Adventures of Berkeley East

01 July 2021
09 August 2020
30 March 2020 | Lake Norman, NC
31 October 2019 | Barcelona, Spain
30 September 2019 | Mallorca, Spain
15 September 2019 | Sardinia, Italy
08 September 2019 | Pantelleria, Italy
31 August 2019 | Favignana, Italy
22 August 2019 | Vulcano, Italy
17 August 2019 | Charlotte, NC and Gaeta, Italy
12 July 2019
12 September 2018 | Cala del Core Ponza, Italy
22 August 2018 | North East Sardinia
13 August 2018 | Northern Sardinia, Italy
10 August 2018 | La Maddalenas, Sardinia Italy
30 July 2018 | South West Corsica, France
19 July 2018 | North West Corsica, France
12 July 2018 | Saint-Tropez, France
07 July 2018 | The French Riviera
25 June 2018 | Nice, France

594 Days

01 July 2021

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.

2020 Hindsight

09 August 2020

As we stared at the photo of Berkeley East being towed out of the berth she had occupied for the past 10 months, we whispered in unison, "this was a bad year to have the boat in Barcelona."

But when we made the decision, last summer, to return to Port Vell, no one could have predicted that COVID-19 would turn the world upside down. When we left BE for the winter, we never imagined that the European Union would block our return. As we flew across the Atlantic from Spain to North Carolina, pandemic, lockdowns, financial crisis, death, destruction, at no time entered our minds. We will think differently in the future.

We were so excited to sail Berkeley East into Barcelona last September. BE spent her first Mediterranean winter in Port Vell, 10 years ago, and it was a fantastic experience. We had been planning another visit from the moment we sailed away. One of the few marinas located in the heart of a bustling city, Port Vell provided us the opportunity to use Berkeley East as a hotel while we explored Barcelona and the surrounding areas. And that is exactly what we did in 2010, and again in 2019. Our plan was to go back to Spain in late March to visit other areas of the country. But when our flights to Barcelona were cancelled due to the Coronavirus, so were our travels.

It turns out 2020 is a bad year to have a boat stranded anywhere, let alone Barcelona. In April, May and June, most marinas were closed and boating was actually banned in many European Union countries. Over the past months, stories have emerged of cruisers stuck on their boats around the world, quarantined, unable to enter ports, living at the mercy of local officials; not the free and easy lifestyle typically associated with cruising.

For the past seven years, BE has sat on land over winter (a preferred position), but in Barcelona, she stays in the water, in one of the most expensive marinas in the Med.

We never intended for Berkeley East to live in Port Vell indefinitely, so with the European Union closed to Americans, we began considering our options. We could apply for an exception to the travel ban, although we didn't have a reason that was deemed acceptable. We could try to skirt the rules and find a way into Spain, but Barcelona is just one of many stops we would need to make, not to mention that we prefer to respect the requests/laws of the countries we visit. We could sit tight and hope the EU would let us in before the end of the cruising season. We could suck up the expense of Port Vell and leave Berkeley East in the water for another nine months, perhaps more. Or, we could have BE moved to a dry dock and hauled for the short, possibly long, term.

In the past 13 years, we have had delayed starts to the cruising season, but never a total miss. But as we entered August 2020, we were seeing the writing on the wall. COVID-19 cases were rising in the US and Spain; there was no sign that the EU would open up to Americans any time soon, and even if they did, we weren't certain that we wanted to travel thousands of miles to Spain and move Berkeley East through multiple countries in the middle of a pandemic. Boats aren't meant to just sit in the water; movement keeps the bottom clean and the systems engaged, so a move to dry dock was the obvious choice. And it needed to be done while there was space available.

It was a very tough decision because no one has ever moved BE without us on board. We have always overseen hauling, and personally prepared and pampered Berkeley East for winters, walking away knowing she was safe and secure. But thanks to the "Boat Doctor" the process went smoothly, with the exception of an engine malfunction that required Berkeley East to be towed out of Port Vell. She is now sitting comfortably on land less than a mile from her previous home. And as luck would have it, the timing was perfect given that all the zincs (protective anodes) on BE had completely disintegrated.

We feel very fortunate that we had choices for BE, and the means to execute them. And we are thankful that to this point, we have avoided the virus, which has harmed so many. Hopefully there will soon be treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19 so the world can return to normal, or perhaps a new normal. Until then, we will continue to do all that we can to be part of the solution, while embracing every day and appreciating every sunset.

