good we may do that. Go for a sail in familiar waters with familiar people, and get some crab. We've missed our dungeness crab, which are pretty abundant in our local waters.

Being COLD is such a strange new experience. Yes I do remember it, but as I sit here writing this my hands are seizing up, my toes are frozen and I can't wait to get warm. Life is just a long string of dicotomies isn't it. I've been sweating for almost a year - never being able to dry out - particularly since Mexico, and actually ever since then, but mostly Malta. So I should just freeze up enough after another week here and a week in England to welcome the warmth in Malta. But they do have winter too - I wonder what its like.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Moondancer's on the hard and we are in Canada

Does this feel strange - or what?
The last month has definitely been a departure from the routine we have been living to for the last year. Once we had arrived in Malta our time there was split between putting a great deal of effort into finding moorage for the winter and seeing as much as possible of my brothers and wives.
The moorage situation was a bit of an eye-opener and something we hadn't really anticipated. We had heard from other yachties on the way that its difficult to find moorage and we should probably book into somewhere before arriving. Had we done that we would not have arrived in Malta at all as we would have been told the situation. We've learned that its usually best just to show up somewhere and they'll try to fit you in. But the main marina in Malta is government run, is in the throes of privatization, some of the employees are a bit ticked off with their lot, and it took more than merely asking for a splot to get one. We do think that our time on the wall at Sliema - which was bloody awful, and the time Moondancer is now spending on the hard is getting us the sympathy vote. We figure that when we get back in a few weeks,and then finish the work on the bottomsides of the boat in the next couple of weeks, we should be able to find room in Msida marina.
Anyone wondering why we don't just anchor somewhere, Malta is a bit different from some of the places we've been in that there are really no totally protected anchorages and the winds which can get pretty nasty change direction alot. The winters in Malta can be very bad, many Maltese take their boats out of the water for their protection which is a bit telling.
So that's why we're in Canada. We really wanted to see family and friends soon and now looks alot better than during the winter season.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So the family are almost all gone to their respective homes, Michael and Anne back to Dartford, Lucy and Ross back to Dartford, Ronnie and Sherida back to France, Peter and Sue will go back to Dartford on Monday. And today we left the wall. We'll haul the boat out tomorrow morning with a view to doing some regular maintainance and bottom paint.

We've had a lovely time with my brothers, sisters in law and neice and nephew.

Tony has been thoroughly welcomed into the fold and we really feel that the 13000 mile effort was worth it.
We haven't done much sight seeing yet, but we certainly do love Valletta and the fantastic churches. They are not only in Valletta, they are everywhere. This is a Catholic country and the people put a great deal of their money and their souls into their Churches. A non-Catholic could easily see this as unfair as the churches seem so wealthy and some of the people seem poor. But its not a tax, people give what they can, and its pretty obvious that many of them give alot. The churches are spectacular. Particularly the parish church in Balzan which is my family's village.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What comes next?????????????????????

Aunt Mary and Sisters in Law, Sue, Anne and Sherida
We've been in Malta almost 2 weeks now and we are still toughing it out 'on the wall' at Sliema. This is actually a mooring and we do have access to water and electricity but it is very exposed to north easterly winds, and as usual it is not the wind really that is the problem, but the seas created by the wind. The surge through the harbour entrance builds up big swells that hit the boat sideways on which is very uncomfortable when the winds are up to 15 - 20 knots, which we have had for a couple of days. The latest forecast for the next few days shows a change in wind direction and though its still a bit bumpy it is certainly tolerable. The night before last we actually left Moondancer tied up safely off the wall about half a boat length and slept on shore at my brother Peter's house. That night there was quite a storm, but we were completely oblivious to anything as it was the first night we enjoyed undisturbed sleep in quite awhile.

We have spent quite alot of time with family and as they are going to be here for another week or so, we will make them the focus of our time here. We have also met up with Carmen, an old friend from my childhood and tomorrow will meet up with Connie, another friend from my village, Balzan.
We have also been actively networking in and around Msida marina and Manoel island marina. We have met people who have given us names of other people who may be able to help with moorage situation. It is quite grim right now, and really quite unexpected.

To explain - There are 2 marinas in the Valletta area with moorage available at about $100 per night plus water and electricity and internet. We spent 2 nights there because we really needed to be in a marina for a rest, but we cannot afford to be there. There are 3 other marinas which are run by the Malta Maritime Authority and their rates are much more in keeping with our budget. They, however are being privatised at the end of the year (something to do with Malta's entry into the EU - they say) and cannot enter into any winter moorage agreements until then. The winter period runs from October to April and the moorage rates are considerably less if paid in advance. Alas even if all of these things were not happening there is still no room. There are too many boats wanting these spaces, and not enough marina spaces.
Why not anchor, because the seas and the weather here is very volatile, and one would have to keep moving from one side of the island to the other to be safe. And many of the anchorages are rock bottom, so if you had to move in a hurry, and the conditions do change in a hurry, you may have to leave your ground tackle behind.
So - what are we doing next??? A rough idea is that we will haul the boat out and put it on the hard at Manoel Island Boatyard, come home for a couple of weeks for a much needed visit with family and friends, then come back and do some work on the boat while out of the water. We can live on the boat while doing that, or we can beg a room from friends for the duration. Then when that is done it will take us into the winter period. Many Maltese take their boats out of the water for the winter and store them on the hard, which frees up berths in the marina. So then we may be able to get in. It is our hope that when we are settled we will be able to find some sort of work to do for the winter,and that will give us time to figure out which direction to go next Spring. Cruise the med OR go through the Suez Canal and explore a much more foreign part of the world.

