Sunday, 15 July 2012
HORIZON Part 5 (the final one)
Horizon Part 5 (the final one)
Friday 1st June 2012
This is another port day, this time in Valletta, Malta, where HORIZON is registered.
We arrived early, in high heat and sunlight, to find three cruise ships already berthed at the cruise terminal in the Grand Harbour: COSTA MAGICA, CORINTHIAN II, and MEIN SCHIFF 1.
After disembarking we found we had to walk the length of the terminal, past the restaurants and few shops, to the port entrance and the bus stop for the local bus up to the local terminal. We knew that all the very old local yellow buses had been replaced by the homogenised vehicles that were new to the island, but old in UK terms. It was a good job that each had a big route number on the front, because we could see no other distinguishing feature or Saint’s picture anywhere on the vehicles. One of our group showed great enthusiasm for the buses but then we all prefer various forms of transport… Those of us who remember travelling on the old yellow buses from a previous visit were a little disappointed, but did enjoy the spasmodic air-conditioning on the bumpy journey to the next harbour of Sliema.
Captain Morgan Cruises at Sliema Harbour was ready to offer harbour tours, so several of us boarded the motor vessel SEABELOW, sister to SEAHAWK.
We had time to look around and notice how much new building was in progress, with several cranes to be seen around the area. Two years ago on the OLS cruise on BLEU DE FRANCE I had spoken with a lady working for Captain Morgan Cruises here in Sliema Harbour and we discovered that she had lived in the locality where I now live, and her son had gone to the local school. Standing on the quayside this year before our harbour tour I saw and spoke to the same lady so we had a quick chat. She is still happy living in Malta, and I am happy where I live.
The boat trip took us all around Sliema Harbour, and then into the Grand Harbour,
and the views of the old and new buildings were fascinating, including of course the wonderful Memorial Bell tower.
I would like to record some of the history of this, as it relates to a shipping line that is dear to my heart – Union-Castle Line.
During the Second World War, in August 1942, the Union-Castle ship ROCHESTER CASTLE (built in 1937 as a refrigerated cargo vessel) took a distinguished part in the relief of the island of Malta. This was a strategic place for Great Britain and her Allies and had been heavily bombed by the Germans. During 1941 the sea convoys carrying food and fuel had been getting through, with difficulty, and the bravery of the people of the island was then recognised by King George VI awarding the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta in April 1942.
However, by August 1942 little food remained for the inhabitants and little petrol for the Spitfires, and the convoys faced perilous journeys from Britain and from Egypt. On 2nd August 1942 a convoy of 14 merchant vessels, plus a large number of naval vessels, left Great Britain but nine were lost en route to Malta, and the rest arrived on 13th August in a stricken condition. At the head of this famous convoy into Valletta Harbour was the battered ROCHESTER CASTLE. She was barely buoyant, having a hole in her hull of 20 feet by 18 feet, plus about 200 holes from bomb splinters. The sight of about 70,000 people on the cliffs welcoming the ships and their cargo must have been an incredible and emotional sight, but Malta was relieved. This particular convoy was known as Operation Pedestal.
The ROCHESTER CASTLE had temporary repairs, despite daily air raids, and at the end of the year was able to leave for permanent repairs in New York, before returning to the UK in June 1943 with a full cargo load of food.
To this day the flag of Malta GC incorporates the award of the George Cross, and I was so pleased to see the Siege Bell in the Tower that was erected near the harbour entrance and opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the then President of Malta, Dr. Censu Tabone, in 1992. This commemorates the award and the relief of the island, as well as a memorial to the 7,000 people who lost their lives in the siege.
Each day at noon a gun is fired from a point near the Bell Tower and we were lucky enough to hear and see this from our little harbour cruise boat today.
We returned to the bus terminal, and decided to explore part of the city. Original city walls were being exposed as part of the new developments, and I noticed that one of the hoardings around some excavations told me that Renzo Piano was the Architect for the City Gate projects for the Regeneration of Valletta.
I think I first came across his name in May 2008, in connection with something other than ships, when I went to see an exhibition at the London Design Centre. Outside the building, beside the River Thames, was a display ‘tank’ and inside was a model of The Shard, the tall glass building that was proposed for a site in Southwark beside London Bridge Station. It was designed by Renzo Piano and it looked extraordinary – it was to be the tallest building in Europe. In fact it was built by the London-based Mace construction company, to Renzo Piano’s design, the dream of property developer Irvine Sellar and to be finished in June 2012. I have stood beside the base of The Shard on several occasions and it is an incredible sight, so if Mr Piano is involved in the Valletta redevelopment project, then I imagine it will prove of great interest.
We saw brightly coloured banners in some streets of the town as we walked around, and near the redevelopment work I found I was being forced towards the entrance of a local branch of Burger King. My companions confessed to teasing me because we all really wanted lunch with local cooking. After that, lunch at the South Street restaurant was fun, followed by more strolling around in the heat.
Back on the ship, we prepared for sailing at 5 p.m. and Gala Night. Tomorrow (Saturday) we are at sea and have an invitation to visit the Bridge.
Ships seen: Mein Schiff 1, Costa Magica, Corinthian II, Seabelow, Seahawk, Horizon, Ta’Panu, Hoegh Trident, Iskatel 2 (heavy lift vessel built 1986), CGM Tiger, Maria Dolores, San Gwann, San Marco,
Saturday 2nd June 2012
We have a day at sea today, and the ocean is like a millpond, to enjoy as we choose. This is the beginning of the Diamond Jubilee Weekend in the UK so I am excited about this HORIZON cruise and the prospect of enjoying the festivities at home too.
Social events continued until our OLS group presented ourselves for our Bridge visit at 2 p.m. It was such a pleasure to step in there and see the wonder of the blue sea ahead of the ship, the tidy deck down below, the neatness of the instruments and, one of my private pleasures, a full flag cupboard. As in life, words are not always necessary and flags and other signals can say a lot at sea. It was interesting to note that on this ship the Deck Officers use paper charts as well as the usual satellite and digital equipment, so we could see our passage through the Straits of Bonifacio later that afternoon. We could also see a plan of the ship used at the Meyer Werft ship yard. We were really grateful for being invited to the Bridge on such a calm sea day.
Ships seen: Club Med 2, a Moby ship far away, Napoleon Bonaparte in the distance
Sunday 3rd June 2012
We arrived back in Marseille after a very enjoyable week and several of us were lucky enough to disembark and get to the airport in good time for an early flight to the UK. The River Thames Jubilee Pageant was to be held in London and needed to be viewed, and that became another part of my Jubilee celebrations.
I enjoyed my time on the OLS cruise from Marseille and felt I had indeed been broadening my Horizons….