When we first began cruising, 12 years ago, we had to put our computers in watertight bags and take them to shore to access the internet at a local coffee shop, or bar. Boat to boat communication was done via VHF or SSB radio; calls were made with a satellite phone, or more often, from an old fashioned pay phone on land. Today, we are spoiled, and blessed, with many technological conveniences on Berkeley East. While access is still not as simple as it is at home, we have local sim cards in our mobile phones, international calling and texting capabilities, and modems on BE for surfing the web in nearly every country we visit, although finding good coverage is often challenging. This is the situation we found ourselves in while waiting for documents from our insurance company.
We had just, reluctantly, left Italy to begin the trek to Tunisia in order to clear Berkeley East's European Union VAT (Value Added Tax) clock. After 2015 terrorist attacks in Tunisia, our insurance company removed Tunisia from BE's usual approved navigation zone, so we had to get a special rider for the trip. It would be understandable if the reasoning to omit the African country were the turbulent weather in the south, or even perhaps the extensive freighter traffic in the crossing, but Berkeley East could still transit in France, Spain, Turkey, the United States, all of which have been victims of ugly assaults by radicals, so the reluctance of our company to provide insurance coverage was frustrating. What should have been a simple process to allow BE to sail to Tunisia, turned into weeks of emails, calls and texts, therefore, we had to make sure we were always near a cell tower for communication.
We had planned to make haste through Sicily and get in position to cross to Tunisia; a few nights at anchor on Sicily's north coast, a stop in Trapani for fuel. While Sicily is technically Italy, the huge island and its people are very different from mainland Italia; more like distance cousins, as opposed to intimate family. So while we have toured, and thoroughly enjoyed, Sicilia many times, our hearts didn't break at the thought of moving through quickly, especially given that the need to clear Berkeley East's VAT was nearing a critical point.
The days of travel were long and hot. When afternoons faded to twilight, when we thought we had gone as far as we could, we would dip BE's bow close to shore while holding the cell phone high in search of a signal, then drop the hook to wait for news from our insurance agent.
We connected to the net easily in Cefalu, and the anchorage had the added advantage of being peaceful and protected from the August sun. Beautiful music wafted to Berkeley East from a hotel, an agreeable accompaniment to our dinner of Lipari pork involtinis and Caprice salad. No call about insurance ever came, but a good nights sleep did.
The next evening, we were thrilled with even faster internet response, but not so much with the tunes from the beach, broadcast over loud speakers in the manner a Spanish soccer announcer might call the plays of a rousing match. Nice sunset, no positive insurance news.
On our way to Trapani, we were clearly in close proximity to a cell tower, as we heard the familiar sound of our doorbell, our "Ring" doorbell, at our house in North Carolina. We love these "Ring" camera doorbells. While on Berkeley East, our cell phones often tinkle with the motion of the gardeners, wind, rain, birds, even insects; we can access live images from the cameras to get a glimpse of the lake if we are homesick; and our friends occasionally come by to leave us a message, or sing Happy Birthday.
So when we answered the "Ring" of our front door at home, from the deck of Berkeley East in Sicily, we fully expected to see a familiar smiling face ready to share neighborhood news. Instead, there was a stranger at the door trying to deliver our new shuffleboard table. We could see a large van backed down the driveway and tools spread out on the concrete, men beginning to work. The man at our front door seemed surprised at the voice booming from the doorbell telling him he had the wrong house, although the address he had was ours. We watched as the men slowly loaded the truck and drove away and we wondered, had we not answered the "Ring," if they would have just assembled the table and left it on the patio, a nice surprise on our return.
Trapani is an important fishing port in Sicily and gateway to the Egadi Islands. We had visited the large town years before, exploring the surrounding historical sites. There was no question if Trapani would have good internet coverage, we would appreciate a night onshore, and Berkeley East could use some fuel for the passage to Tunisia.
The stop in Trapani was entertaining, watching the fishermen sew, and launch, their enormous nets, taking long walks to stem the land sickness, and visiting Trapani's beautiful old town.
When it became clear that the insurance rider was imminent we left Trapani and positioned Berkeley East in the Egadis to be closer to our next stop, the island of Pantilleria. The Egadi Archipelago consists of three islands and two small islets a short distance from Trapani. While the islands offer activities on land, most people come for the crystalline waters of the Egadi Island Marine Reserve, the largest protected marine area in Europe. The weather was becoming unsettled, so finding protected anchorages with consistent cell coverage to manage our insurance situation required moving two and three times a day. But we knew it wouldn't be long.
After another week of emails, texts and discussions with our soon-to-be-replaced insurance agent, after constantly moving BE around the islands for comfort and connections, after making multiple plans of alternatives if the insurance coverage didn't materialize, we received the document we needed to go to Tunisia; just in time for a weather system to develop that would bring storms and high winds for at least a week, preventing us from making the trip.