That's how long it had been since we left Berkeley East in Marina Port Vell, Barcelona Spain, 594 days. By far the longest we had not seen our boat since we launched her almost 15 years ago. Needless to say, we were elated to hear that Spain would be welcoming COVID vaccinated Americans "sometime" in June, 2021. We made airline reservations for every week of the month, just to be certain that we could get to Spain when it reopened. Like everyone else in the world, we were ready to get back to normal.
During our 594-day cruising hiatus, we managed to keep busy at our lake home in North Carolina. While we didn't enjoy the pandemic, or all its restrictions, we could not complain about our lockdown location. We saw beautiful sunsets from our back porch nearly every evening, took thousands of photos as we watched the fiery ball drop from view, and felt blessed, each day, to be safe and healthy.
But managing BE's care and maintenance from such a long distance, for such a long time, was a bit stressful. While we were away, Berkeley East floated for ten months with a panorama of the marina and Barceloneta. When the pandemic lingered on, she was hauled onto land to a perch overlooking the harbor for another eight months. As the days ticked away, so did the time on BE's VAT (Value Added Tax) clock. Efforts to acquire an extension to the allowed 18 months failed, so Berkeley East was splashed, repairs were made, sails installed, and BE went on a weeklong jaunt to Gibraltar, under the guidance of a hired captain and crew, in order to avoid the 21% importation tax. Upon her return, Marina Port Vell welcomed BE back to a berth with an even better view, where she bobbed gently for nearly three months, awaiting our arrival.
We scheduled our travel so we would not have to transit through multiple countries; a simple two-hour flight to Miami, with plenty of time to connect for a direct overnight into Barcelona. What we didn't plan for was the Miami Airport closure due to weather, our plane circling for hours, being redirected for fuel. By the time we landed in Miami, our four-hour layover had been exhausted and we had to sprint through the airport's terminals with a mask on. We had wondered how closely the airlines, and Spain, would follow the set COVID restrictions. Prior to our flight, we had to register online and upload proof of an acceptable vaccine in order to receive a QR code for Spain. This code, along with our vaccination cards, were inspected on our departure from the Charlotte airport, and upon arrival in Barcelona. Since we had all the required documents, our entry into the EU went without incident. We were happy to finally be back in Spain, albeit without any of our checked bags, which were still in Miami.
We had plenty of clothes on Berkeley East, but our missing bags were full of boat parts that we had spent the past 18 months collecting, thousands of dollars in specialty boat bits, and toilet paper, that we could not get in Spain. We filed the lost baggage paperwork, crossed our fingers and headed off to see BE.
At first glance, Berkeley East looked good, but for a few signs of sitting in the elements for 594 days. Her topside was freshly washed, and the cabin passed the smell test; we were excited. While tired from our travels, we had renewed energy, and dove right in.
Given that much work had already been done on Berkeley East, we assumed our jobs would be simple; a little unpacking, a little organizing, a little cleaning and we'd be off. We quickly learned that would not be the case. While our hired captain and crew were excellent, it appeared they had moved just about everything while taking BE to Gibraltar. It is understandable that they would need to familiarize themselves with the boat, even logical that some things would need to be relocated for their trip, but we found ourselves in what seemed like and endless game of hide and seek; what they hid, we sought, and eventually found, in the most bizarre places. Refrigerator pieces were tucked under a cushion in the workroom, not at all visible to the naked eye. Propane parts required for a repair were buried so deep in a cabinet, we had to take the cabinet apart to get them out. We spent days taking everything out of every drawer, every cabinet, every locker, and putting things back where they belong. As it turns out, our baggage delay was good, as it gave us time to make room.
During Berkeley East's holiday to Gibraltar, her tender was left behind and forgotten, dirty and deflated, in storage at another boat yard. While it wasn't far, retrieving it was a challenge. Ordinarily, we would welcome a nice dinghy ride around the harbor, but the tender's engine was solidly mounted on BE's rail, not on the tender. At 90 pounds, the outboard was too heavy to carry far and too big to roll in our grocery buggy. So, we decided to row the tender from the boat yard to the marina, it was just a mile. How hard could it be? The dinghy was launched with a forklift, we climbed down the wall, and pushed off for a little fun and exercise. We hadn't anticipated the heavy ferry and fishing boat traffic, or the headwind, or the waves. Still, all was good until one of the tender's ore locks broke, leaving us paddling, more than rowing, the last half mile. While the trip took much longer than planned, we made it back before dark. A little air and a lot of scrubbing, and BE's tender was good as new. And it was a good thing that we did not try to use the outboard engine because it ended up needing several days in a repair shop.
Whenever we took breaks, we noticed how quiet and empty the shore was. An area that was typically buzzing with crowded restaurants, tourists, musicians, street vendors, was eerily still. The popular restaurant at the end of our dock looked abandoned. And the marina, which is a super yacht mecca, had very few of the massive ships on their docks.
Walks around the city unveiled many signs of the COVID-19 impact; streets and alleys empty, shops and restaurants permanently shuttered, rental bikes sitting as if waiting for riders. Barcelona's most famous path, La Rambla, always packed with tourists, was wide open. Mercado de La Boqueria, usually shoulder to shoulder, had just a spattering of pedestrians, but the produce and products were as spectacular as ever. While we had only encountered one American since our arrival, it appeared that there was an invasion of American brands in Barcelona during the pandemic, with Starbucks and Dunkin on many a corner.
But day by day, things started picking up and Barcelona began to hum again. Between searching for tools, testing systems, making repairs, swearing like drunken sailors, we explored Barcelona once again. We were happy to see many of our favorite restaurants open, with limited seating and shortened hours, but they were in business after months of being closed. There was still a mask mandate outdoors, which most people adhered to, even if it was worn more as neck accessory than a face mask.
Founded in 1969, Can Paixano aka La Xampanyeria, one of Barcelona's most beloved cava bars, captured our hearts (and stomachs) years ago. While there are now plexiglass dividers separating fewer patrons, the cava and sausage sandwiches are the same. And it is still a great provisioning stop, Berkeley East is now stocked with cava.
Santa Maria del Mar, is a church in the Ribera district of Barcelona built between 1329 and 1383, and a good example of Catalan Gothic architecture. Modern buildings now surround the church, including an excellent wine bar with a view of the church. While there were more people there, it appeared that most were locals out for the evening.
During week two, we began our provisioning runs, on foot, to small markets, desperately missing Costco delivery. And then, just like that, after 594 days away, and 14 days of prep, Berkeley East was ready to leave Barcelona once again. The question was: we're we? 594 days without moving BE or dealing with her many requirements. We wondered how much we would remember, what we might have forgotten. Is it like riding a bike?
The Pre-pandemic 2020 plan was to have taken BE to London and the Baltic, then this year, 2021, Berkeley East would have crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Post-pandemic thoughts are that we need to get our cruising legs again, and BE needs some time at sea. So back to Greece we go. Unless COVID has a resurgence, or we change our minds on the way.