Berkeley East and crew have said "arrivederci" to Italy more times than we can recall. Sometimes out of necessity, often in search of a different country, or new adventure. But throughout the past 11 years, BE continually returned to wonderful Italia. And this year was no exception. While the season was brief due to COVID, we cruised in Italy for more than half the summer.
But we can only go back to the same places so many times. And the pandemic brought changes to our cruising life in the Med. There were many, many, many more boats out this year, anchorages were overcrowded, time ashore was limited, land travel was challenging. As much as we love sitting on Berkeley East bobbing at anchor, listening to music and reminiscing over a glass of wine, we miss exploring unfamiliar locales, discovering different customs, having fresh experiences. We carefully weighed all our options and with COVID restrictions tightening again, we knew we did not want to be locked out of Europe, and away from BE, as we were in 2020. So, one day, while bobbing at anchor, listening to music and reminiscing over a glass of wine, we made the very complex decision for Berkeley East to say one final goodbye to Italy, and make the long trip back to the United States.
This "Farewell Tour" began in Positano, one of Italy's most beautiful towns, and wound north through popular islands, little-known anchorages and famed towns, as the weather dictated. It was September and the fall season was becoming apparent. Timing was important, so Berkeley East moved nearly every day, sometimes all day.
We chose our stops carefully, hopscotching between mainland Italy and the Tuscan Archipelago based on wind, waves, provisioning requirements and the need to offload rubbish. Most people do not truly appreciate the convenience of weekly neighborhood garbage pickup unless they have navigated small islands, on a sailboat, where finding trash receptacles is often like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Like any worthwhile activity, there is the good and the bad, and as much as cruising in Italy can be spectacular, it can also be difficult. While most of our stops on this leg of our journey, (Positano, Procida, Elba, Santa Margherita, Portofino) were excellent, Santa Marinella was, not so much. Although it seemed perfect for the forecasted conditions, Santa Marinella turned out to be a horrible choice for anchoring overnight. At 2 am we were rousted from our bed with horns and bright lights by the Guardia Finanza, the financial arm of the Italian Coast Guard. We had heard that they were targeting non-EU boats, but BE had avoided their scrutiny to that point this season. They searched our boat papers and passports, and after 45 minutes asked us to sign something written in Italian, smiled and said not to worry; right. A few hours later, we were awoken to the sound of crashing waves. The surf was rolling in, we were anchored in very shallow water and Berkeley East was being pushed towards shore. Luckily, BE has a very big, heavy anchor that held tight, but getting the spade onboard with waves breaking over Berkeley East's bow, at very short intervals, was extremely stressful. We happily said goodbye to Santa Marinella.
As we moved north through Elba, the third largest and one of the most visited islands in Italy, it was as if we had been transported to another country. The towns were filled to the brim with tourists speaking Dutch and German, apparently Elba has become a hotspot for Northern European holidays. Clearly, the island was not adhering to the new COVID restrictions in Italy, but the visitors were happy, the Italian shop and restaurant owners were thrilled with the business. All seemed right with the world.
Continuing on, there was a night in Porto Venere, lunch off Vernazza in Cinque Terre, and a few days at one of our most beloved Italian towns, Santa Margherita.
We have anchored off Santa Margherita many times, Berkeley East being the only, or one of few, boats on the hook. But as in many other anchorages this year, the boats have multiplied, and the small harbor of Santa Margherita was jammed. Most of the people were very polite in finding space for their vessels, but when one boat anchored too close to Berkeley East, we asked them to move. They eventually did, but only after flipping us off and screaming some profanity. In 15 years of cruising, we have never experienced that sort of aggression. Hopefully it was just one idiot and not the new normal.
We were relieved to see that boat, and most of the other boats, leave the following morning. And for the next days, the bay in Santa Margherita was as we remembered, calm and uncrowded. We made many trips to town, enjoyed meals ashore, long walks to Portofino, sitting on BE bobbing and reminiscing, savoring our last moments aboard Berkeley East in this beautiful country.
As we lifted BE's anchor, we said a final farewell to Santa Margherita and set a course for Genova (Genoa), where we would prepare Berkeley East for her voyage home.