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Sunday, October 21, 2012, in Gzira, Malta

Hi all. Well, the season is over, and we’ll be heading home next week. Two weeks ago, we were just back in Malta after our short trip back to Sicily with Dave and Patti.

We had a bit of an overlap of visitors while Patti and Dave were still with us, and another Hallberg-Rassy couple in town, Jack and Jocelyn, housed our incoming crew while we were still packing up our exiting crew. Our next guests, Vickie and Roland, stayed put with us in the harbor, where we enjoyed the charms of Maltese life, and shared the company of several HR owners who were coincidentally congregated on the island, in hotels, on boats, and in houses.

There were a few large gatherings of our mini-HR-club on Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Sundays are quiet in Malta, but Jack and Jocelyn arranged a beach afternoon of a game called Mölkky. Originally from Finland, this throwing game has participants try to knock down numbered wooden pins with a wooden dowel. The rules are straightforward but lead to complex strategies and a lot of dumb luck. We divided into teams, and, on our flat stretch of rock beach, played two sets, eventually drawing a modest streetside gallery of onlookers. From there, we all congregated at Tigne Point for a dinner overlooking the moonlit and street-lit skyline of Valletta across the bay, with warm breezes wafting by our table.

The next night, we hosted a gathering of the local known Hallberg-Rassy owners. We had two sets of liveaboards, guests of liveaboards, Malta homeowners Leon and Karolina, and a pair of hotel vacationers, Astrid and Mauritz. On another night, we dined with Astrid and Mauritz while Vickie and Roland visited with friends on the island. On yet another night, we hosted a dinner for six onboard.

Though our guests did some of their own travel around the island, we joined them for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the northern part of Malta. We stopped at the Mosta Dome and darted inside only minutes before the caretaker tried to chase us for the midday break. But we still got a chance to circumnavigate the dome.

Mosta is likely the third-largest unsupported dome in the world, behind only St. Peter’s in Rome, Agia Sofia in Istanbul, and controversially a much-newer dome that’s in Gozo, in Malta itself. Whatever its rank, it’s impressive not only visually, but because of its history and legends. Begun in 1833, it was built around the previous church so that parishioners had a place to worship while it was under construction. It was built nearly entirely with volunteer labor over 27 years, interrupted by various scandals such as the one in which the architect insisted that the stone he was using was from the lost city of Atlantis. It wasn’t.

It’s considered a miracle that three Luftwaffe bombs hit the dome on April, 1942 without any casualties. More than 300 people were awaiting mass when it happened. Two of the bombs bounced off the roof, and the third pierced the dome. That one was on a delay, but miraculously never exploded, and now a replica sits inside the church.

The bus took us through Malta’s interior, towns with narrow streets and limestone buildings, vineyards and greenhouses, olive trees and oleander growing wherever it wants. We made our way to Mdina, an ancient inland city settled by the Romans, named by the Arabs, and built out by the Knights of St. John, even as they moved the island’s capital to Valletta.

A walk through the old city feels like time travel. The cathedral there is the reason that the ornate cathedral in Valletta shares eminence as the “Co-Cathedral”; it’s a partner to this one. Like many other churches in Malta, the facade has symmetrical towers on the sides, a design that allows for two clocks, one left, one right. The clocks never show the same time, in an effort to confuse the devil, although someone that evil and immortal might probably have figured out the trick by now. In any case, Mdina’s cathedral has one clock and the other round object works instead as a calendar.

The walls around the city provide dense fortification; the curving, narrow streets were intended to thwart the momentum of attackers. It’s cooler at this height than where we normally spent our days at sea level, and the buildings are nearly untouched over the years, as magical as a theme park but real.

We had another gathering of most of the Hallberg-Rassy owners at Karolina and Leon’s on the night before Roland and Vickie’s departure, and then we were alone, for the first time in about three weeks. It was finally time to get serious about getting the boat ready for winter.

Art, being the way he is, had already arranged for many of the repairs and maintenance that we’d need by the time we left or over the winter months. We sprinkled maintenance and errands with a slower pace of visiting, such as a trip to Valletta to see the archaeological museum again after 11 years and the resumption of our Sunday movie routine.

Soon, we were the only boaters we knew that were still living aboard. The weather cooled to a comfortable routine, as we took our time with our list of end-of-season tasks. It was a leisurely season, to be sure, from one end to the other. Ending our cruise in Malta was a perfect way to ease back into our native language and our native culture.

On our last weekend in town, we went to Valletta to watch the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Contestants start in Grand Harbour, sail to Sicily and counterclockwise around it, about 600 nautical miles, and end back in Malta. The Rolex habit of sponsoring exorbitantly-priced sports like sailboat racing, equestrianism, and exploration is a metaphor to me of their criminally-priced bejewelled watches that don’t give better time than my $8 Chinese version from Target. Each to one’s own, of course. But sailboat cruisers and racers are fundamentally perplexed about each other’s passion. Or, as Art put it, “You sail straight through for a week, and you end up where you started. You could have gone to the Greek Islands.” My sentiments exactly.

The list of things to do was melting into dust. Art always has the same reaction after we’ve gotten the boat ready for the winter. Every system that was broken is now fixed. The oil in the engine and generator is changed. Lines are soaked, the decks are clean, and we’ve gotten every speck of seasonal dirt and dust we can find out of the living space. He only has one more thing he wants to do.

“Let’s go out sailing!”

Love, Karen (and Art)