Navigating a pandemic

30 March 2020 | Lake Norman, NC

We awoke to a calendar item: "Lufthansa Flight 429 to Munich / Barcelona departs 6:30 pm." Obviously, that flight was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but the notice on our phones was a stark reminder of how quickly things have changed.

Just a few weeks ago, we were managing all our house, doctor and financial meetings in anticipation of being away, on Berkeley East, for many months. Boat parts and supplies were laid out on the bedroom floor in "must go" piles, along with a "would be nice if there is room" stack. Sea trial appointments were set for Berkeley East upon our return so necessary engine parts could be ordered and shipped before the Easter holiday break. Travel plans were being made for our long-awaited exploration of Spain's Basque Country. Dinner discussions were almost always about where we should sail in 2020.

The fact is, we were pretty certain we would be delayed going back to BE this year. We had been following the Coronavirus spread in Italy, were cautiously watching the situation developing in Spain, and wondering what would happen in the US; while we were hopeful, we were also realistic.

The news we heard from our friends in the EU prompted us to begin social distancing sooner than many. While others went to restaurants, bars and gatherings, we stayed home; we couldn't risk getting sick in the off chance that we were able to make our flight to Spain. But we are lucky because our years on Berkeley East have helped train us for isolation. Long passages alone, weeks without stepping foot on land, traveling in countries where we could not communicate, we know how to occupy ourselves without going crazy.

We cannot count how many times we have heard someone say that the boat is the best place to be in circumstances like this, "you can just sail away," is often the comment. While that sounds like the perfect solution, it is a complicated one in cases of emergency.

We left Berkeley East five months ago, buttoned up, in the water, in Barcelona, Spain, before COVID-19 was even on the radar. All of BE's systems are shut down, and there is no food, water, wine, or toilet paper on board. While Costco delivers most of our needs to the front door here in North Carolina, provisioning in Barcelona requires multiple trips to multiple markets, on foot, with our trusty shopping trolley. And finding toilet paper for BE's marine toilets in Europe is next to impossible unless we are willing to pay ridiculous prices at super yacht stores. Fortunately, a purchasing error some 13 years ago left Berkeley East flush in TP, so it has never been a problem until the last of it was used in October. Who knew there would be a worldwide shortage of toilet paper? Several rolls of "Scott One-Ply" are currently in the "must go to the boat" heap upstairs.

As painful as it is to leave BE sitting alone in Barcelona, we know that we are far better off here, at home, with grocery delivery and good healthcare if needed, than we would be if we were quarantined on Berkeley East amid Spain's own healthcare crisis. And we are very thankful for that.

So while we stay home and wait for the curve to flatten, between jigsaw puzzles, some very chilly water ski runs, and Face Time happy hours with friends, we are reviewing the options for Berkeley East this year.

Over the winter, we developed three possible cruising plans: 1) take BE north to England and the Baltic Sea; 2) sail back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean; 3) spend one last season in the Mediterranean. While Option 1 (sailing to the UK and the Baltic) was winning our hearts pre-COVID-19, at this point, Option 3 (staying in the Med) is looking like the only real possibility. That said, at the present time, many marinas and ports throughout the Med are closed, and yachts from Italy and Spain are being refused entry to those that are open. We have no idea how that might change in the coming weeks, or months. But we are hopeful that we will be back aboard BE soon, and will spend time revisiting some of our favorite European locales. Then again, considering that Berkeley East is in Spain, and her crew will have come from the most infected country in the world, we are prepared for just about anything. BE may just have to change the spelling of her name and remain in Spain for some time - su nombre es "Berkeley Este."

We hope all our friends throughout the world are safe and healthy.

Vessel Name: Berkeley East
Vessel Make/Model: Hylas 54
Hailing Port: San Diego, CA
Crew: Larry & Mary Ivins
About: We quit our jobs in July of 2007 and began our adventure, sailing the US east coast in the summers and then spending our winters in the Caribbean. In 2010 we sailed across the Atlantic and will be cruising the Med for the next few years.
FAQ Q: Did you go to UC Berkeley?

A: No. The name Berkeley East came from a ferry boat, "the Berkeley", that we met on over 30 years ago in San Diego. The East came as a result of seeing the boat being built in Taiwan. There was 30-foot Chinese symbol on the wall behind her during [...]
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Added 22 July 2007

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Who: Larry & Mary Ivins
Port: San Diego, CA

Our travels


July 2019- Return to Gaeta, Italy

August 2019 - Gaeta to Sicily, Tunisia and Sardinia

September 2019 - The Spanish Balearic Islands

October 2019 -Barcelona Spain

November 2019 - Charlotte, NC