The article can be read from the link below (it's pure botany, mhux ghal-mara tad-dar!)
The islet is about 80-90m away from mainland, and can be reached by a good swim. I have already attempted to swim it about 10 days ago (early November), but it was ominously wavy and did not made it.
On a fine Saturday morning (12-Nov-2011), it was finally calm again and so decided to visit tac-Cawl islet. A small towel, camera, notebook, T-shirt and a pencil were compressed in a top-sealing plastic food container which was conveniently used as a means to carry the contents during swimming. I left quite early from home, and when I arrived at the coast, I controlled the situation. It looked that it was quite safe - slightly wavy, no wind, sunny, warmish, and sea temp an acceptable 22C. I did not sniff any natural treachery, but instead I was asking why the islet is called "tac-Cawl" (= crows in english) if there are no crows in Malta?
Down I plunged in the cool sea and there was no alert at all. The waves at my back pushed my westerly swim, and aided to shorten the time to travel a distance which look short on a map or from the upper cliffs, but quite long when at sea. With my sea goggles, I could enjoy watching some fish, and alas I recognized one of the few species I knew and called "ic-cawl" – that replies satisfactorily my previous question about the origin of the name of the islet.
I easily came ashore and waved an " everything safe here, you can go away" to my 2 children and wife who was controlling from the cliffs above. Then I had to swim another short distance clockwise around the islet, for an easy access to its top.
I scrambled the rock face at the South and was happy with the idea that I can enjoy half a day of botanical exploration. I dried myself and got back some warmth from a thick T-shirt I had in the container, and off started the exploration.
The survey was carefully done, and the results were not as good as expected, but now I was sure that the claim of 2 persons that they surveyed the islet several times every season was completely not true, because there were large patches of autumn-winter-(early sring) plants like the Friar’s cowl, (Arisarum vulgare), CapeWood Sorel (Oxalis pes-caprae) and Sea squill (Urginea pancration) which normally, after April they disappear or become inconspicuous within other flourishing perennial or Spring flora. I also found a species of Trifolium that I did not know what it is
However, I kept surveying the small islet in hope to find something of greater importance, until the alerting sounds of waves caught my attention for the first time.
I checked down from the crumbling edges of the cliff, to realize how windy it have become and that the sea water was not as calm as I left it, with rapid waves coming from an East-to-West direction splashing with certain vigour on the East rocky part of the islet.
Pretending that it's OK, I surveyed for another half hour, but the sounds of waves, and increasing wind (or that what I thought), made me nervous to the point to quit earlier as I expected. "What else would I find now?", I asked myself, to help my decision to leave. "2 hours were pretty enough, and the Trifolium is quite a highlight!" I replied, while I walked to my stuff to prepare to swim back.
In few minutes, I descended the rock face carefully and secured that the container is tight closed. I could not decide if I have any use of the goggles, but finally I brought them them around my forehead.
The plan was to swim those 20-25m around the islet to reach the East-facing part of the islet, take a rest there, and finally swim to mainland, which although it was 3 to 4 times as long, it looked more sheltered and more calm. I could immediately feel that the swim was different and more difficult. It was more wavy, despite low amplitude, and harder to swim against current. The floating container that was pushed ahead while swimming was often travelling too far sideways out of my reach, and had to do extra effort to have it back under my control. Grabbing it with one hand, and paddle with the other gave no practical solution. After swimming for 10mins or so, I looked back from where I dived and saw to my disappointment that it was not much far away. All of a sudden I had a kind of attack of hunger or weakness, as if my energy has declined all of a sudden. Just at the half sarcastic question if I would ever make it, a large, isolated cloud made the sea dark and grey, and the momentary terrifying vision, gave a boost of adrenaline and a kind of mental warning. Hence, at this point I focused again to reach a set of rocks at the east of the islets were they tamed the strong waves leaving areas of foam behind.
Luckily, with my eyes open under the sea, I can visualize quite well the contours of rock and how much below they are. With a final struggle, I was deft enough to climb a slightly submerged, rocky platform, concave like and smoothened by coral, algae and marine biota. The surface was just about a foot underwater, if the sea was calm. Here I was crouched on my feet and holding securely with my hands, and at the same time holding the container between my arms and feet so it would not go anywhere with the kind of shallow waves that were present at that time I was resting for a while.
As soon as my breath gave a go ahead for the next part, I felt that my shoes were untied, and not securely tight. The thought of losing one of the shoes during my swim made me nervous, so I decided to tie the lace. On doing this, a sudden large wave visited me, causing me to loose my balance, and the container to drift away from my possession. A similar wave came by in few seconds, now I found myself clinging horizontally with the rock I was standing on, while seeing the container getting smashed by the 3rd wave to few rocks about 3 m away. Since it appeared that it was only luck that worse damage or bad consequences (eg drown after getting perforated) have not occurred, I went without thinking twice to fetch the container. I only managed to push away the plastic box from the dangerous rocks, but yet, without grasping it. The next wave had carried me towards the dsmr rocks that previously the box got onto, but for a question of few inches, I did not made any contact. Without waiting the next unwelcomed wave, I sprinted away from these rocks, also helped by the outward movement of the sea. I was now in an area of deep water while trying to get hold of the container, swaying in front of me. It took a couple of attempts until finally it was mine.
