While I was on holiday in Malta with some friends a few years ago we booked a boat trip to the neighbouring islands of Gozo and Comino. The package deal provided all food and drinks for the day, including breakfast, so we woke up early and set off for the harbour under a bright morning sun and a clear blue sky.

Valleta Cruise Ship Terminal, port overview

The boat waiting for us on the dock in Sliema was medium-sized and quite old, but it seemed to be well maintained and it was still floating so that was good enough for us. We climbed aboard with about 50 or 60 other people.

While my companions went off in search of beer I stood at the back of the boat, leaning on the handrail and curiously watching the hardy, sun-baked Mediterranean seafaring types preparing for our departure. The boat was moored facing outwards like a car backed up against a wall, so as the engines roared into life a cloud of blue diesel fumes filled the air in front of me obscuring my view of the action. As the air cleared I saw a guy on shore hurriedly cast off the mooring rope on the right side and a burly young crew member pulled it swiftly on board, but before the rope on the left side could be cast off, the captain gunned the engines and gave it full speed ahead.

The crew member ran across the boat behind me and desperately tried to untie the rope from the bollard on the deck as it stretched like a piece of elastic gradually getting thinner and thinner. At the same time he was shouting over his shoulder in Maltese, obviously trying to tell the captain to cut the engines. The captain couldn’t hear him. The guy on shore tried in vain to heave the rope off the mooring post on the dock but the extreme tension made it impossible.

I was considering offering some kind of assistance when the unthinkable happened; the rope snapped about five feet from the boat and whipped violently in both directions. The short end of the rope shot through the boat’s railing and hit the crew member squarely between the legs. Unfortunately he was still looking backwards and bellowing towards the wheelhouse so he had no chance to take evasive action.

The violent force of the impact ended his tirade on a very long vowel, and the sudden and simultaneous acceleration of the boat caused him to stumble forward and hit his head hard on the railing with a clang. He fell to the deck clutching his groin with one hand and his head with the other. He slowly pulled his knees up to his chest as he muttered a Catholic prayer, his face completely white except for a trickle of blood from a wound above his right eyebrow. The captain set sail, oblivious to the chaos aft, while passengers gathered to offer assistance to the fallen crew member.

The captain eventually got word of what had happened and ventured to the back of the boat to see for himself. By this time the young crew member was sitting up against the railing nursing his genitalia with both hands, while a sympathetic female passenger dabbed at his head wound with a tissue. Empathetic male passengers with crossed legs and pained expressions on their faces looked on.

The heavily bearded captain stood in front of the young man, said something in Maltese and then burst into hearty laughter. The young man slowly hauled himself to his feet and shuffled painfully towards the hysterical captain. He pulled himself upright before him, looking for all the world like he was about to salute, then, without saying a word, swiftly head-butted him in the face. The captain’s nose broke with loud crack and his knees buckled instantly. The young man managed to get a couple of good swift kicks in as the captain slumped to the deck before passengers intervened to prevent further bloodshed.

Amazingly, the rest of the crew decided to continue the cruise as if nothing had happened and we did actually get to see Gozo and Comino that day. As we ate lunch on board we got talking to a Maltese passenger about the morning’s events and we asked him what the captain had said to elicit such a violent and career-ending response from his crew member. Loosely translated, here’s what the captain said: “Don’t worry about it – a little f*gg*t like you was never going to give me grandchildren anyway.”