Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Fri 3 Oct 2008 09:21

We arrived here on Monday afternoon after a very easy 16 hour crossing from Syracuse.  It was wonderful to sail into the Grand Harbour, passing the forts of St. Elmo and St. Angelo, so vividly described by Ernle Bradford in his book about the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.  We turned into a creek alongside Fort St. Angelo where the new Grand Harbour Marina has been built.  There are only 8 pontoons and we have the luxury of a hammerhead berth at the end of one of them, so for the first time in three months we don’t have to climb in and out of the boat on a rickety ladder loosely attached to the prow.  (Awful after a night out or carrying shopping.)  The marina is run by Camper & Nicholson, and has all kinds of luxuries, such as clean showers, WIFI, a washing machine and dryer, and for the first time in ages, Sky TV, so we can hear and see the latest news.  We are here for one month and Vasco is having all kinds of repairs done, including installing a new hydraulic steering system in place of her worn out cables and having the water maker re-mounted. 

Malta is very charming, crowded, full of historical sites, especially grand churches and cathedrals.  The little town of Birgu alongside us is one of the oldest in Malta.  It was the headquarters of the Knights of St.John when they arrived from Rhodes in 1530.  They were given the island of Malta as a base by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and heir to both the Hapsburg and Spanish Empires.   The Knights were driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks, and must have just had time to build and defend the grand harbour when the Turks also arrived to attack them here in 1565.  After a siege lasting many months and costing thousands of lives, the Turks were repelled, and the Knights, led by their Grandmaster Jean de La Vallette, built the town of Valletta, just across the harbour from here. 

The Knights called this creek, Porto delle Galere, as here they kept their galleys.  It became known as Dockyard Creek, when the area, including Fort St. Angelo, became the headquarters of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean  from  1818 until 1979.  Now the old wharves, which housed sail and rigging makers,  arsenals and workshops, have been turned into cafes and restaurants, and a very imposing neo-classical building, which was the bakery for the Royal Navy, is a Maritime Museum.

We have had a few rain showers, which the Maltese say is the first rain for 8 months, but it is predominately sunny and warm.  It is quite hard to get used to staying in one place after being so mobile but we are looking forward to getting to know the island.  And we are also looking forward to  friends and family visiting from the USA and England.