Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Our Twenty Five Minutes in Malta

2012 08 07
Ormos Ornos, Mykonos, Greece
blowing 30 out of the North and that is in the protected anchorage

Sadly there are no photos to accompany our article on Malta.  Had we taken any they would likely have been deleted.  Here is why.

Our plaln was to head for Malta out of Hammament, Tunisia, clear in, take on fuel and depart immediately direct to Greece.  Time was running short and we needed to move the boat to Mykonos, where we now find ourselves, in only a few days.  Malta was pretty much directly on the rhum line course and we had a friend who summers there, he the owner of the only other Cabo Rico 38 in all of Europe.  While we could not visit with him long it would be sort of neat we thought to surprise him "Yes, we were just in the neighbourhood and thought we would drop in for coffee".

In many countries of the Mediterranean you not only clear in to a country when first entering but you must also clear out.  On clearing out you may be subjected to a search of your boat by government agents looking for goodness only knows what.  Tunisia was one of those countries.  

We had been warned by other boating friends who departed a few days earlier that the customs agents would attempt to extort additional baksheesh from us when we applied for our exit visas.  Our contribution to the Tunisian GNP was already high enough in our opinion so we were not looking forward to having to deal with this growing annoyance.

We were in the middle of this process of clearing out and I was me assisting the customs agent onto our boat where, in the privacy of the boat salon, I fully expected the customs agent  to request a gift in appreciation of her office's  "smooth and troublefree handingl of the paperwork".    At this point we had spent the better part of an hour with customs, sitting in three offices repeating endlessly the name of our boat and our destination and were growing weary of the bureaucracy.  It did not help that twice as we were with customs, we were approached an agitated marinero pestering us to settle our bill with the marina office.  

We had been to the office before attending on customs but our invoice was not ready and office staff suggested we tend to customs first to give them time to prepare our charges.  Not willing to interrupt our session with government we told the marinero on each of his approaches that we would be to the office when we finished.

Just as the customs woman climbed on the boat the marinero accosted me again from dockside accusing me loudly of trying to run away without paying. Tired of the man's aspersions and fed up with the unending process of clearing out I dressed the man down,  loudly and thoroughly.  As if we would interrupt a customs shakedown to go and pay him.  It was insulting.  

Having vented fully I turned back to the customs agent and we went below.  My work with the marinero was so effective that when we got below on Meredith the customs agent just raised her hands in defence and pleaded “no crazy on me ok” “No crazy on me”. I agreed I would not crazy on her.  Our paperwork was declared finished then and there and we were out of Tunisia in no time.  After we paid the marina bill of course.

Two easy days sailing saw us approaching Malta about 0200 in total dark. Not familiar with Maltese waters we were reluctant to enter until we had eyes. Things seemed straightforward but for the sake of a couple of hours (sunrise at 0400) we chose to wait for light. 

Malta consists of two islands: a main island of Malta and a smaller island to its north called Gozo.  A wide navigable straight separated them.  Our intention was to sail into the straight and make for Mgarr, pronounced Mjar, which was one of two ports of entry.  We slowed our progress to 2 knots and waited for sunrise. With daylight established we sailed between the islands and made for MGarr.  As we got underway we made repeated calls to Malta Radio to notify them of our entry.  No answer was ever received.

We entered Mgarr making sure to stay out of the way of the large ferry just leaving as we did so.

A large sign at the entrance to Mgarr instructs skippers to contact harbour control on  channel 14 and obtain clearance before proceeding into the harbour.  Calling the frequency the voice on the other end acknowledged that we wanted fuel and customs services.  "How much fuel?" he inquired.  Our answer of thirty five gallons obviously met with disapproval because, on our broadcasting that figure, the voice on the radio disappeared never to return.  On consideration we figure harbour control really runs the fuel dock and he misunderstood our 35 gallons as 35 litres.  

This is all conjecture because the Mgarr harbour control refused to communicate with us again.  The air went dead quiet.

The fuel dock in Mgarr is carefully hidden away behind a large ferry.  It is not visible from anywhere in the marina and if you do not know where it is you will not find it.  After some fruitless searching we asked a passing small fishing boat.  They motioned to a location that we knew did not have fuel because we had just been there.

Finally a guy on a sport fisher (now those guys know where the fuel docks are) got us going in the right direction.  Arriving finally at the fuel dock we discovered it was fully occupied by two fishing boats who obviously treated it as a permanent mooring.  They were tied up under a big sign that instructed mariners to “keep this dock clear at all times”. 

The Budget Committee called to one of the fishermen on the boats and asked if we could tie up to him until the fuel dock opened.  He gave her the finger.  Then his mildly post pubescent son repeated the action.  

You can only take so much bloody mindedness.  After twenty minutes of ignorance and insults we cleared out of Malta.  We had not tied up, dropped anchor or gone ashore so we felt no need to clear in with customs.  It is unlikely we will ever return.

Our visit to Malta inspired the outhouse blog.  Our friend had filled us with stories of the beautiful anchorages and great buildings.  What we saw of the buildings in Mgarr was pretty much standard beach condo.  As for anchorages as we exited the island nation we passed three anchorages none of them protected or picturesque.  Recognizing that you might think my opinion ia bit slanted let me describe one: it was under what appeared to the long tube of an industrial mill.  My how picturesque.  

Somehow it felt good to be willing and able to dismiss an entire country for being inadequate and rude.  Maybe Malta suffered a bit after our encounter with Tunisian bureaucracy or maybe it is just full of rude people.  There are too many places in the Med with great scenery and pleasant welcoming people to ever waste a second thought on a place like Malta.

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