Adventures of Berkeley East

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
22 June 2018 | Cap Ferrat, France
15 June 2018 | Lake Como, Italy
10 June 2018 | Bolgheri and Piedmonte, Italy
08 June 2018

Vessels of freedom

30 September 2019 | Mallorca, Spain
The drone of the engine was exhausting. We had been motoring for 26 hours, through black lumpy seas, towards Menorca, Spain, the light of the moon frequently slipping behind dense clouds. The air was heavy, the decks were damp, Berkeley East smelled like a wet dog. At least the sun was beginning to glow in the distance, signaling the end of a long night passage; we had just four more hours to go.

We heard Kenny Chesney serenading us from the stereo, "boats, vessels of freedom," a favored song with romantic lyrics, but we had been experiencing just the opposite of late. We had things to do, places to be, so sailing BE "any way the wind blows" was not an option. And with recent weather issues, "sailing, takes me away to where I'm going" made no sense at all. "I'm on a boat, on a boat, I'm on a **** boat" was more relatable.

We were especially cranky because it had been nine days since we had spent any time on land. The sway of Berkeley East, while normally soothing, was getting on our nerves. Regardless of how pleasant we both are to be around, or how comfortable Berkeley East is, nine days of constantly moving a 54-foot boat long distances in spirited conditions, without other people or outside stimuli, tests ones sanity. At least there was the occasional dip in the sea, and glass of cool vino, at the last wink of the day; "harbors of healing."

Our plan for a land break in Sardinia was thwarted upon arrival by an unexpected weather pattern, the typical prevailing northwest wind was nowhere to be seen; in its place we had a feisty breeze with energetic waves literally pushing Berkeley East to Spain, albeit, in a less-than-comfortable manner. Climate change perhaps, but more likely just the typical unsettled September atmosphere. And it was better than bashing BE into a northwest wind, so we didn't complain.

We were crossing 215 miles from Sardinia to Menorca, the eastern-most island in the Balearic Island Archipelago, on our way to Barcelona, Spain where Berkeley East would be spending her winter break. She was expected in Port Vell on October 1st, so we had to time our movements carefully. A couple of weeks in the Balearics would cap the season nicely; a little relaxation, a little activity, very little moving, or so we thought.

Our first landing in the Balearics was set just outside the capital of Menorca, in Mahon. As we wove Berkeley East through the small anchorage, people waved enthusiastically from their boats, civilization at last. Having just settled BE, we were approached by a tender, an English gentleman wanting to have a chat. While fatigue was setting in, all plans for a nap were postponed for some welcome interaction with a complete stranger. We talked about boats and weather, politics and Brexit, as if we had been mates for years, our new friend hanging onto BE's rail as the wakes from passing boats rocked his rib.

We saw another boat arrive, the owner quickly tossing his dinghy into the water to rush to shore. We couldn't imagine the urgency after such a long passage, then we saw the dog that clearly had crossed its legs for some time. Lyle Lovett sang from the stereo, "And if I had a boat I'd go out on the ocean. And if I had a pony, I'd ride him on my boat." Love that song, but we had to laugh. While Berkeley East was emitting the scent of a St. Bernard, we were thrilled that there wasn't actually a pooch, or a pony, onboard; we had enough to deal with.

The next morning, we took Berkeley East into a marina in town (we needed time on land, and BE needed a bath) where we were met by Americans from South Carolina. We were in heaven, not just the English language, but also American-English conversations with cruisers, and nice ones at that. And there was land, glorious las tierras.

Mahón (or Maó as the locals call it) is set around the second largest natural harbor in the world, with islands, fortifications and eclectic architecture built throughout the ages. The upscale waterfront was bustling with shops and restaurants where we indulged in long lunches and dinners; it was as if the menus were written especially for us featuring ceviche, squid, and Spanish tomato bread. The historic town up the hill was cozy and oozing of charm with views over the magnificent harbor below.

