On the 24th of June we left the UK, heading for Valletta, the capital of Malta and the start of the 7th leg of Exercise Gallipoli. Arriving in the late afternoon at the Royal Malta Yacht Club we were met by HMSTC Kukri, our home for the next two weeks. We had been tasked with with sailing her from Malta to Ajaccio in Corsica and for the next two weeks we would live, sleep and eat aboard the yacht, taking it in turns to cook and clean up, and sail on four hour watches. Aboard were members from a whole host of regiments, including the Yorkshire Regiment, Grenadier Guards, Royal Anglian Regiment, the Rifles, and the University of London Officer Training Corps. Some of us were also here to earn their competent crew qualifications and would therefore have to learn all the basics of sailing, including knots, nautical terms and parts of the boat, how to cook aboard a boat and more.
Our first task upon arrival was a safety brief and allocation of safety equipment and foul weather gear. Thereafter we had to choose a select few personal items to store in our small personal lockers before stowing our bags in the very inaccessible aft storage compartment. At that point we called it a day and left Kukri to go sample some of the local cuisine.
The next day we spent going over the basics of sailing and then went for a short sail, practising casting off, raising and lowering the mainsail and headsail, tacking, man overboard drills and finally coming back into port.
Before we set sail on the third day we decided that it was time to explore the beautiful walled city of Valletta. Here we visited Casa Rocca Pccola, which provided a unique insight into the customs and traditions of the Maltese nobility over the last 400 years. After that we made our way towards the Saluting Battery, arriving just in time for the daily gun salute marking midday.
Valletta to Riposto
Upon returning to Kukri we sent a team to do some last minute shopping and then set sail for Sicily on a 24 hour passage. The conditions were good and the wind favourable. Several hours into our voyage we came across HMS Bulwark, which is currently in the Mediterranean carrying out its mission – Operation Weald – to rescue migrants who have become stranded at sea fleeing fighting in Syria and Libya. We sailed through the night, changing watch every four hours and arrived in the late afternoon at our first port of call, Riposto, a small town on the East coast of Sicily. Towering above Riposto Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, disappeared into the clouds and on the next day we made it our mission to climb it.
We awoke early the next day to catch a train to the town of Catania, where we boarded a bus that took us to Sapienza Refuge at 1900 metres. The weather during our ascent was quite poor, with cold winds and light rain, and as we reached the top of one of the craters, having ascended a further 1100 metres, we took cover from the wind, only to to notice that the ground was radiating heat. Feeling slightly too under dressed to remain at the top of the crater for long, we began our descent, only for the weather to clear up immediately and the sun to appear from behind a cloud. Typical. Still, we were now able to explore more craters and admire the breathtaking view as we descend the mountain to Sapienza Refuge to catch the bus and then train back to Riposto. Upon returning we decided it was too late to start cooking and found a nice little restaurant on the seafront to enjoy some Sicilian cuisine.
Riposto, Sicily to Naples, Italy
The next day we woke early and sent a team to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies before our 36 hour passage to Naples. As we set sail the weather was beautiful, but there was little wind and as a result we spent most of the time under motor. It did however give us plenty of time to practise drills, such as putting reefs in. Those who had yet to earn their competent crew soon found themselves clambering around on deck as they put reefs in and then shook them out moments later, all to the amusement of the others. As the hours ticked by we soon found ourselves sailing through the busy strait of Messina, sticking to a narrow, predesignated, channel to avoid being fined by the Italian coastguard. As night fell we passed the small volcanic island of Stromboli, and several crew members swore that they could briefly see a faint orange glow coming from the summit. As dawn broke and the sun came up above the horizon and large pod of dolphins appeared at the bow of the vessel and proceeded to race alongside us, weaving in and out of one another and then leaping into the air all to the enjoyment of the crew. Arriving in the Bay of Naples the following evening, having spent most of the day under motor, we set about planning an excursion to the ruins of Pompeii to get some much needed culture in our lives.