Not having many options, I swam back to the original location where I was standing, and this time stood on both feet while remaining low. I was amazed and equally worried with large amount of water gushing around my feet and splashing with rocks. So far the waves did not intensify; I was quite steady and safe, with the container now held in my arms.
As from experience, I knew, expected or hoped that these momentary higher waves would be followed by another moment of calmness. I had to decide quickly what would be my plan, and 2 options were possible. Either to swim a long distance west to mainland , or take a shortcut to safer land behind these rocks inwards (that is further around the east part of the islet) through a gap between two rocks spaced about 1.5 m apart. Partly because I was quite exhausted that felt the distance of the first option quite unreachable, partly because I still had my shoes wobbling, but also because the waves have resided for a while as expected, I decided for the second option.
I threw myself in the water and swam as quick as could to pass through the rock gap. I said that now the goggles would help to see better the rocks underwater. I tried to slip the goggles in front of my eyes, while swimming, but they were not perfectly in place, making the vision even worse. I tried to adjust them with one hand, while the other was paddling ahead, but accidentally they slipped from my fingers while stretching them out for adjustment, and smashed on my left eye. Now getting close to the tight gap, and angry with what happened, I pulled down the goggles down my neck, and decided to do without them
The waves were persistent, but not very bad. I quickly sneaked through the gap without any harm, and after swimming for another 5 metres, it already felt much easier. The waves experienced earlier, did not reaching with any strength this area protected by the set of rocks just mentioned.
I swam few more minutes to reach the inward part of the islet and climbed safely on land. I took a 10 minute rest, and eagerly tied well my shoes laces. “At least no more waves this part” I said, but I still was quite reluctant to swim the long distance to mainland. Another cloud was at this moment making dull both the sea and my courage to dive back in water. "When the sun comes out, I will swim the last part" I decided, and that was what I exactly did as soon the gleam of sunlight intensified to bright light.
I had to swim against current, and the trip appeared as if it was 2 or 3 times longer in time or in distance from that of the other way round. Finally, my feet touched the ground, and could cheat the last 5 to 8 metres of sea on foot. The waves were not troublesome on this part of the coast, and quickly walked up to land. While opening the container, I noticed that one of its corners was broken, but no water was leaking in. "It must have been a larger hit than it appeared to be" I said, while I double-checked that my camera and anything else inside is not wet.
On coming back home, my wife commented on my red eye, and on looking into the mirror, it looked aweful, but at least, it was neither hurting nor resulted in impaired vision.
- Comparison of sea conditions within 3 hours!
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- So far so good :-)
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- Last effort
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- Reaching the islet
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- Let's start!
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- My children watching the maniac swimming in November!
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- Tac-Cawl islet, away from the closest accessible shore by about 90m
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- White trail is part swam when I left the islet. Green area is a flat rock about a feet under water surface, where I rested for a while, the pink is where the waves carried my box (and me), while the yellow trail is were I swam through a 1-2m gap between
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In spite of everything, one gets a huge sense of achievement, and you feel you are really "living". Well done, and it sounds an interesting place, and I bet you intend to return again one day Stephen?
Of course, you are invited to write your adventures here too - they would serve as a diary in the future! There is no need to write in detail as I did, I took this exercise to improve my writing in English! I think once you wrote few, they should be moved here!
So my advice is think carefully of all the possibilities before setting out on another adventure!
I have attempted to visit the other islet - (tal-Halfa rock) twice, but the East wind prevailing for 3 weeks between mid November and beg December, was shifting this visit too long and entering a period were swimming could be a problem simply becasue the water will get to cold. Once I read that the threshold for a long swim (without suits) is 18-20C and currentely the water was 21 -> 20 C.
One day (about 3 days after the bg storm) was finally calm, though the wind marked from east. My wife wished to assist. When we arrived on site, the water looked just fine. We were looking at the west side of the islet. We plunged in the water without much hesitation, and swam to the east side, the easiest (and perhaps only) access to climb the islet.
As soon as we turned the edge, we saw moderate and rather scary waves hitting the east side of the rock. It was hard to take the decission to quit back, since we were just ther, few metres from our goal. We sawm back disappointed, but safely.
Then, we visited the islet last Monday (2nd dec) with a moderate south-West wind, and despite it was relatively stronger from the first attempt, it was protected. The swim was safe, and 2 hour survey was carried out calmly.
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