Into the Blue: A Mediterranean Sailing Trip from Malta to Comino
As the sailing yacht, the Moon Song, gracefully cut through the glittering water of the Mediterranean, I tried to recall some of the peoples who had made the islands of Malta their stopping point the last few thousand years. Whether aspiring conquerers, merchants, or explorers, they had all traveled on this maritime superhighway on which Malta is strategically located. Some, like the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs had successfully established themselves here for a time, while others, like the Ottomans, had famously failed.
Having lived in Malta’s diminutive capital, Valletta, for seven months by this time, I thought I had already uncovered most of the city’s varied vistas. However, from the waters below this UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shawn and I were now seeing the city with new eyes. From our starting point in the Grand Harbour, Valletta landmarks like the Victoria Gate and Siege Bell Memorial looked dollhouse-sized, while the city’s fortifications, which we regularly stroll through at sunset, appeared formidable and unbreachable.
Now that the boat’s white sail had been raised, our hosts for the day charter, the members of the Gatt family (who own Sailing Charters Malta), took on an even more relaxed stance. At one of the two helms, father David navigated the boat with a confidence that comes from nearly four decades of sailing. On the second helm wheel, younger David, the nine-year-old son, mirrored him, his eyes wide with interest. Mother Glorianne and daughter Maria emitted a contagious blend of laughter while making jokes. This put me at ease as I tried to fend off a slight case of motion sickness, something I hadn’t experienced since my maiden sailing voyage in 2013 with a Croatian team training for a regatta.
Fortifications and Film Sets
Our trip along Malta’s rugged northern coast to the island of Comino would take us past centuries-old watchtowers and fortifications harking back to the time of the Knights of Malta. These structures have been given new life as film sets for moviemakers. As a newcomer to the country, the Maltese Archipelago’s geography can be a bit confusing; the locals often compare Malta’s shape to a fish. Using that analogy, we would travel from the fish’s ‘head’ toward its ‘tail’ during this day-trip. Along the way, we’d parallel a tuna fish farm whose fish are auctioned online and mostly sold to customers in Japan, and we’d also glimpse Malta’s ubiquitous honey-colored limestone villages, dramatic cliffs, and inviting lagoons swirling with intoxicating shades of blue. Sometimes a school of tiny fish would make an appearance too.
A Family Tradition of Sailing
“When I was a child, this is how I spent the summers of my youth,” said the elder David, as he steered the Moon Song past the modern development of Sliema, which was once a picturesque fishing town. “My father was a civil servant, and back in the day, employees only worked half days because of Malta’s heat and the lack of air conditioning in offices. We went on the sea every single day,” he added with a twinkle in his eye. “I got my passion for sailing from him.”
His family, David explained, once made boats. “There is old family video of Nina, our family’s boat, getting launched for the first time. I’m in the footage, being held in my mother’s arms, next to the boat named after my grandmother.”
Gesturing to his son, David, he continued, “I was already sailing by the time I was his age and I was racing by age 14. I used to enjoy capsizing the boat, then getting it back the right way.”
When Glorianne and David married in the 1990s, David said that he drifted away from sailing for a while. Realizing how much he missed it, he purchased his first sailing yacht, the Moon Song, to satisfy this passion, realizing shortly thereafter that he could start a business offering charters to help offset expenses.
Today, Sailing Charters Malta has grown from one to six yacht charter boats, and all four Gatt family members help out. They do everything from client correspondence and cooking Mediterranean cuisine for guests, to cleaning the yachts and filling the vessels’ water tanks.
And despite life’s hectic pace, David and Glorianne make it a priority to regularly take to the water as a family, echoing the anecdotes David shared earlier on during our adventure.
“We try to sail together once a week,” Glorianne said, explaining why all four family members exuded such a confidence and easy rhythm while at sea. How lucky they are to have an incredible ‘blue backyard’ in which to spend quality time together!
Scenes from Kalkara’s marina. On the left, a cheery blue luzzu, which is a traditional Maltese fishing boat, and the dome of a church (right).
The photogenic lookout in Senglea’s Gardjola Gardens overlooks the Grand Harbour and Valletta. This oft-photographed guard tower has ear, eye and bird symbols carved on it. Senglea is one of the so-called ‘Three Cities’.
Valletta, looking pretty splendid from the Grand Harbour. The Victoria Gate (left), and the Lower Barrakka Gardens and Siege Bell Memorial (right).
We sailed in a caravan of two vessels – the Moon Song was our yacht-home-for-the-day, and the Farfalla, pictured here, accompanied us. Farfalla means ‘butterfly’ in Italian – a fitting name to describe an elegant vessel which gracefully dances on the sea’s waves.
Our host and skipper, David, lifts Moon Song‘s sail in the Grand Harbour, while his son, David, carefully takes note. Shawn and I think this little guy is going to be a swell sailor someday!
David and Glorianne’s daughter, Maria, tightens the rope, just after the sail was lifted.
The Siege Bell Memorial, which was built to remember those who died in Malta during World War II. It was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth in 1992.
