One evening during our winter in North Carolina, when it was snowing outside, and there were holes in our house, we had the brilliant idea to book Berkeley East into Barcelona's Port Vell for her next winter break. While we typically only commit to a winter berth about halfway through the cruising season, we thought, "Why wait?" We were definitely going to Spain this year, definitely, and we didn't want the marina to fill up; Port Vell is the ideal place to live on BE while immersing ourselves in the city of Barcelona. The action also gave us something to dream about as we tried to keep warm while sifting through the house remodel dust.
Months later, when we were saying our last goodbyes to Italy, there was more than a hint of regret that we had to leave our favored European country; beautiful, vivacious, spellbinding Italia. We fell in love with the republic eight years ago; the moment we turned Berkeley East into San Remo and a portly man on the dock spread his arms, smiled broadly and bellowed "Buongiorno! Welcome to Italy!"
It is a well-known fact that Berkeley East has accumulated more time in Italy than any other country, including the US. She has spent five of her nine European winters resting comfortably in Italy, she has sailed into nearly every Italian port between the borders of France and Slovenia, visited more than 40 Italian islands, circumnavigated Sicily, and survived the utter madness of Sardinia. BE is proud to be an American, but Italy is her adopted homeland.
We began our farewell tour of Italy with a 35-mile shakedown cruise from Gaeta to Ponza. It was the middle of August and the biggest Italian holiday of the year, so half of Italy was following Berkeley East to the Pontine Islands. Having such a late start to the cruising season, we were on a tight schedule to get to Tunisia, then Spain, so we had to choose our stops carefully; Ponza would be crowded, but it was the perfect first anchorage after weeks of boat prep. We used to complain about the August crowds, boats anchoring too close, the Italians' erratic driving and excessive speed on the water. Actually, we still get annoyed, especially when boats fly by Berkeley East causing her to buck and roll, the contents of cabinets being tossed about to the breaking point. But more often than not, in Italy, the pounding motion is followed by the all-too-familiar Italian accent chanting "U! S! A!" or, singing "God Bless America." Smiles come to our faces, BE settles and all is forgotten. You gotta love Italy.
This was our fourth time in Ponza, and we could easily go there four hundred times, if we weren't leaving Italy. We spent three days anchored off the island; the stunning cliffs never get tiring. On our first trip to town, our trusty 12-year-old two-stroke outboard engine sputtered, then choked and clunked to a stop just as we were pulling up to the dock of our favorite Ponza restaurant; time for lunch.
After tracking down a mechanic, on a Saturday, in August, and someone to translate, he waved his hands frantically declaring it would be much too difficult, then very quickly insisted on coming to the dock to have a look. It is the typical Italian way and much of their charm; cranky and disagreeable one moment, then cheerful and all is right with the world, the next.
BE's Captain had spent much time over winter mapping out the quickest, most efficient route to Tunisia: Gaeta to Ponza, an overnight to Ustica then Trapani, a quick stop in the Egadis and finally, Tunisia. But, there was also the perhaps less logical, but more enjoyable, path. Why barrel blindly through darkness, only to be so tired on arrival that it takes days to recover, when we could mosey comfortably in daylight, relaxing, reading, stopping at night to savor last glimpses of some of our favorite Italian locales? We weren't in that much of a hurry, really. After much discussion, we decided that we would visit a few memorable spots but still move at a swift pace in somewhat the right direction. While we would have loved to linger, we were just happy to spend a bit more time in our beloved Italia.
Our detour began with the Isle of Capri, an island not quite as beautiful as Ponza, but far more infamous. It is one of the most photographed places in Italy, Europe, possibly the world. While Capri is considered "too touristy" for many seasoned cruisers, we view Italy's most popular draws as fascinating parts of the country's allure, and take every opportunity to play tourist. It had been years since we had explored Capri and we yearned for one last look before leaving Italy, so we set our course for the anchorage at Piccolo, a deep cove under the watchful eyes of the legendary Faraglioni limestone stacks. In daylight is a wild, rough, somewhat dangerous place full of fast-moving tour boats, but the tall cliffs shaded Berkeley East from the harsh August sun and as night fell, so did silence, and the cove was softly lit by the glow of some of the world's most extravagant super yachts.
In stark contrast to Capri, Capo Palinuro, on the Tyrrhenian coast of mainland Italy, is nearly void of international tourists. Here, where the mountains of the Cilento National Park touch the sea, nature and history fuse, and campers leave the land to visit caves in the rocks on the water, we watched as the local Italians enjoyed the best that nature has to offer.
We toasted Palinuro with a glass of Prosecco and felt sadness that Berkeley East was getting closer and closer to leaving Italy.
As the farewell tour of Italy continued, Berkeley East was sailing to the Aeolian Island Archipelago. We had heard of recent eruptions on the island of Stromboli and hoped we could time our passing between explosions. When the island came into view it was smoking from the top and sides. A week after we sailed by Stromboli, the volcano blew again, sending a massive cloud of smoke and ash more than a kilometer into the sky, red-hot lava running down to the sea. Good timing on our part.
BE's next stop was the quarry anchorage on Lipari. The island of Lipari is covered in pumice and the pale rocks from Lipari are shipped worldwide. The abandoned pumice quarry mine provides a haunting backdrop to the shallow turquoise waters of this enormous anchorage, where Italian boaters lay in the sun all day until the ball of fire dips behind the hill and there is a mass, chaotic exodus of boats from the bay.
One afternoon, as we were enjoying the view, two Italian men motored by BE for a chat. They wanted to hear our story, talk about the boat. When the conversation was done, they presented us with a bottle of wine, waved "Ciao!" and went off.
A visit to Lipari, or the Aeolians, would not be complete for us without a stop at Lipari Town for some of our most familiar provisions: octopus salad from the deli, involtinis from the butcher shop, tomatoes and a basil plant from the produce stand. And lunch at our preferred restaurant. On our arrival, we navigated inside the tiny eatery, bags and menus in hand, sitting carefully at table so as not to disturb the wall of wine bottles behind. Once settled, we were abruptly asked to move to another table. Gathering our wares, again tip-toeing so as not to bring bottles crashing down, we complied with the request, moving outside. For the next 45 minutes, we had constant smiles, conversation and impeccable service from the gentleman who had gruffly pointed out our misstep. A subtle apology for being so stern with us, possibly; or perhaps he just thought the table outside was best.
On our final night in the Aeolian Islands, in a small anchorage on Vulcano, we watched as an Italian family on a powerboat took turns trying to wakeboard behind a jet ski. They were laughing and clapping as, one by one they would attempt to stand, some successfully, some not so much; the jet ski driver racing around the anchorage all the while. We were astonished at the sight, not because they were wakeboarding in the anchorage, or that the jet ski was traveling at such hasty speeds around other boats and people in the water. We were shocked to see a tiny child, in a teeny tiny life vest, sitting in front of the jet ski driver, giggling as he zipped, zoomed and swerved. It gave us a better understanding of why the Italians are so happy-go-lucky, have no fear, and a love of all things fast; they learn it from a very young age. You gotta love Italy.