We woke bright and early the next day in order to make the most of our trip to Pompeii. The group split up, some of choosing to walk, others taking a taxi. Having made it to Pompeii we wandered the ruins, admiring how well preserved they were, especially some of the wall paintings and mosaic floors. At the time of our visit a new exhibition had just opened, focusing on the excavation of the ancient ruins and displaying casts of some of Vesuvius’ victims in their final moments. We were all amazed at how big the ruins were, especially considering only one third had actually been excavated, the rest having been left untouched to better preserve it. Although the ruins of Pompeii were big, they still felt overcrowded, as large groups of tourists surged from one site to another. Having spent a good portion of the day in Pompeii beneath the baking sun we headed back to the marina, were some us spent a few hours by the pool before supper.
Naples, Italy to Rome, Italy
Before leaving port the next day for our 24 hour passage to Rome, we learnt about the different types of anchors we had aboard and how to prepare them. We then practised how to lower and raise them, as our skipper had planned for us to make a quick stop at one of the many beautiful islands en route to Rome
After having sent a team via taxi to the nearest supermarket we set about preparing the boat for sea and set sail upon their return, leaving the bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius behind. As we rounded the headland our skipper set a course towards two nearby islands and we soon found ourselves anchoring in the shadows of the beautiful cliffs of Isola d’Ischia. Here some of us went swimming whilst others got the tender out and went ashore to explore the island. Upon returning to Kukri we had our evening meal and hoisted the anchor to continue our journey to Rome. As we sailed up the Italian coastline towards Rome the winds were forever changing direction or dying down to then return moments later, usually just after we had lowered the headsail. It was however good practice.
Arriving in Porto de Rome late afternoon the next day we wasted little time, immediately heading for the nearest train station to take us into Rome proper. Here we wandered the streets of the old city, admiring the ruins that lay in amongst the bustling city. Top on the list of places to visit was the massive Colosseum followed by the Vatican City on the opposite side of Rome. Having seen as much of Rome as time allowed, we caught the train again and headed back to the port to have dinner and get some sleep before our early start the next morning.
Rome, Italy to Bonifacio
Our passage from Rome to Bonifacio would be the longest of the whole voyage, taking 39 hours. We left the port after having completed the necessary restock of supplies from the local supermarket which was not as local as we would have preferred. We also found that we did not have a Corsican courtesy ensign. A party was soon dispatched to the local chandlers to remedy this, only to return with disappointing news that the chandlers had decided that normal opening hours did not apply to them on this day. Instead we raised the French courtesy ensign and set sail. The going was good at first and we made a lot of progress, but as the night fell so did the wind and soon we were chugging away under engine. During the night and the early hours of the morning we encountered our first traffic of the leg as large cruise ships, ferries and cargo ships cut across our path heading south, providing a good lesson on the maritime rules of the road.
As we came into the port of Bonifacio we could not help but admire the beautiful cliffs that flanked it and the impressive castle that sat high upon them. After having walked through the beautiful town and admired the impressive view it gave of the port bellow we split into groups, some went off to explore the German WWII bunkers dotted around the town and hidden in the cliffs, whilst others took the tender out to explore the coves and beaches around the port. Upon this particular groups return they managed to get sand in the yacht’s cockpit, something that did not impress the skipper the next morning. As a result they soon found themselves scrubbing the aft deck and cleaning the cockpit before we set sail for our final passage. On a positive note we did finally manage to get a Corsican courtesy ensign to fly as we sailed up the coast.
Bonifacio to Ajaccio
Our final passage to Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica, lasted 18 hours and was blessed with strong winds. After having had a short photo shoot as we left the port by two of the crew in the tender, we were tacking up the coast of Corsica, making good progress. During this final part of the voyage the mate tested the soon to be competent crew on the names of parts of the vessel and then knots, making sure that they fulfilled the requirements for the qualification.
The final destination of our leg. Got into port during the afternoon and immediately set about cleaning the hull by sending a team out in the tender. Miraculously no one fell in, that is until they were back on the pontoon and someone was pushed in. After having cleaned the hull and put the boat to bed we set out to find the nearest bar, something that did not take long. The following day we set about giving Kukri a deep clean. Cleaning the entire interior and exterior, making sure that it was up to the standard that we ourselves would like to receive it.
Having handed over HMSTC Kukri early on Sunday we headed for the airport, happy to be heading home after the most amazing two weeks of adventures training.