John & I decided to further our sailing experience by doing an off-shore trip with Malta Sailing School, to follow up on our Day Skipper course that we completed in June. Our instructor, Stephen Baynham, proposed a 5-day trip from Malta to Hammamet, Tunisia and back to Malta, with a stop along the way in Lampedusa, Italy.
After spending a couple days exploring Malta, John & I arrived at the Msida Marina to meet our crew on Sunday evening. While waiting at Pontoon N, I heard the distinctive rumble of a 65 Cobra replica sports car on the streets nearby – in Malta of all places! The car then drove by right in front of us and John hailed the driver to stop so he could have a chat.
John’s a huge car enthusiast and we just happen to be former Cobra owners. (John built two of them from Factory Five Racing). They’re quite rare so we were a bit thrilled (and shocked) to see one. The owner was a super friendly fellow and they had a great chat about all things “Cobra”. We were also surprised to learn that there is a very active classic car club in Malta.
Soon after our Cobra encounter, our fellow crew arrived & we did some quick introductions. We had already met our instructor, Stephen Baynham and his partner, Anna on our last sailing excursion in Malta. The other crew were Sylvie and her adult son, Jeremy who had just returned from an afternoon sailing with the local French community.
We then got quickly acquainted with our home for the week, a Bavaria 46 sailboat named Chloe, had dinner at the berth, and then prepared to leave the marina. After a quick stop at the fuel barge to fill up, we headed out to sea with John as skipper and I was first mate. We decided on 2.5 hour watches for the first night, with 2 people on at a time.
By now it was 10:30 and quite dark. Lights glimmered along the coastline and we were silently bobbing along with our jib up and light winds. Off in the distance we could hear music from Sunday dance parties at the popular harbour bars. A short while later as we were still absorbing our new surroundings, John asked me in a quiet voice to look behind me. I thought there must be something off the back of the boat so from where I was seated at the helm, I looked pretty much straight down behind me at the boat’s transom.
He gently lifted my chin up until my gaze caught the humungous cruise ship that was passing aft about 500 m away. I gasped and said something like “holy crap” which wasn’t even close to expressing my shock. How on earth could something so massive be so near without us having a clue it was there!?!
Very good lesson learned – always maintain a 360 degree situational awareness!
As we continued to bob along with decreasing winds and speed, the motion was really starting to affect me. No matter how hard I tried to fight the nausea it was just unlrenting. I eventually gave up fighting it and “fed the fishes” as they say. After I recovered, John sat with me for a while and then gently asked how was I going to clean the mess that was now all over the transom. Good question! Hadn’t thought about that as I was leaning not-quite-far-enough over the back of the boat. I asked him to please get me the bucket and several gallons of seawater later, all signs of my tummy troubles were gone. We weren’t even away from the coast yet & I was already seasick – not a happy start to my grand voyage! It truly surprised me how much the motion affected my stomach since I had been sailing for a full week and even slept on the boat, albeit in the marina, without being affected at all by seasickness.
After that episode I actually felt a bit better for awhile and tried to resume my duties as first mate, watching the unfamiliar surroundings for signs of anything unusual. Not long after we started noticing lights in the distance off our bow as we were nearing the bunker area where oil tankers wait to refuel. About then I saw a huge wave rolling towards our bow from the port side and said to John in a very calm voice, “big wave”. I was so calm in fact that he didn’t hear and asked me to repeat, so I again said calmly “big wave”. He heard me the second time and had only enough time to say “hang onto something” before the front of our bow pointed skyward and then quickly nosedived, then skyward again before dipping and settling out. The waves were probably only 15′ high but on the somewhat calm seas, seemed massive. The sudden waves and dramatic rise and fall of the boat, woke everyone down below. Our instructor came up to help guide us through the relatively heavy boat traffic as we passed by Malta’s industrial port. Great practice for John at the helm.
We were relieved of our watch by Sylvie & Jeremy at 1am and unfortunately I was still feeling sick. By this time the boat motion was also affecting John. We both stayed up on deck and I fed the fishes a couple more times but he continued to fight it. After a long while, he went below to try & get some sleep but I stayed on deck all night, afraid of how much worse I would feel if I went below.
At 3:30 the shift changed again and Stephen & Anna came on deck. Anna also was feeling ill and after a while went back below, leaving Stephen & I to watch the fading lights of land in the distance. At some point I realized that I was also feeling quite cold and Stephen kindly got me a blanket from below which helped significantly. I dozed off for about 20 mins but was wide awake as the last sight of Malta faded and first lights of morning appeared on the horizon.
At this point I was still keen for the experience of sailing out into the middle of the Mediterranean but dreading a week where I wasn’t capable of looking after myself, since at this point I couldn’t even go below to fix myself food or get myself warm clothes. The feeling of being so dependent (and a potential burden) was almost as distressing to me as the nausea.