Hoping to see Gozo from a whole new angle, Jo Caruana heads for life on the high seas, aboard the beautiful Barbarossa.
Sun cream… check. Big floppy hat… check. Desire to relax… check, check, check.
Watching the boats bob on Mgarr Bay I’m struck by one of them in particular. It’s a Turkish gullet that looks like no other in the area; its wooden exterior gleams in the sunlight and it seems to beg to be taken out for a spin.
Not one to disappoint, I climb aboard. There I meet Chris Magro and his dad Frankie, the duo to whom this beautiful boat belongs. With a smile, they welcome me on deck, encourage me to make myself at home and start to relate the tale of the Barbarossa.
“This boat has long been the boat of my dreams,” grins Frankie, his bright blue eyes shining. “I bought it 15 years ago and brought it back from Turkey; back then boats like this were very in demand. It was only the second of its kind to be brought to the Maltese Islands, and the first to be berthed in Gozo. In fact, back then it was the only commercial sailing boat of its kind on Gozo at all.”
Frankie explains that it is the unique shape of this boat that makes it so seaworthy and enjoyable to sail on. “It’s designed for people to spend long stretches of time on, so it’s very comfortable and can sleep up to 12. In the past we did a lot of overnighters and extended stays, but these days day trips are far more popular, whether that’s a romantic sail for two or a lively party as part of a bachelor’s or hen’s do.”
Hugely passionate about the history and topography of the island, Frankie chats away about some of his favourite sights and spots.
“Gozo may be small, but there’s no end to the number of places you can see by boat here,” he tells me. “We manage to take in some of the most beautiful ones as we tour round the island. These include Xattl’Ahmar, Mgarr ix-Xini, Fungus Rock, San Blas and DahletQorot, to name but a few. I love looking out for really special areas and pointing them out to our guests – such as Halfa Rock, which is where Turkish general Dragut swore to seek revenge for his brother’s death on Gozo. I believe that our guests like to learn that little bit more about the island while they’re with us.”
Chris and Frankie take great pride in the fact that the Barbarossa is a five-star boat, meaning a trip on here is a lot more luxurious than many of the other day-trip options. “It’s a complete service,” Chris explains. “From the pick-up at their hotel, to the excursions we can organise during the day, to the personalised service aboard the Barbarossa; we like to go the extra mile.”
As Frankie, Chris and I finish chatting, my fellow ‘sailors’ (the group lucky enough to be joining us for the tour) arrive and the duo get all hands on deck to get us out to sea. Enjoying the luxury of the boat, those on board find a spot in the sunshine (or in the shade if preferable), grab a complimentary glass of wine and settle in to enjoy the journey.
As we tour around Gozo and Comino it’s striking to see just how different things look from the sea. Each cove has something special to offer – sharp cliffs, sparkling waters and undiscovered spots of countryside to look at.
My favourite has to be Crystal Bay (which Frankie stops to tell me used to be a landing place for pirates, hence the large tower that was built overlooking the area). The spot is southeast of the infinitely better-known Blue Lagoon on Comino and we anchor here for an hour or so. With the sun shining down on us, everyone on board is mesmerised by the incredibly blue waters.
Chris pops out to inform us that snorkelling gear is available if we want it, and that a dingy is on-hand should we want to explore the caves. I do, of course, so I hop onto the little boat and enjoy the experience of whizzing in and out of the tiny caverns nearby, looking at the brightly coloured coral and the deserted beaches that lie deep within them.
Back on the Barbarossa and it’s not long until we’re on our merry way again, spending long stretches of time whizzing through the water and watching land whoosh past. The boat hugs the coast all the way around Comino, and Chris only breaks up the journey for a short while, giving us the chance to dive in and swim in the Blue Lagoon.
Finally the boat makes the crossing over to Malta, with the waves lapping loudly at our side. For their convenience, some of the group choose to disembark in Circewwa; each shakes Chris’ hand as they get off and thanks him for a wonderful afternoon. As for me? I join the crew on the sail back to Mgarr, watching as the sun sets before us, casting a glorious light over Fort Chambray in the distance.
Having seen Gozo from the sea, I’m completely taken in by this new side to the island and eager to see more next time around. Yes, I may have taken off my big floppy hat as I step onto land and walk along the shore, but I vow to be back on board the Barbarossa as soon as possible.
“With the sun shining down on us, everyone on board is mesmerised by the incredibly blue waters.”