There is a Maltese expression: bahar jibla’ l-art, which translates as an event “when the sea wants to swallow the land.” It is a perfect description of the Mediterranean gregale that is sweeping over Malta this morning. Weather warnings for gale force winds reaching 40 knots from the northeast add an exclamation point to what has already been a winter of unstable Mediterranean weather.
The wind in Malta should abate by tomorrow, but a gregale is never taken lightly on this island with a rich maritime history. In February 2019, gregale winds in Malta reached Force 8 and 9 (50 knots), flooding streets and uprooting trees. The sea did “swallow the land” in Malta’s worst recorded gregale in 1555, causing waves that inundated the city of Valletta, drowning 600 people.
Weather and religion frequently coincide, especially in this part of the world. The gregale is also known as euroclydon, meaning “a violent action.” Euroclydon was the Biblical cyclonic wind that wrecked the ship of St. Paul on the coast of Malta. “…About midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.“
“And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.“
Aboard Flying Fish, I have underestimated the severity of winter (now spring) Mediterranean weather. In Turkey and Greece, there was the Meltemi. Ahead lay the easterly Levante that funnels through the Straits of Gibraltar, the summer Sirocco is filled with Saharan sand, the Libeccio raises high seas in Corsica, the violent Mistral of southern France shoots cold air out of the Rhône Valley, and the northerly Tramontane is generally defined as “anything seen as foreign, strange, or even barbarous.”
With all of its idiosyncrasies, the weather is one of the most captivating aspects of sailing across the world’s oceans and seas. Weather can be fascinating (like a cobra coming out of a basket), it can be frustrating, or it can be otherworldly glorious. Weather always reminds me that I am human and that there exists a higher power than me.
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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021
Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives –Fr. John Baker