World War II-era watchtowers (far left), and a section of the breakwater. Look carefully underneath the bridge and you can see sailboats getting ready to participate in a short-distance race.
Seeing Malta from the sea, I now appreciate why it’s nicknamed ‘the Rock’. In this capture of Valletta, you can see the dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the steeple of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral.
Men take a traditional colorful fishing boat – a luzzu – out to sea.
Saint Mark’s Tower (right) is a coastal watchtower built by the Knights of Malta. In all, there are approximately 25 Knights-era watchtowers on the islands of Malta, Comino, and Gozo. This one was built in 1658 and like its counterparts, would’ve allowed the guard on duty to sound the alarm to neighboring guard towers if any incoming threats were spotted.
During our sail, David regaled us with tales from his youth – days when he and his friends would pile onto a crammed boat and sail to St. Paul’s Island (left). On the right, David shares a vintage photograph from one of these excursions nearly four decades ago. He’s one of the little guys in the lower left of this image, which is displayed on his mobile. “I know the area around St. Paul’s Island by heart because I spent so much time there. Those were really great days,” David said. It’s believed that the island was the site of St. Paul’s shipwreck, hence the island’s name and the statue of St. Paul that stands there. St. Paul is a beloved figure in Malta, as it’s believed that he brought Christianity to the island.
Shawn and me “getting our sea legs” as we head to the island of Comino.
David and Glorianne, and their children, Maria and David. When asked the ‘formula’ for an ideal day at sea, David exclaimed, “great company, at least 12 knots of wind, a good plate of pasta and peaceful swimming spots.”
David navigates us through gemstone-like water halfway between Valletta and Comino. “Because sailing can be both relaxing and exciting, it offers you the best of both worlds,” David said. “While it’s peaceful, sailing keeps your mind going because you need to ensure that everything is working well, that you are getting the best winds and that the sails are best trimmed for the wind you are in.”
The Maltese flag catches the breeze on the back of the Moon Song (left) and Shawn and young David (right).
One of Malta’s sister islands, Comino, only has 4 permanent inhabitants and it’s named after the cumin spice that once thrived there. The island is a nature reserve and bird sanctuary, and its most iconic structure is St. Mary’s Tower. The 17th-century tower was featured in the 2002 film, The Count of Monte Cristo. There is also a hotel on Comino, and because of its gorgeous Blue Lagoon, it’s a popular spot for day-trippers.
St. Mary’s Watchtower served as the prison, the Château d’If, in The Count of Monte Cristo.
The clear water of the Crystal Lagoon was undeniably alluring during our late-May trip, but because it was a tad chilly early in the season, I made a promise to the lagoon that I would return to swim a few weeks later.
A Mediterranean-inspired snack of various types of cheese (including one of my favorites, Buffalo Mozzarella), plus prosciutto, enjoyed with gluten-free breadsticks, and crispy Maltese galletti crackers. Not pictured here but deserving of mention were two hearty and traditional Maltese dips: Bigilla (made with broad beans) and Arjoli (a blend of tuna, tomatoes, and herbs).
Lunch: Mediterranean pasta with clams, tomatoes, sautéed garlic and onions, and fresh basil.
Shawn and me (left), David our host family (right), and drone photographer, Constantin (far left). Though the views of the Crystal Lagoon were undeniably incredible, they had a bit of competition because everyone on board was wowed by Constantin’s drone and the incredible aerial images it was capturing.
Formations in the Crystal Lagoon.
Maria, David and Glorianne.
Cliffs of the island of Cominotto in the foreground, and the Madonna ta’ Lourdes Church in the city of Mġarr, on the island of Gozo.
Soaking up the splendor of the Crystal Lagoon.
Glorianne and young David navigate through the waves on the way back home to the Kalkara Marina.
Malta’s sister island, Gozo, shows itself off in silhouette form.
A clash of old and new architecture – Valletta and Sliema, from left to right.
The Valletta skyline.
Safe inside Valletta’s breakwater.
Back to where we started earlier in the day, the Kalkara Marina.
The silhouettes of Kalkara at sunset.
Video of This Experience:
Where in the World?
- Malta has held a strategic position on the Mediterranean’s maritime crossroads for thousands of years, and to see the island nation from the sea is both relaxing and insightful! To explore chartering options, contact David and Glorianne via their website, Sailing Charters Malta. During our May trip, it was already starting to get a bit crowded out on the water (and August is said to be the busiest month), so be sure to plan accordingly.
- Having only been sailing twice, I haven’t yet conquered my mild battles with seasickness. :) On this excursion, Glorianne thoughtfully lent me some Dramamine and an acupressure wrist-band to help. Here are additional seasickness avoidance tips.
- The Mediterranean’s UV Index can get high and Malta is renowned for its 300+ days of sunshine, so pack sunscreen, sunglasses and perhaps a hat to stay sunburn free.
- Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Malta.
Disclosure & Thanks:
Many thanks – Grazzi ħafna – to David, Glorianne, Maria, and David of Sailing Charters Malta for hosting me and Shawn!
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. The video is a creation of my husband, Shawn.