We would likely still be in Mahon, getting fat, and possibly purchasing a condo, but the weather, and marina lady, told us otherwise. A blow was on the way, and the marina didn't have room for a massive, stunning boat like Berkeley East to wait out the storm. So while we wanted stay, or go to some beautiful calas in the south, we needed to move north to unknown territory.

We spent the next week trying to stay out of the fray, but quickly discovered that the weather forecasts were never accurate for the area, and we were constantly finding ourselves "sailing into the mystic" spray of the sea. Routes and destinations were often changed while underway when conditions were less than desirable. Our plans to make just a few hops to get in position to cross to Barcelona turned to seven moves in 10 days. Through it all, we found some interesting places to hide, and learned a lot about Spanish architecture.

From the drone perspective, Arenal d'en Castell was amazing, but pictures can be deceiving. A large, almost circular bay, it had one good side with attractive homes on the hill, the rest of the landscape was riddled with ugly apartment blocks and giant hotels. It was obvious that it was a popular holiday spot by the number of people on the water. We tried to always keep our gaze in the more pleasant direction, not a simple task with Berkeley East spinning in the constant wind.

Puerto de Fornells was a long inlet that offered cover from the strong breeze, and kept the heavy seas at bay. From the anchorage, we could see white cubes clustered on the shore, unlike Arenal d'en Castell, development there has been a bit restricted. When the weather calmed, our "dinghy of freedom" took us in where we found a small resort and fishing village surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty.

The town of Ciudadella is an architectural gem, a successful blend of old and new. Its harbor is the most ancient in the Balearics, notorious for its current and tides, which can rise and fall very quickly.

While much of the town caters to tourism, there is still a small very active fishing fleet, delivering their fresh catches daily to the local markets and restaurants.

A couple of days on a dock in Ciudadella was a welcome respite from the erratic wind and waves before making the crossing to Mallorca, where we would wait for good conditions to do the 115-mile passage to Barcelona.

After a short search of the northeast tip of Mallorca, we found what we hoped would be our final anchorage of the season in Cala Formentor, a large, shallow bay that would provide protection and allow for an easy departure in the dark. We spent our remaining bits of summer reading, swimming and deciding which of the striking homes on the shore we would prefer to live in. Then, on September's last morning, at 3:oo am, we raised Berkeley East's anchor and set a course for "one particular harbor" - Barcelona.

Out of Africa

15 September 2019 | Sardinia, Italy
After a stormy night in Pantelleria, we pulled the dock lines just as the sky began to brighten, and inched Berkeley East, as quietly as possible, out of the small harbor. While we had dodged any controversy concerning BE's VAT (Value Added Tax) clock with the local authorities, we didn't want to give anyone an opportunity to change their minds. It was finally the last leg to Tunisia to get Berkeley East out of the European Union and give her another 18 months in the EU.

In preparation for entry into Tunisia, we inventoried alcohol, electronics and cash, and stashed the drones in sail bags, as far out of sight as possible; drones are illegal in Tunisia. We had heard horror stories about entering the African country, with searches of everything, right down to spare nuts and bolts. In other instances, a little baksheesh (bribe) was paid and all was good. We wanted to be prepared for anything.

We chose the port of Gammarth for its proximity to Pantelleria, just a long day sail. It is an unfinished marina, so there were no facilities, and it was far from anything one might want to see in Tunisia, but we planned to get in and get out of Africa as quickly as possible. We had just five days left of our Tunisia insurance rider, no time to risk getting trapped by weather.

The trip was uneventful. On arrival in Gammarth, we were directed to the fuel dock and greeted enthusiastically in English. The immigration officer spoke excellent English, so we were able to understand very clearly that he wanted a gift to help us have a "special" entry, including the original stamped document of our entry into, and exit from, Tunisia, "something not everyone receives," he said.

We were prepared to pay bribes if necessary, just a few Euros to make things go more smoothly, it is part of their culture. In contrast, we have cleared into Montenegro several times; it cost about 100 Euros for a boat Berkeley East's size and took about 30 minutes, with no inspection and no bribes. In Tunisia, the process costs nothing officially, takes hours entering and exiting, inspections are at the whim of the officials on duty, as are requests for gifts.

