Sunday, June 11th, 2006
The island or actually islands of Bermuda are an interesting phenomenon. A coral island formation growing off the top of a sunken volcano like this should be somewhere out deep in the South Pacific Ocean or maybe in the Maldives. These islands and cays of Bermuda most closely resemble the Vava’u group of the northern Tonga islands, yet here is Bermuda high up in the North Atlantic Ocean with New York City and Nova Scotia not even 700 miles away. It is a low archipelago surrounded by broad coral reefs lurking in an area of weather convergence; many ships sailed for their end when they might not have been looking for an island at all. The Portuguese, Spanish, and finally the English stumbled upon Bermuda in the 1500s and 1600s.
For us, Bermuda is delightfully placed due south of Lunenburg and about halfway to the Caribbean Sea. After sailing for a year in trade winds and warm palm-tree and volcanic covered islands with relaxed tropical island cultures, Bermuda is a port call of transition for us. It all appears very tropical with its distinctive architecture and pastel shades and palm trees everywhere. The people of Bermuda are a rich mosaic of folks with an accent particular to the island—a bit West Indian, a bit southern, and a bit English, all mixed up together in a pleasant tempo, each variation depending upon where the speaker may have gone to higher education. Bermuda is startlingly expensive, but that only serves to ease the shock of re-entry into North American and European cost of living soon to hit us. We find we spend more at the cheap islands anyway. Why? Because they are so cheap!
Our visit to Bermuda begins with taking a pilot on just off Town Cut into St. Georges at the east end of the island. Captain Wendle did the job; he has taken us in before, and we have many friends in common. Soon the Picton Castle was anchored in “Powder Hole” with our heavy port anchor and three shots of chain out. Paulina, who has sailed many times with the ship, was there to greet us with my brother, Jon, in tow who also has sailed with this ship and was instrumental in helping get the ship across from Europe these many years ago. As is typical of this Picton Castle crew, all hands found much to do—laundry, movies, motor-bike rental, pubs, sweet little beaches, and get-togethers here and there.
We had some local excitement when a cruise ship went aground making the turn into Hamilton Harbour in a blinding squall. These are pretty big ships maneuvering in pretty tight corners sometimes; even with all the electronic aids in the world you still need to see where you are going. They got the ship off on the evening tide without much problem. Now they have to assess what kind of damage happened to the reef. The passengers seemed to think it was exciting.
I am often asked about the “Bermuda Triangle.” What is it? Is it real? Why are there so many mysterious marine accidents in this area, which is basically the western North Atlantic? Well, I suppose it’s much the same as asking why there are so many car accidents at the busiest urban intersection of a major city at rush-hour instead of, say, a national forest. This area of the North Atlantic is simply very busy and has ever changing and sometimes quite violent weather. That and being the front door to any number of naval training exercises and amateur yacht-sailors sticking their nose into the deep blue for the first time, it is a wonder that there haven’t been more accidents. The weather in this area has lows rolling out of the Gulf of Mexico and off North America, hitting first the cold water north of the Gulf Stream and then the hot water of the Stream itself. Small wonder it boils up around here. It can be a pretty treacherous patch of water. Enough said.
Our base in St. Georges is always Ocean Sails sail-loft, with Steve and Suzanne Hollis at the helm, always glad to see us and hear about far-flung sailing friends. They can be amazingly resourceful—internet, tell us where to go to solve problems, even had a band saw on hand so Logan could cut a new yoke for the royal yard he is finishing. Just as we arrived Paulina was making a new colourful pennant for the Picton Castle at Ocean Sails.
Bermuda is well known as a recreational travelers’ destination. But it is also an island steeped in British and American history dating back to the first English colonies in America. This is best witnessed in St. Georges which, following in the wake of Lunenburg, is also being designated a United Nations World Heritage site. Here are pretty little houses with white-washed roofs that catch the rain along winding, narrow, town streets. The cemetery illustrates the influx over the years of Canadian, American, British and souls from other nations and particularly the islands of the West Indies. St. Kitts has a lot of grandchildren in Bermuda. Sailing ships from all over put into Bermuda. In the window of Ocean Sails is a perfect tiny model of a sailing whale boat left over from the days when men whaled from these shores. St. Georges was very much a base for Confederate blockade runners during the American Civil war. This brought a burst of wealth to this end of Bermuda of which the results are all around us. Today you find many Canadians here in the business of managing lots of money, among other things.
One particular serendipitous meeting was with the hospitable and welcoming members of the “East End Mini Yacht Club.” A chance encounter on a pier turned into an invitation to come on up and mix at the EEMYC. Soon a few of us were dancing, painting (yes, painting, as renovations were under way), and making new acquaintances at this venerable, vibrant, and down-to-earth sailing club. They have plans afoot to build up their youth sailing program. You can’t ski or mountain climb in Bermuda, but you sure can sail. Wesley, Stevie Dickenson, and Commodore Patty Washington could not have made us feel more welcome. Hats off to the EEMYC and much thanks.
The famous and even notorious (in a good way) single-handed sailor Paul Johnson in his most able Venus ketch Cherub sailed in just as we were clearing out on Saturday morning. Our crew had had a fine time sailing with Paul at Jost Van Dyke in the BVI. We welcomed him with a bottle of the best rum in the world—”Goslings” Black Seal—and we regretted that we had to sail on just as he pulled in. We encouraged him to follow us to Lunenburg, where he is anxious to get a hold of some superior Dauphinee blocks. Perhaps we will see him in lovely Lunenburg, but sail we must. We have a fair wind and a good chance along. One thing around here: You take your chance when you get it because the weather is sure to change and soon.
After monkeying around getting the port anchor back and catted, we steamed out the way we came in and soon we had all sail set and were steering due north bound for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where many of our friends and family will shortly be gathering to meet the Picton Castle on June 17th (if all goes well) We are having our cargo sale at the same time, so come one, come all!