Making waves - Frank Salt

Making waves - Frank Salt

Have any of you ever been on a Maltese dgħajsa or taken a dgħajsa around the Grand Harbour? If you haven’t, then, I suggest you do, as you will find the experience both exhilarating and humbling. Having been on both, it is as good, although in a different way, as the trips by gondolas around the canals of Venice.

It should be a prime touristic attraction and should be a must for every tourist coming on holiday to Malta. Am I being too over enthusiastic and passionate in my comments? If you think so, then take a trip yourselves and see if I am right.

The dgħajsa must be one of the most graceful, most streamlined and most beautiful small boats in the world. Note its elegant shape, its flowing lines. Its ageless character, its dignity, its practicality, its never-ending grace as it flows through the water.

Readers might now think that I am overstating the merits of this lovely craft, but have you ever seen an unattractive dgħajsa? Most photos taken of a dgħajsa turn out to be amazing, especially if the Grand Harbour walls are in the background. I feel that the humble dgħajsa, yes it is a humble boat, is so important to Malta, that it should be the emblem of our tourism product. It symbolises the traditions, the beauty of our seas, the craftsmanship in our lovely islands. And the friendliness of the Maltese people.

Yes, all this in one small boat, accompanied by the sturdy man steering his ageless craft elegantly through our harbours.

There are not many of them left. When the British forces were in Malta, there were hundreds of these tiny colourful boats being used to carry goods and people to and fro the ships in the harbour.

Unfortunately, when the British left, they all, except for a few, disappeared, and this left us with the few that are now carrying lucky people around our beautiful fortifications.

Why am I devoting nearly a whole article to the dgħajsa? Because it deserves it, and they are not being used as much as they should.

We are always complaining that we are losing our culture and history. Let us not lose the little we have left. Rather let us encourage the manufacture of more of these boats, and push them as the Venetians promote the gondolas. Just like Venice, we have sheltered water. They have the canals, and we have the Grand Harbour. This means the boats can carry tourists around the harbour all year.

First thing that must be done is to organise the whole enterprise.

When I was chairman of product planning at the MTA, I arranged berths for the dgħajjes at strategic points all around the harbour. Before this the dgħajjes had no berths at all. That I thought was amazing. These berths must be upgraded and more safe berths created.

The dgħajsa must be one of the most beautiful small boats in the world

It is not easy to build dgħajjes as they were originally built, because they were hand built by master craftsmen. Maybe they can still be built that way, if not, there are different ways of building them today, keeping the same shape and beautiful colour scheme of the older vessels.

More men and women would have to be trained to steer these little boats, which shouldn’t be difficult, as I imaging they would be fun to drive.

Then the MTA would have to promote the dgħajsa as a major touristic attraction, for normal tourists and cruise liner passengers. It should be an amazing business and wonderful promotion for Malta as a tourist destination. These boats would be a Maltese icon, in all advertising and tourism marketing.

It is not just the dgħajsa that should be given importance in promoting tourism in Malta.

We should promote anything related to the sea. We are an island after all.

The ferry boats from Sliema to Valletta and the Three Cities should be designed in shape and character as the ferries used before the war, but of course with all modern engineering and amenities. The jetties used by the ferries should be like the jetties of old.

They were so graceful, and so very old world Maltese. This would give a beautiful impression to our visitors. The traditional ġostra (greasy pole) should be held more often and in all seaside villages. It’s unique and very exciting to watch.

Our regattas should be held more often, with maybe participation by foreign crews, making the races international.

We already have international motor boat racing and yachting, which are very, very good. Put these all together and Malta and Gozo would have a unique niche in the ever-competitive tourism market.

Let us get off the sea for a second and mention our old Maltese buses. They were loved by tourists, and that love should be resurrected. Why do we not suggest to the new bus company, that they renovate about 20 old buses and put them out on line with the other modern buses on the daily bus routes as part of the national bus service?

I feel that they would make a very popular and nostalgic form of transport.

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