I’ve lived in Malta 15 years and have had my bouts of ‘island fever‘. But it’s only in the past year and a bit that I’ve found a way to survive despite the islands’ restrictive space – and surprise myself by seeing Malta in a different light. All thanks to sailing.
It’s obvious really that if you don’t have space on land, you should take to the sea. A UK friend of mine living here said that one of the first things she wanted to do on arriving in Malta was to learn to sail. After all, water sports are what this place lends itself to; so play to its strengths, give up hoping that acres of peaceful countryside will materialise here, and start looking to the horizon instead.
Anyway, you can’t miss the sport in Malta, even in urban areas. You’re bound, at the very least, to drive past spanking new yachts, gleaming in the various marinas – Birgu, Msida and Portomaso. But for the most part of my landlubber life here in Malta, sailing seemed something of an elite sport requiring a good deal of cash to get in to; the super-yachts seemed a bit off-putting to a wannabe novice sailor.
But how wrong I was, and how I wished I’d made the effort earlier to learn to sail. Because sailing has given me a breath of air, time away from the frenetic, hectic madding crowd on land, and also shown me vistas of the islands I’d never have seen.
If like me, you’ve been here a while and not taken to the seas, here are the steps to find out if sailing is something that might grab you and give you a new perspective on life in Malta:
If you don’t conveniently have a friend with a boat and the patience to have a green crew member on board, then sign up for some sailing lessons. Perhaps do this anyway as it is a good way to get a grounding, both theoretical and practical, in the sport. I did a four-afternoons’ course last summer with Vikings Sailing Club, based at Haywharf, Marsamxetto Harbour, just below the Excelsior Hotel and the Public Library in Floriana. Vikings is a non-profit organisation developed to promote sailing to a wider public.
It usually runs two or three adults’ courses and a couple of junior courses (for kids generally aged 10 years +) each summer. Fees are very reasonable, and you get a lot of hands-on time on the water as well as some serious theory in the club house before each session out sailing. The club uses Lasers, and an instructor accompanies you (four people per boat). There are other clubs around, in St Paul’s Bay for instance, and most coastal five-star hotels offer dinghy hire and lessons, but usually just Easter-October.
Just note that kids’ courses vary in approach. Some offer courses for children aged 7+, and without an instructor really close at hand in the boat with them. This is fine for some kids, but not for others and can put the less confident children off the sport right at the outset.
Adults would be wise to ask around for their ideal course too. Always check out the credentials of instructors, and ask for detailed information on the course’s approach.
Sailing courses are mostly summer affairs, but sailing in Malta is pretty much an all-year-round sport, as winter weeks can be just as ideal for novice and fair-weather sailors. You’ll need minimal investment in some outer garb.
What a novice gets out of sailing
It can seem a tough sport to master, and to be a real pro, it is. But the beauty of joining a club is to enjoy sailing without a huge investment in gear; you can get what you want out of sailing when you want, and on your own terms.
You can learn to sail with the aim of pro status, or, like me, to just enjoy some ‘me-time’ away from chores, work, commitments, and have the chance to get some real fresh air and space around you. When you’re concentrating at the helm, you don’t have time to think about emails or clients!
Sure, it’s going to take me a bit more time to feel that sailing is second nature, like driving a car, but I also know that sailing is something that will never be routine. No two sessions out are the same – there are so many variables (wind, current, swell, my mindset and so on, even without a tide in the Med to think about).
The principles that apply to learning to sail a Laser, or Topper Topaz size boat, are the same as apply to larger craft, and there are thrills and adrenalin rushes to be had at every stage in the learning curve.
See Malta differently
One of the most startling side benefits of sailing is to see the islands differently. For the first time in 15 years, bar one catamaran trip to Sicily, I’ve seen Valletta’s bastions as they are meant to be seen – from the sea. There are inlets, nooks, crannies, forts and fortifications (WWII pill boxes as well) that you’d never know existed. For that alone, learning to sail has been worthwhile. From the sea, you can really appreciate what makes Malta special!