Right now we like Malta - it has some feeling of home - and we need a well earned rest. So does Moondancer, she looks pretty rough and we want to make her pretty again.

A bit of information I want to pass on about insurance. We have been insured with BC Yacht Insurance for a couple of years now. Before we went offshore our premium was in keeping with the premium we had paid before with Beacon Underwriters. When we went offshore this premium tripled but we went for a total loss policy by increasing our deductible to $20,000, which basically means we would pay for most things ourselves except the complete loss of the boat. The policy came due for renewal at the end of August and when we asked for a quote for Mediterranean waters only we were given the same quote with the same deductible. I did not believe that should be as we were not crossing oceans. So I looked around for insurance. We found it with Pantaneus, we are covered for all of the Med, the Atlantic coast up as far as Norway including Gibraltar Straits and the English Channel and our premium is almost one third what we were quoted, our deductible is 750 euros and our third party liability is $4,5million. I write this because I feel it is important to pass this information on. Pantaneus are worldwide as are Lloyds and they have an excellent reputation for paying up on claims. I gave BC Yacht insurance plenty of opportunity to get a better quote, I don't believe they tried. Word of mouth works all ways.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

On the Wall - Sliema - Malta

Brother Peter's Boat - after meeting up in St. Pauls Bay

Well today is the first day that we fully realise why the marina manager did not suggest that we tie up to the wall. We've woken up to a north easterly which is blowing hard enough (not very hard) to bring in a swell that is really tossing us about on the wall. We do not yet have the equipment needed to decrease the force of the tug when we reach the end of docking line. So before we do much else today we'll have to do something to improve the situation.

Other than that we actually really like this spot.

Sliema is a pretty upbeat part of Valletta; technically it is not part of Valletta but it is pretty close. Unlike Valletta which is a very old city Sliema has hundreds of modern apartment buildings, shops such as Armani, Versace, Marks and Spencer etc. Its close to bus stops and we can get a ferry across Marsamxett harbour into Valletta at a cost of 85Euros, and sometimes we can get internet on the boat. So we quite like it here.

The moorage situation in Malta is quite grim, and the government run marinas like Msida, Tax Biex and Manoel Island are all to be privatised at the end of this year, so the great moorage rates - ie. one year at 1400Euros will be a thing of the past.

This past week we have visited with my family - my brother Peter and his wife Sue have a fabulous villa in the St. Andrews area where my other brothers, Ronnie and his wife Sherida and Michael and his wife Ann, plus Peter's two adult children are staying.

We also visited with my Uncle Sav and his wife Mary who still live in Balzan which is the village where my Grandmother used to live. Even though I was there briefly 5 years ago I had forgotten directions and Tony was wondering if my aging memory was completely failing me. But once I found my Grandmother's house I knew my way around.

When I last pulled into Valletta's harbour 5 years ago I passed 'Gun Post' which had become part of the tourist attractions to do with the Second World War, and was in fact one of the posts at which my father manned a heavy ackack (have no idea how to spell that) gun when he was posted here during the war.

This time around I was very disappointed that I could not see it, and it was not until Tony and I walked around the harbour that I found it, and it has been converted to a cafe/restaurant with an incredible view, its called the Spitfire restaurant now.

Apparently Malta's tourist board has decided to play down the War tourism card a little as they now want Italians and Germans to feel equally comfortable when they visit Malta. And we have noticed that quite alot of them are here and they seem quite happy to be so.

If we stay in Malta for any length of time we'll probably have to learn to take siestas like the locals do otherwise we are missing out on the evenings when everyone is out and about - its the only time that the sun is not boiling our brains. Its also when there seems to be fireworks almost every night during the summer. The Maltese love fireworks and they also love their Patron Saints. Every village or town has a Patron Saint and on the anniversary of that Saint (either their date of birth, death or when they were cannonised) the village celebrates with a feast day and fireworks. As Malta is about 30miles by 19 miles and is quite densely populated that means that there are fireworks almost every night somewhere, and they are never really that far away. Sometimes I wonder if the Maltese got desensitised to loud bangs during the Siege of Malta, which lasted 3 years and the island was bombed every day - sometimes several times per day. They seem to put alot of effort into making their fireworks bang/boom so loud that the vibration actually seems to shake one's actual skeleton. Its quite a rush really.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Valletta Malta

We are now tied up to a wall in Sliema which is close to downtown Valletta. We are trying to figure out this blog thing. For some reason it is not posting our new updates unless you click search blog. This is a test, so please stand by for further updates!