After giving the immigration officer 20 Euros for the "special" entry, he asked for something for the customs officer so we could have a "quick" inspection. He then asked if we had a drone. We wondered if he had Googled Berkeley East and seen the pictures. We ignored the drone question, made a "we don't understand" face, said that we had food and wine, and handed over another 20. The inspection was very quick, just cursory glances in a few cabinets, everyone was happy.

The next morning, when we went to check out of the country, our English-speaking friend with the "special" entry process was nowhere to be found. In his place was a very formal, serious officer who spoke no English at all. We didn't receive the original stamped document as promised, only a copy after we pantomimed it was needed. Before we were allowed to leave, there was another inspection of Berkeley East, by the same customs guy who received 20 Euros for the "quick" search; we wondered what they could possibly think we had acquired since arriving the day before. This time, he opened nearly every drawer, cabinet, appliance, purse, bag, but somehow managed to miss the liquor cabinet. It was hot, so we offered them some aqua, their response being "vodka?" Given the language barrier, they had no idea how to communicate their request for a gift, but it was clear they wanted liquor. Mid search the word "vodka" was repeated, unfortunately we didn't have any, so we offered tequila, or wine; they made a face and left. And so did we, setting a course directly back to Italy. After several weeks of planning and much effort to get there, less than 24 hours of arriving in Tunisia, we were happily headed out of Africa.

It would take us about four hours to be officially out of African waters. Within just a few minutes of our departure, we discovered that we had actually left Tunisia with something that was not on BE when we arrived, a boatload of flies. While we would have liked to return them, we carried on, killing at least a hundred in the next hour.

While getting from the island of Pantilleria to Tunisia was a day sail, moving to our next destination of Sardinia would take about 24 hours, at least at BE's typical speed. The journey began with some beautiful sailing, the seas were a rolly and the sky was menacing, but Berkeley East was flying at 9 knots, and at that pace, we would arrive too early. We prefer to not land at an unfamiliar port in darkness, but we knew conditions were likely to change so we took the wind, and speed, while we could.

Night passages are not the leisurely evening cocktail sail around the harbor, as one might think. Thousands of miles offshore, 24-hour watch schedules, traffic schemes to cross, the possibility of floating containers toppled off ships, sleeping whales just under the surface, unlit boats, military vessels rousting sailboats in the night, rain, lightning; all things possible, all adding a level of concern and complexity to moving BE in the dark.

Luckily we had a nearly full moon to illuminate the lightning that was striking all around Berkeley East. We were surrounded by electrical activity, but it was as if we were in a protective cocoon that was keeping the storms at bay.

Anxious for the sun to rise, we were happy to see the clock strike six. But our enthusiasm was dampened with thick cloud cover and 27-knot winds as we were weaving through rocks to our Sardinia anchorage.

Still, we were out of Africa, and back in Italy, mission accomplish. We planned to sleep for a day, and spend the next few days on land exploring the south of Sardinia. Then we looked at the weather forecast, which told us to keep moving through the wind and waves to get in position for another overnight passage to Spain; Sardinia would have to wait.

We skirted along the coast in 25-knot winds and six-foot waves, both of which were predicted to be behind us, making for a comfortable sail on BE. But most of the time, the swells were rolling Berkeley East gunnel-to-gunnel. While neither of us gets seasick, these types of conditions are unsettling. We have learned to keep BE stocked with an assortment of Pringles suitable for every situation. We never eat the crisps on land, but the light salty flavor keeps any queasiness at sea under control.

After three days of moving, Berkeley East was anchored in Isola di San Pietro, an island about five miles off the west coast of Sardinia, 190 miles from Menorca, Spain. We would make the passage as soon as the seas subsided.

Storm Watch

08 September 2019 | Pantelleria, Italy

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.

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 [...]
Berkeley East's Photos - Venice
Photos 1 to 20 of 20 | Caribbean 1500 2008 (Main)

Profile & FAQs

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