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America’s Cup: next stop Bermuda

Boundless excitement: crowds from Saltus Grammar school came out as the motorcade carrying the “Auld Mug” made its way to the Cabinet Building to be officially accepted by Michael Dunkley, the Premier. Pictured are Grant Gibbons, then Minister of Education and Economic Development, and Sir Russell Coutts, of the America’s Cup Event Authority (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

Upon the completion last weekend of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series event in Gothenburg, Sweden, all eyes turned genuinely towards Bermuda.

After all that has been said and written, that superyacht of possibilities is heading our way fast and we better be ready. Which means that all the uncertainty, all the pontificating, all the naysaying, all the mischievous politicking needs to stop — or at least be put on pause — so that Bermuda’s best face can be shown to the world in the third week of October.

When Harvey Schiller, the commercial commissioner of the America’s Cup Event Authority, made the thrilling announcement last December that our wonderful island home would play host to the 35th edition of the world’s longest-running sporting competition, the excitement was boundless.

Grant Gibbons, then the Minister of Education and Economic Development, was fêted as a national hero and the scenes that greeted him and Sir Russell Coutts — and the “Auld Mug”, let’s not forget her — along the motorcade route from LF Wade International Airport to the Cabinet Building were spectacular.

Bermuda might as well have won the America’s Cup.

Those are the scenes that we must have it within us to replicate when the big show hits our shores. Those who are able will line the perimeter of the Great Sound racecourse on October 17 and 18 in their pleasure craft. But those who cannot, those who feel that “this sailing thing” is beyond their ken, there is something for you to embrace as well.

For this America’s Cup is not merely a rich man’s plaything, another example of the yawning divide between Bermuda’s haves and have-nots. It is without question potentially the greatest tool to show not only that Bermuda is open for business, but that we are better than what is suggested by the recent evidence of crumbling societal values.

News headlines have been dominated by those who would do this country’s reputation ill. Stories of Bermudian kindness are still there but few and far between, grappled at like a long-lost love when in the past such acts were commonplace — the done thing, what it is to be Bermudian, what it is to be human.

We need to show that we can be great hosts. The best hosts. Portsmouth got the ball rolling with tens of thousands filling that proud city on the South Coast of England. Gothenburg, too, by all accounts hosted a well-attended two days of racing on the Swedish west coast.

October is the dress rehearsal for Bermuda, followed by the Qualifiers, Play-offs and Finals in 2017.

Despite our British heritage, and in some a native affinity for Land Rover BAR, we will adopt the home team (Oracle Team USA) in the hope that a successful defence can put us in a position in July 2017 to repeat that familiar presidential rallying cry of the incumbent candidate — “Four more years”.

Because, should Oracle see off the challenger that emerges from two years of preliminary racing and the ACEA likes what it sees in Bermuda — and, notably, of Bermuda — there is every reason to believe that we could be in the running to be repeat hosts for AC36 in 2021. Now wouldn’t that be something? That’s what we should be truly aiming for, by which time the economic legacy of AC35 should be felt significantly enough for the political powers that be, no matter which party holds the government by then, to fall over themselves in welcoming the likes of Jimmy Spithill, Sir Ben Ainslie and Peter Burling for another “spin around the Sound”.

The significance of the America’s Cup imbued in Dr Gibbons a realisation that his twin ministry would have to become “untwinned” so that he could commit all his energies into, first, making the bid work and, then, ensuring that Bermuda was doing all it could on the ground to fulfil its obligations to the ACEA; in essence, to Larry Ellison, the mostly unseen billionaire owner of Oracle, without whose say-so none of this would be possible.

It is unknown whether Wayne Scott thanked Dr Gibbons with more than a touch of sarcasm after being given in January the political hot potato that is the education ministry — see schools consolidation, teacher and principal transfers — but, in “taking one for the team”, he freed up time for the short-term primacy of the America’s Cup.

The long-term results, as with education and its comings and goings, are what matter most.