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The America’s Cup comes home

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Bermuda is rightly agog at the prospect of having the great races for the America's Cup in our waters in 2017. It is hoped that the entire island will pull together for the ultimate success of the remarkable achievement by the Bermuda Government and many others to win the right for the event to take place here. On all fronts, there is much work to do, but a good result would be of tremendous long-term benefit to the Island, in particular, hopefully, to the vital hotel tourism industry, upon which so many are reliant, including the National Museum and other heritage institutions.

Beginning several decades ago, authorities began to ignore the essential role of hotel tourism for Bermuda society and the mantra that “Tourism is dead” was oft repeated in the press of the day. As that became a self-fulfilling prophecy (dozens of guest houses and hotels were subsequently lost), cruise ships were multiplied to keep the tourists numbers high. The great heritage of Bermuda hotels hit a reef, joining the hundreds of shipwrecks off our shores. The failure to understand that civilian and business tourists were joined at the hip and that the filling of hotels by the former gave an excellent range of services to the latter must be seen of one of the great mistakes of the last quarter of the previous century.

By heritage, one refers not only to the hotel buildings, but also to the occupants and generations of Bermudians who kept that tourism sector operational, such that it was the envy of many other small islands. Many hotel visitors became fast friends of Bermuda and Bermudians and returned often to island they loved. As we thought we could do without them, many took their patronage elsewhere, to our ultimate loss of a trans-generational “business model” for hotel tourism.

Now, however, there are some very positive signs of the enhancement of the hotel sector and of late, one hotel manager spoke against the demolition of its main structure, claiming it as a “heritage building” for Bermuda and the history of hotels on the Island. Bookings will hopefully be advanced thanks to the America's Cup, the publicity for which should put Bermuda on the map for years to come. Who would be the spoilers of this heaven-sent opportunity?

That possible renaissance in hotel tourism is aided by another heritage factor of which many Bermudians may not be aware, but it is fair to say in a sense that “the America's Cup is coming home”, for such competitive racing with fore-and-aft sail technology owes much to events at Bermuda in the early decades of settlement after the arrival of the good ship Plough in the summer of 1612.

As suggested by the late Eldon Trimingham, the geographical orientation of the island led to the invention of the “Bermuda Rig” before 1674, when it appears in a manuscript drawing of ten sail types of the world as the “Bermoodes saile”, the distinctive triangular cloth that today adorns most racing yachts of the world. Other than the people-related “Tartar Saile”, it is the only one of the ten named for the country in which it was born and evolved, with the help of the diverse Bermuda boating community of the day. With the addition of high-tech enhancements, it is the Bermuda Rig which basically drives the “Search for Speed under Sail” that is the reason for being of the America's Cup.

As Charles Dickens later opined (and as may be suggested), the Rig and the Bermuda sloop (of indigenous cedar) made “Every Bermudian … amphibious … White or black, they were all sailors and seafaring to a man, almost to a woman…”. In 1859, one Samuel Truscott (sic) presented a model of a Bermudian Sloop to the United Services Museum, at which time it was noted: “this gentleman appears to have had great experience in the Bermudian sloops, and states that beating to windward nothing can compete with them”!

An article in the Newport Daily News of 17 June 1954 alludes to the sponsors of the epic race from that town to Bermuda as the Cruising Club of American and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and suggests that “What some call the first international yacht race ever sailed was held in 1849 between the Bermuda ship [sloop] Pearl, owned by Samuel Triscott, and the Brenda, owned by George Collamore of Boston.

The race, held off Bermuda, was won by the Pearl by a 55-second margin.”

So we can say, in a sense, that the first “America's Cup” was won in the waters of the American hemisphere off Bermuda fully two years before the 1851 race around the Isle of Wight, for which a trophy was awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron to the vessel America. That cup was subsequently named for that boat and given by the Royal Yacht Squadron to the New York Yacht Club, “which made the cup available for perpetual international competition”.

No doubt Samuel Triscott and Eldon Trimingham and all sailing Bermudians of generations past would be delighted that the “America's Cup” will come home after 168 years. To Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, the Bermuda Government and all the sponsors, officials, competitors and hotel visitors: “Fair winds and following seas” for the America's Cup 2017 at the island of the Bermuda Rig.

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Published December 13, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 13, 2014 at 12:53 am)

The America’s Cup comes home

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