Sitting at anchor in the Edagi Islands, Sicily, we had been looking at the undesirable weather forecast, weighing our options. We still had an urgent need to get Berkeley East out of the European Union, and back again, before the 15th, so the clock was ticking. There were several possibilities. We could sit tight in the islands, "if no one moves, no one gets hurt" (the sound advice of a weather expert we met in our early days of cruising). Or, we could sail quickly south to the island of Pantelleria and wait for a better window to move BE to Tunisia, but there was no certainty that we could get a berth for Berkeley East in Pantelleria, so the move was risky. Alternatively, we could head east, away from the storms, and clear BE's VAT in Albania or Montenegro, which would alter our plans for the winter in Barcelona. Finally, we could take Berkeley East an hour east to Trapani and do some boat work and land touring while the Mistral worked it's way through.
The coming weather was a mixed bag of wind speed and direction, wave size and intensity, and thunderstorms with varying degrees of precipitation. None of it was even close to ideal. But while we were irritated with our conditions, they seemed benign as we read the news of Hurricane Dorian ready to hit the Bahamas. We could not even imagine 190 mph winds; the mere thought made us shiver. We decided we should embrace our situation, and we called our friend at the marina in Trapani to see if he had room for BE. He told us to hurry, as it was almost time for lunch. As we brought up the anchor, the rain began; huge muddy drops the size of saucers.
The medieval town of Erice watches over the port of Trapani, 800 meters above sea level. A 12th-century village is enclosed by defensive walls and crowned by a magnificent castle. Erice can be reached by road, or cable car, both providing spectacular panoramas to the sea and valley below.
We spent an afternoon walking the cobblestone streets of Erice, visiting its many churches, and taking in the artistic atmosphere of the town.
At the castle, we found a deserted corner, away from the crowds, from which to fly the drone. Like boats entering a huge anchorage are drawn to the only other boat already there, the herding instinct took over and people began invading our space. One by one, they would explore every little niche, peering over walls expecting to see something fabulous, only to find weeds and debris. Just as one group would leave, satisfied they had missed nothing, another group would arrive and follow the same pattern. By the time we had the area to ourselves, clear of looky-loos so we could launch the Mavic, a thick band of fog had rolled in shrouding the view. This is a frequent occurrence in Erice, dazzling sunshine one moment, thick pea soup the next. Luckily, we had the trusty old Sony to capture the magnificent vista before the mist set in.
By the time we had taken the cable car down from Erice, the village wasn't visible beyond the clouds, but the wind was calm and the sun was bright in Trapani. We sat in the old town soaking up the twilight atmosphere, tourist and locals out for the evening, and wondered if we had overreacted to the weather news, perhaps it wasn't that bad.
After a relaxing dinner of swordfish with tomatoes and capers, a Trapani delicacy, we arrived at the marina to find the dock completely full. Expressing our surprise to our dock buddy, he waved his hands and said, "a little wind outside and they are all scared." Our dock pal had his own boat, which we had yet to see move, safely moored at the end of the dock.
While thunderstorms were constant at night, saturated with dirty moisture from Africa, our dock, and Berkeley East, were nicely protected from the wind. We rented a car one day and decided to do some wine tasting. Sicily has become one of the most exciting wine regions in Europe, blessed with a combination of ample warmth, plenty of sunshine and diverse soils. We mapped out the distance between BE and our first appointment in Marsala, 60 minutes, more or less. But Sicily's roads are narrow, potholed and routed through excessive traffic and construction in small towns. And even by Italian standards, Sicilians are wild, careless, aggressive drivers. Passing on curves is the norm; stopping at stop signs is optional, as is yielding for pedestrians in crosswalks. Thirty minutes into the drive, we knew we would be late. But rather than completely missing the tour, we were bumped to a better one full of Americans. We often hear people complain about traveling abroad and running into others from their own country. They are there, after all, to experience a new culture, with new people. But since we travel on BE in Europe for months at a time, running into very few Americans, or even English-speaking people, it was entertaining to share some time, and wine, in Sicily with our fellow Americans.
The drive back to Berkeley East went right past a famous Sicilian archeological site, Segesta. For us, ruins are like churches, we have trouble passing by without having a look. We had been to Segesta before, so there were no expectations or surprises, but that was part of the draw, we knew the site was in a spectacular setting where we could hike from the entrance to the temple to the theater, absorbing the beauty and the history. Once again, we wanted to fly the drone, and being the good law-abiding tourists that we are, we asked the park official for permission and were immediately told "impossible." Once again, the old Sony came in handy.
While we were enjoying our time on land, BE's VAT clock was still ticking and the wind was abating, so we asked our dock master to help us secure a berth for Berkeley East in Pantelleria. Typically, we can reserve dockage online, or call and find an English-speaking contact, but not so with Pantelleria. And since there are no tenable anchorages, and very few docks, it was reckless to go the 80 miles without confirmation. Once out on the water, it was clear that the wind had been blowing at a brisk pace. The seas were big, rolling, and uncomfortable. But the sky was clear, at least the heavy showers had ended.
As we arrived at the dock in Pantelleria, the Guardia Coasta called us on the VHF radio; they wanted to know where we had been, where we were going, who was onboard, etc. Docking Berkeley East with just two people is difficult enough without one of us having to be on the radio, so we answered the questions very quickly, which caused confusion, and we were met with instructions to go to the Guardia Costa with our boat papers. While Berkeley East was in complaint with European Union VAT laws, she had been put in bond over winter to extend her typical 18-month time in the EU, and it is a well-known fact among cruisers that the issue of "bond" is open to the interpretation of individual countries, and the mood of individual officials. We swallowed the lumps in our throats and explained that we had just come from Trapani, they misunderstood and thought that we were arriving from Tunisia and needed to check into Italy. With everything understood, thinking we were in the clear, we were told to bring our papers in before departing the port.
Technically, if a boat is 12 miles off the coast of any country, it is, technically in international waters. We took pictures proving that fact as soon as BE was 12 miles off Italy. But like the "bond," this theory is open to temperament and opinion. For months, we had been doing everything we could to stay under the radar; we were just 96 miles from Tunisia.
Putting our worries aside, we set out to see some of the Isle of Pantelleria. Suspended between Africa and Europe, Pantelleria is considered "The Black Pearl" of the Mediterranean. It is the largest satellite island of Sicily, not belonging to any archipelago. Of volcanic origin, Pantelleria is exotic, rugged and sparsely populated with windswept landscape and jagged lava cliffs. We rented a car and drove the island, taking in its splendor, enjoying leisurely walks and long lunches, while BE jostled in the winds at the dock; at least there was no rain.
The unofficial symbol of Pantelleria is The Elephant, a sea stack that is connected to the mainland, which resembles an elephant drinking from the sea.
A large nature reserve and a natural lake, called Specchio di Venere (Venus' mirror). It formed in an extinct volcanic crater, and is fed by rain and hot springs.
After four days, we crossed our fingers and took our boat papers to the Guardia Costa, where they directed us to the Carabinieri to have our passports stamped out of the EU. And that was that, we could breath again. That night, we were preparing Berkeley East for her sunrise departure when 40-knot winds hit BE on her side, followed by a long torrential downpour. There was nothing we could do but go to bed and hope it would pass by morning.