Andrew and Clare Payne, after a break for the winter, are back on their sailing yacht Eye Candy in the Mediterranean, which has been berthed in Tunisia over the cold months. What will they find after the instability of the past months in this normally peaceful country?
cockpit gathering - Clare and Andrew Payne
We arrive at Monastir in Tunisia on 23rd March and depart twelve days later. Labour is cheap in Tunisia and so for the lowly price of $400 the boat is slipped, power washed, sanded and painted. All other cleaning, polishing, maintenance and provisioning jobs are completed in little over a week. Before leaving we even have time to wine and dine with other cruising friends who had spent the winter on their boats in the marina.
From the 12th century castle at Pantelleria - Clare and Andrew Payne
Life in Tunisia seems peaceful; the people are pleased the President has gone. We do not feel under threat and we see no evidence of the fighting in Libya. We hear that Refugee boats are leaving Tunisia and Libya and heading to the closest Italian island Lampedusa. Initially we intended an overnight stop there as it is half way between Tunisia and Malta. But as this means sailing along the Libyan coast we decide to travel north east to the Italian island of Pantelleria.
So we arrive in Pantelleria, rafted up among several boats and wait for the wind to sail to Malta. We spend our time touring the island, going for extended walks, shopping for Italian delicacies, chatting with the locals and sharing coffees, meals and film nights with the
Eye Candy tops in Malta - makes us easy to spot as tourists - Clare and Andrew Payne
Finally the wind is right and we have a good overnight sail running downwind finishing with twenty knots on a freshening breeze, arriving into the strategically placed Mediterranean island in the morning.
First impression of Malta is 'a stone city or a city of walls'. All the structures are made of yellow or white stone cut from the surrounding cliffs. It has a long embattled history and so many forts, old cities and castles are surrounded by high steep walls. It has had two major sieges, one in 1565 against the Turks and again in World War 11 when Malta had more bombs dropped on it than London. Some structures are centuries old and some a very modern and catering for a huge
Malta - a stone city - Clare and Andrew Payne
influx of tourists.
We have taken the tourist open air bus to the north and south of the island. It is a hop on hop off system with audio. Both three hour trips took us eight hours with some stops. We also went on a two hour harbour cruise viewing the cities from the water and touring past the ancient and modern dock yards.
It is certainly a fascinating place steeped in history. However there is no such thing as rolling plains, wooded valleys or fresh water creeks.
One huge plus for Malta is that everyone speaks English. All signage and product information is written in English. The supermarkets have English products and I have had a wonderful time buying up big.
Grand Harbour Valetta - Clare and Andrew Payne
The boat has never been so well stocked. Andrew commented the other day 'we are not a supermarket you know' but I’ve got other ideas.
For my birthday (April 21st) we did the harbour cruise in the morning and then I suggested Andrew go back to the boat while I went girl shopping. It was wonderful to poke about the shops being able to read labels, understand sizing and ask for assistance – what a treat! That night we went to The Royal Malta Yacht Club and had a wonderful dinner including the Maltese specialty of rabbit; it was delicious.
The weather is still fairly cool with occasional rain. Some days are sunny but we have pretty well lived in jeans and long sleeve tops. Our new Eye Candy crew tops have been well used. Our blue and white stripped matching tops have made it very easy for the touts to spot us as tourists.
But there is so much more to see. We have now mastered the local transport system and so in the coming week we will visit museums, the botanical gardens and other points of interest.
Not a bad start to our year of cruising the Med
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