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Ellison: a fine fit for Bermuda

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The Island's history, culture and folkways are so inextricably intertwined with the ocean around us that no less an observer than Charles Dickens remarked 160 years ago: “Every Bermudian, being born within a mile of the water, was bred amphibious ... White or black, they were all sailors and seafaring to a man, almost to a woman ... In Bermuda, seafaring arts began to devour all others.”

Ironically, the vast majority of Bermudians ceased to earn their keep directly from the seafaring life at much the same time Dickens was penning these lines.

For more than two centuries, virtually the whole of Bermuda's population had been engaged in building, rigging, manning and loading and unloading ships, as well as whaling and fishing.

But the advent of steam-powered vessels in the 19th century made both the Bermuda sloop and the Bermuda rig, two local maritime innovations that helped to revolutionise Atlantic commerce, instantly obsolete along with the Island's traditional way of life.

Even so, when the The Age of Sail gave way to The Age of Steam, Bermudians were quick to recognise and seize on new opportunities made possible by the development of this new maritime technology.

The Island soon transformed itself into a winter garden market for an East Coast hungry for fresh vegetables, using the fleet of new vessels to export onions and potatoes to American cities.

These same ships returned to the Island laden with the first pleasure-seeking vacationers, thus establishing an embryonic tourism industry that was to fully blossom in the period after the First World War.

Today, the Bermudian character remains every bit as much shaped by the ocean as our rugged coastline. And the sea continues to provide us with new opportunities and new rewards.

By the time computer magnate Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA defends their 2013 America's Cup victory on a racecourse on the Great Sound a little more than 2½ years from now, all those Bermudians with sufficient brains, determination, work ethic and willpower will have had the chance to thrive in ways they could not have begun to imagine just a few short months ago.

Even those with fewer of these attributes, but with sufficient drive, will find plentiful employment in construction and other service industries that will be indirect beneficiaries of the decision to stage one of the world's premier sporting events in Bermuda.

The reality is that the 35th edition of the America's Cup provides the Island with a fighting chance to resuscitate tourism in something approximating its old form, to revitalise that sector's moribund satellite industries and to genuinely diversify a Bermuda economy that has become almost entirely reliant on the single pillar of international business.

Bermuda owes this unexpected stroke of good fortune entirely to Mr Ellison.

His seemingly counterintuitive decision to defend the Cup outside the United States has been described as “one of the oddest plot twists in the long-running storyline of the event”.

But then there is something of the Bermudian about this captain of global industry and veteran sailor, a man who can read the moods and needs of his times every bit as adeptly as he reads the tides and winds and currents.

Intensely private, he isn't so much media-shy as he is genuinely reserved.

Unlike so many of his peers in the hi-tech and high-finance worlds, Mr Ellison balks at the type of self-serving self-promotion that routinely lands such luminaries on the cover of People magazine and in the gossip columns.

Fiercely passionate about both his work and his private pursuits, the co-founder of database powerhouse Oracle is most at ease with those who share both his prodigious capacity for hard work and his unbridled enthusiasm for sailing.

Brimming with vitality and overwhelming in his physical energy, he has brought a clean, fresh breath of exuberance to the musty, tradition-bound world of blue riband sailing.

Born into relatively modest circumstances, Mr Ellison did not learn to sail until his twenties when he first moved to California from Illinois to embark on a career in computer database products, which has made him the third-wealthiest individual in America and as the fifth-wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated fortune of $52 billion.

He admits the sport quickly became as much a compulsion as a recreation for him.

“I don't smoke, but I do sail,” he has said. “[From the beginning] I was passionate about sailing and the idea of sailing ... the idyllic independence ... travelling with the wind.”

A populist and a populariser, his determination to broaden the Cup's appeal led to him settling on the Island as the venue for the 2017 regatta, believing Bermuda “would be a fine fit for global broadcasters and that Bermuda would be a convenient, meet-in-the-middle point for sponsors and spectators from Europe and the United States”, according to one sailing commentator.

In more ways than one, Mr Ellison has already demonstrated that he is a fine fit for Bermuda. And now it is up to us to show him that we, to a man and a woman, are still seafarers at heart.

Larry Ellison
: Auld Mug: the America's Cup arrived in Bermuda yesterday, heralding a day of joyful celebrations across the Island. The oldest trophy in international sport touched down at LF Wade International Airport on a private jet from New York

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Published December 04, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 04, 2014 at 1:03 am)

Ellison: a fine fit for Bermuda

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