How one clockmaker’s failed salt business caused an incredible 60ft waterspout in Gozo
It must have been quite a sight to see!

Sarah Micallef

Most seekers of off-the-beaten-track beaches will be familiar with Gozo’s beautiful Wied il-Ghasri, where a secluded pebble beach meanders out to the sea within the valley’s steep walls. What many won’t know however, is that Wied il-Ghasri is also the spot of a failed saltworks enterprise back in the 1700s – one which had an unusual side effect!

A failed enterprise

It all began with a wealthy Gozitan clockmaker, known as Stiefnu l-Arloġġier, who attempted to scrape salt pans along the coastline between Wied l-Għasri and Xwejni. Following studies of the submerged coastline off Għar ir-Riħ, the clockmaker excavated a reservoir and a series of channels which would deposit seawater into the salt pans.

Entomologist David Dandria writes about it in Treasures of Malta, describing it as a “failed enterprise” – once the salt pans were filled, the unlucky clockmaker realised that rather than evaporating, the water was actually being absorbed by the porous limestone, leaving a layer of mud rather than salt behind!

But his misadventure didn’t end there, with the following winter bringing about an unusual phenomenon during a seasonal storm.

An unusual side effect

“The strong winds drove the waves violently into the cave underlying the saltworks’ reservoir, where, to put it in [French author Jean-Pierre Louis Laurent] Houël’s words, ‘the wind and the tide, being confined in this almost circular spot, acted with a rotatory motion and formed a siphon or waterspout’. The water, under considerable pressure, forced its way through the well-like opening in the reservoir and rose in the air in the form of a vertical fountain.”

The waterspout is said to have reached an incredible height of 60 feet (18 metres), but the phenomenon was short-lived, as the dispersion of saltwater onto the surrounding fields angered the farmers, who went on to block the impromptu blowhole with rocks.

The farmers also brought an action against the unfortunate clockmaker, claiming substantial damages, but Stiefnu is said to have died before the affair was ever settled.

And so goes the tale of Gozo’s impressive saltwater geyser… gone, but not forgotten!

31st December 2020

Sarah Micallef
Written by
Sarah Micallef
A keen traveller with an interest in most things, Sarah loves her island home as much as she loves getting away from it, and enjoys discovering and re-discovering the gems, hidden corners and unique stories of her native Malta and Gozo.

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