We had a little bit of a bumpy ride across the Sicilian Channel to Malta, but arrived on time at the pilot station. The wind was blowing about 30 knots, from the South west, about a gale force 8. We had to manoeuvre the ship, to shelter the pilot boat from the large rough seas, but he was soon onboard.
Malta has fond memories for me. I spent a few months here in 2005/2006 when Cunard handed over the Caronia to us and she was refitted here, to be become the Saga Ruby. It is such a contrast as we sailed in from our previous ports, with the stonework, building and fortresses as we approached.
I was hoping for some shelter from the wind as we entered the harbour but sadly not - it just whistled through every nook and cranny and through the harbour. We were saluted by eight cannons on the fortress as we arrived - I felt very privileged. Then we were given a rather short berth to fit into as there were a few cruise ships in town. But again, the Pearl 11 shows her abilities and we were able to sneak into a small “Parking space” with about three metres to spare either end, so I felt quite satisfied. I was wearing my father’s old Captains Hat this morning, as I always do, as a good luck charm. It is rather beaten, the braid on the peak rather faded and weathered but if I thought as a young boy, I would one day be wearing my father's old hat, whilst in command of a lovely ship, I wouldn’t have believed it!!
Well, the sun was shining, and although extremely windy, there was a very warm breeze. We were all fast at 8am in Valetta, the seaport and capital of Malta, on the north-east coast of the island.
Like the other ports we visited on this cruise, we had our three main excursions to choose from, the first being the Maritime and Military Vittoriosa which set off shortly after we had arrived at 8:15am . The tour started with a drive towards the south for Vittoriosa where the whole city is an open-air museum. Arriving there the tour carried on with a walk through narrow streets shaded by many historic buildings, while being given an insight to the local way of life. Then they continued onto the Maritime Museum followed by a light local refreshment before returning back to the ship.
Medieval Mdina and Mosta was the next tour departing at 8:30am, starting with a scenic ride from Valletta through to Mdina, then a walk through part of it to see the many handsome buildings, palaces and museums. Time was taken to visit the baroque Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, as well as some free time for shopping, before travelling to Mosta square, admiring the Mosta dome, and then heading back to the ship.
The final excursion was the Scenic Malta tour which was a fantastic tour for all those passengers who wanted to see Malta but didn’t want to do too much walking. The scenic tour revealed some of Malta’s finest attractions including the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk, the blue grotto and the tiny rock island of Filfla, then travelling north past Mdina and on to more beautiful scenery.
On departure, I had invited two passengers to the bridge for sailaway - Mr Stanley Forest and Tom Lawerance. These were two gentlemen who had served in the Royal Navy, and escorted the Convoys from the UK to Malta. For them it was an emotional visit back. I had informed the authorities during our plaque presentation that we had two veterans of the Malta convoys, and being proud of what was done for them, they sent for two gifts to give to the gents. These were solid silver Maltese Cross cufflinks.
The entertainment commenced as soon as we were ready to set sail and everyone was invited to join the Citron Trio on the boat deck for an open air classical concert. This was an idea from John Parton, Cruise Director, which was very well received by all the passengers. It was a spectacular way to leave the port, with beautiful sights, fabulous music and another eight-gun salute. The cannon fire did not even cause the Musicians to flinch, and they played beautifully, without missing a note! At the end, Anthony, the pianist, told the passengers that now he knew how Nelson felt!
The main show that evening was a special show that the crew had put together, the host being one of our wine waiters, with dancing from some of our dining room guys and a Tina Turner tribute from one of our GPA’s. If all this wasn’t enough excitement for one evening we also had the disco under the stars so that everyone could have that late boogie before retiring to bed for that well deserved rest.