What starts with just a few nocturnal claps of thunder can turn within hours into a ferocious hurricane. Beware the grigal! This winter wind bears down on the Maltese islands with all the force of a mighty army marching out of the Balkans intent on laying waste to the Mediterranean. Perhaps St Paul was caught in one of these fierce north-easterlies when he was washed ashore in Malta.
"Don't even think of going over to Gozo today," says the man peering down over the harbour wall at St Paul's Bay. Huge waves crash over the breakwater onto a typically Maltese collection of rainbow-tinted boats in the harbour. High above the port on the main road known as Triq San Pawl, even the baker has forsaken his shop to cross the street and feel the lash of the grigal. The wind scorches the skin, the rain lashes window panes and waves tumble over the rocks where St Paul is alleged to have tussled with a viper.
The ferry crossing to Gozo is at its best in winter. Especially when the bad-tempered grigal tosses the boat hither and thither. The ferries arrive and leave from the harbour at Cirkewwa on Malta's north coast and slip over to Mgarr Harbour on Gozo. About thirty minutes, just enough time to down a coffee and watch the island of Comino and its kid sister Cominotto slide by outside the window. Only a handful of hardy folk overwinter on Comino.
Today, with the grigal venting its wrath on the islands, the MV Malita cannot find shelter at its regular berth on the north pier at Cirkewwa. So it slips in behind the south pier on the edge of Paradise Bay. Odd name for a place that has more than its fair share of concrete.