By ADRIAN CLAYTON
Every day in a sea kayak is special, some more so than others. One extra special day that lingers fondly in my memory was back in 2007 when my wife, Geraldine, and I were on a tour of the islands of the western Mediterranean.
The tiny nation of Malta, of around 500,000 inhabitants, was our first port of call. The nation is actually made up of a number of islands. The principal island is Malta itself. To the near north are the islands of Comino and Gozo. All the islands have coastlines studded with amazing geological features of which the Blue Grotto is probably the most famous. A day or so travelling around in the tour bus salivating on these features was enough to set me off making enquiries into the possibility of hiring a sea kayak for a day. The tour company’s local representative helped and came up trumps with the aptly-named outfit, Rugged Coast Adventures, based in Mellieha Bay Ghadira, on the north-eastern corner of Malta.
Clark Weissinger, an American Canoe Association Sea Kayak Instructor owns Rugged Coast Adventures. According to his web site, his kayaking activities extend from short tours through to multi-day expeditions. His fleet of kayaks is made up mostly of Wilderness Systems models – single and doubles, sit-ins and sit-on-tops.
I think I paid about fifty-five Euros (approximately one hundred of our dollars at the time) to hire a kayak for the day. Clark provided me with a near-new plastic Tempest 170, a reasonably good paddle, skirt and PFD. Once he was comfortable about my ability he outlined a route that I might like to take so as to avoid the ferries that make the busy crossing between Malta and Gozo.
I set off in calm waters, verging on indigo-coloured. There were a few fluffy clouds scattered above. The fact that this was my first solo paddle in foreign waters added some spice to the occasion. It was not long out of Mellieha Bay, heading north along the eastern coastline when I came across my first sea cave. It was a beauty – high, broad and deep. However, soon after backing well into the cave I got an enormous shock. Blocking the entrance was the bow of the Hornblower, a local tour boat somewhere around the size of a Sydney ferry. The only thing stopping the boat coming further in to the cave was the height of its aerials. Passengers on board, ignorant of my presence, were taking photos of the cave. Flashes were going off madly. I would have liked to have reciprocated but my camera was stuck in the day hatch and by the time I got it out the moment had passed.
As I continued my paddle along the north-eastern tip of Malta, I discovered some more sea caves. I will long remember the twin caves accessed from the sea via an arch and a lagoon. The photo I captured there remains one of my favourites.
The crossing between Malta and the small island of Comino, a sparsely populated nature reserve, is close to a nautical mile. My course had me heading for some reasonably high limestone cliffs which I could see were studded with sea caves beckoning exploration. I circumnavigated Comino in an anti-clockwise direction ducking in to some of the pretty little bays on the northern side of the island. A couple of islets standing off nearby make Comino’s coastline on the western side very picturesque. The most famous feature there is the Blue Lagoon – a popular destination for day trippers from Malta and Gozo. The magnificent aquamarine of its waters is clearly evident on Google Earth. I probably did the wrong thing by paddling over the floating boom and in to the lagoon however most of the visitors were sunbathing on the shoreline.
By this stage I was starting to feel a bit peckish but the crowded shoreline encouraged me to press on to find another spot to land. At the back of a nearby sea cave I found a sandy beach which made for an ideal lunch stop. While I was enjoying a cuppa and a sandwich a couple of tinnies with tourists aboard poked their bows in to the cave and the flashes started popping. My exit from the cave coincided with the arrival of another tinnie of tourists and I found myself to be the subject of their photos as I re-emerged in to the light of day.
My journey continued back to the south-eastern corner of Comino, I passed more caves and paddled through arches along the way. From here I made the return crossing to Malta and back to my starting point in Mellieha Bay thus completing a round trip of around 25km. A stiff afternoon sea breeze developed in the latter stages of the return journey but it was not strong enough to blow the gloss off what had been a wonderful day.