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Bermuda

Last night was the challenge. This morning — after more than 600 miles of ocean sailing and with a strong wind out of the west, a high overcast above Robin’s mast and Bermuda just over the horizon — should be the reward.

The fall of darkness last night followed a spectacular sunset over the incredibly blue Atlantic. Puffy clouds painted pink drifted across the sky to the south, and then as the dark of evening surrounded the boat, there was the incandescent glow of civilization rising where those clouds had been. My heart, seven days at sea, swelled.

And so did the wind. First came the Force 6 and 7 winds that were foretold earlier that morning by mare’s tail clouds. And then a front arrived, bringing jagged lightning, horizontal rain and, at times, nearly double the wind speed. Robin rocketed along at 7.5 knots three miles north of Bermuda’s legendary reefs until, in the early hours today, I could see nothing on the radar but the green of the squall. I hove-to and slept for two hours.

Now, with double-reefed mainsail and the staysail replacing the big genoa, I’m on a course due south, still skirting the reefs but headed almost directly for landfall. Robin is heeled to port. I’m up to starboard, my feet braced, both hands on the tiller. Again we’re sailing at better than 7 knots. I feel as I would sailing a dinghy over the 8- to 10-foot beam sea. Robin strains ahead like a willful horse smelling the barn in the breeze. And now there is a small hump on the horizon. Land. What a wonderful feeling. We’ll be in Bermuda before noon.

It took a race — the 2007 Bermuda One-Two — to lure me away from the psychological comfort of coastal cruising. I won’t say it is no big deal to be arriving on a foreign shore after nearly eight days at sea. But having completed this passage, I can recommend it to sailors and powerboaters alike, as long as they have bluewater-capable vessels.

For the offshore adventure and the beauty of both the passage and the destination, planning a cruise to Bermuda from anywhere on the East Coast is worth the considerable effort. At sea, I landed a mahi-mahi, flashing iridescent blue and jewelry-grade gold as it sliced through the water; watched incredible sunsets and dawns; and gazed in awe at the stars in the limitless, black heavens.

Ashore, Bermuda’s lush tropical foliage is offset by the harbor and reef water — somewhere between opal and topaz — and the pastel buildings in pinks and blues with white roofs. Of course, there is the pink sand, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the beauty, there is the bureaucracy. There are some formalities that accompany a Bermuda cruise. You will need to clear customs in St. George’s on the island’s east end. This requires entering the local harbor, and on any vessel — small or large — your entrance will be spectacular. You will pass through Town Cut.

Blasted from the black limestone that caps the volcanic bedrock of Bermuda, Town Cut is a short (300 yards long) channel between two cliffs. It is wide enough to permit cruise ships pregnant with 2,000 passengers to pass — one at a time and, to all appearances, just barely. (The width is about 200 feet.) You will almost certainly not sail into St. George’s Harbor because you will be heading into the prevailing wind, with little room to tack.

Nor will you be able to see Town Cut when first you turn west after passing the reefs at Northeast Breaker, Kitchen Shoal and Mills Breaker Ledge, giving all a wide berth. But you will have help. If you have left your VHF on channel 16 during your voyage, you will have begun, while still 150 miles away, hearing the very British voices of the duty officers at Bermuda Harbour Radio talking to vessels coming or going from the archipelago. When you are about 50 miles from Bermuda, you should have attempted to call Bermuda Radio yourself, letting them know you are coming. Indeed, that agency requests that you submit a lengthy checklist well before you arrive to help them know who is out there. (Bermuda Radio — www.rccbermuda.bm — coordinates search-and-rescue operations around the islands.)

The communications will become more frequent as you draw closer to Bermuda; once you reach Mills Breaker Buoy, the congenial voices of Bermuda Radio will help guide you to Town Cut if you wish. In decent weather, they can see you from their perch in a white stucco station, surrounded by a dry moat atop Fort George Hill and with a view of most of the 22-square-mile, scorpion-shaped string of some 140 islands that are Bermuda. (Tours of the station can be scheduled.) The radio operators guided 473 ships and 946 private yachts in and out of St. George’s Harbor in 2007.




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