We usually get back to Berkeley East from our winter break by mid April. A couple weeks of boat prep and we're off on another cruising adventure. But last fall, we decided to do some much-needed work on our home in North Carolina. What began as "deferred maintenance" (paint, new driveway, etc.), turned into a major refit project that will enhance our life on the lake, but it also extended our land break this year significantly. Bad weather, expanded project scope, delayed materials, missing sub-contractors; we thought the work would never be completed. April became May, May turned to June, June quickly rolled into July; every week we would change our flights to Rome and cross our fingers that the rain would stop and the crews would show.
While there was a time when one of us thought the boat life should be a full-time existence, we have discovered that we are not cold-weather cruisers, nor are we fond of living on Berkeley East in a marina over winter, and crossing oceans every six months to chase after summer is just too much work for us, not to mention very taxing on BE. After 12 years of cruising on Berkeley East, we both now feel that a comfortable home base is crucial to a balanced life. So missing a few months of cruising was a necessary sacrifice.
Having owned five homes, one might assume we have experienced the trials and tribulations of a remodel before. But prior to moving to North Carolina, we always bought new homes and moved before any real work was required. So for us, remodeling was foreign territory, in our own country. We were naïve remodel newbies who thought we could put a 26-foot hole in the back of the house in the middle of February and be good to go in just a couple of months. As we had been told, time and time again, by intelligent people that we trust, any remodel is a slippery slope with surprises that always make the project take longer, and cost more, than expected. We ignored the warnings, as we have watched many episodes of "Fixer Upper" and everything always gets done quickly, inexpensively and it always turns out beautiful.
One of our goals in remodeling our house was to extend our time outdoors. Given that we are sailing Berkeley East from April to October, we miss some of the best months on the lake. So we opened the view, and added a porch where we will be able catch the winter sunsets over the lake in comfort.
That was the beginning of the slippery slope. We never planned to replace all of the exterior cedar shingles; it just made sense, what with all the woodpecker holes. What we didn't realize is that the new cement shingles took weeks to ship across country. We also never expected to replace much of the landscaping, but we thought the neighbors and HOA might have a problem with the mud after the tractors destroyed the grass. Little did we know that all the good landscapers were booked months in advance. We added a new bathroom while we waited.
While the delays were frustrating, the result is fantastic.
And there was yet another bright side to our cruising postponement: we got to spend more time on the lake, with our lake friends, in summer. Dinners, parties, skiing, floating, the Fourth of July. This was the first Independence Day that we have spent in the US in nine years. Watching fireworks from boats flying American flags with people singing "Proud to be an American" as loud, and off key, as possible; it was absolutely fabulous.
As we started seeing the light at the end of the remodel tunnel, we shifted into boat mode. We were worried about BE. While we knew she was in good hands with our friends in Gaeta Italy, this was the longest period of time in 12 years that we had not had eyes on her. We looked at our typical boat-prep list and wondered how we could possibly accomplish it all in the blistering August heat. We typically spend two full days on ladders waxing BE's 54-foot hull alone. And while we love the rewards of making her look so beautiful, we were not looking forward to doing that work in 90+ degrees. Kudos to the Captain for hiring the marina crew to do the hull polishing this time, a big bunch of Euros and Berkeley East would be shiny on our return. Who are we gonna leave it to anyway?
And the moment we saw BE, we knew it was money well spent. As the perspiration poured off our heads, BE's hull was glistening in the August sunlight. We still had the coach house and cockpit to wax, along with all our other chores, but we both breathed a sigh of relief that one big project could be ticked off the list.
People wondered why we didn't just skip this season and stay home to enjoy our nearly new house. It was August for gosh sake, and we would soon be doing all the boat prep to leave Berkeley East for winter. The thought had crossed our minds, but BE needed to get out of the European Union to clear her VAT (Value Added Tax) clock and she couldn't move herself. Any US-flagged boat can only be in all EU countries for 18 months collectively without checking into a non-EU country, so our cruiser responsibilities took precedence over admiring our remodel success. We had also already booked Berkeley East into Barcelona's Port Vell for the winter, so while it will be a short cruising season, it should be an exciting one.
Even with the hull waxing completed before we arrived, it still took 10 days of solid work in grueling temperatures and sky-high humidity to get Berkeley East ship shape, provisioned, and ready to roll. We still don't understand how the Italians can walk around in heat of the day in jeans, long sleeve shirts and no hat without even breaking a sweat. We got through all the work in as little clothes as possible, and what we call "cloud cleaning," a method of working below until a cloud shrouds the sun, then running up on deck to finish a topside chore.
When we speak Italian and the Italians speak English, we forget how easy it is to misinterpret conversations. When ordering 18 bottles (or three six-packs) of water to keep us going until we had BE's water maker fully operational, 18 bottles was heard as 18 six-packs, or 108 - 1.5 liter bottles of water. While we had been consuming water at an alarming rate, this was a lot of H2O, but we didn't have the heart to tell our new friend Danny about the misunderstanding after he had hauled it all to the dock. Stowing the 108 bottles on board was a challenge.
Although August isn't the ideal time to re-commission BE, it gave us an opportunity to spend time in Gaeta in the high season. In August it is full of life with Italians on holiday; festivals, concerts, puppet shows, open-air markets, lively restaurants, quite the contrast to the sleepy town we have come to know in the spring and fall.
Festa di Madonna di Porto Salvo also known as - "The Feast Day of the Sea" is a tradition dating back to 1926, when a specially decorated boat carrying the statue of "La Madonna del Mare" on its stern takes to the sea. Other boats await the Madonna and follow in procession outside the port, where prayers are said for the safety of sailors and fishermen while a garland of flowers is tossed into the water.
As we paid our substantial marina bill to get Berkeley East out of hock, and said our last goodbye to Gaeta Jane (as we have come to call our friend, interpreter, problem solver, and BE's guardian while we were away), we left open the possibility of a return some day. After all, we didn't plan to come to Gaeta two years ago; we were headed to Spain. And we never ever imagined that we would come back to Gaeta again last year; we were going to Spain. So anything is possible. But first: Ponza, Sicily, Pantelleria, Tunisia, Sardinia, and Spain.
One last look at the USS Mount Whitney watching over our Gaeta marina.