My time in Bermuda is coming to a close. In talking to my weather router on the high frequency radio and looking at the forecasts myself, I’ll likely be departing tomorrow (Wednesday, May 25), a day earlier than reported previously. Flexibility is key in this game.
I’ve throughly enjoyed my stay in Bermuda. The islands are striking and full of history, the people are gracious and always helpful. Here are some vignettes to give you a flavor.
A Farewell to Arms
On the evening of Saturday, May 14 when I entered St. George’s Harbour and disembarked at the customs and immigration dock. The officer asked me if I had anything to declare. I said that I had a flare gun. It’s a small plastic pistol that shoots phosphorus parachute flares and is “no big deal” standard safety equipment in offshore boats. However, in Bermuda not only are flare guns treated as lethal weapons, so are spear guns and Hawaiian slings (both used for spear fishing). Bringing them into the country is expressly prohibited. All are “bonded” upon entry (taken by the officer and logged, and returned to the master of the vessel when departing).
Therefore, on my exit tomorrow, in addition to minor paperwork with customs and immigration, I’ll get my flare gun and eight “rounds” (flares) returned to me.
This juxtaposition with the US’s perspective on “real” guns (where there are more guns than people in the US) was striking. Particularly when the first US news story I read when I got some internet access was the horrific racist shooting in the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo (Colleen’s home town).
The Gibraltar of the West
Gibraltar, at the entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic is still a British territory and, especially during the colonial period, was intensely fortified. During that time, Bermuda was nicknamed The Gibraltar of the West. Perhaps the reason Bermudian forts were never fired upon is because they were so impressive.
Also the closely linked islands of Bermuda have a natural protection of reefs that I had never realized before visiting.
In the map above, Hazel and I are in St. George’s Harbour in the northeastern end of the islands. The British Royal Navy base was located in The Dockyard area to the southwest. Given the shallow reefs, the only approach to The Dockyard is shown by a red line (freighters, ferries, and large cruise ships still use that channel). Therefore, along the St. George’s area and northern end of the island, a series impressive forts would have made mincemeat of any foreign warship that attempted to approach The Dockyard.
Interestingly, St. George’s Harbour used to be the up-and-coming cruise ship destination. However, as cruise ships got larger the Town Cut into St. George’s Harbour could no longer accommodate them so the large cruise ships diverted to The Dockyard leaving St. George’s as more of a private yacht and smaller cruise ship destination (in this definition, “yacht” would include Hazel James and similarly sized private vessels).
What’s in a Name?
What I call a white-tailed tropic bird, my favorite species of bird, the locals refer to as Bermudian long-tail (it’s on their quarter coin). They are all over the islands of Bermuda in the spring and were nesting in crevasses in the fort walls around The Dockyard. I just can’t get enough of them and am curious how far east I will see them as we make our way to the Azores.
Not all Fun and Games
I read once in a smiling book that a circumnavigation is nothing but a series of boat projects in exotic destinations.
While I made some outright and many preemptive repairs on Hazel in St. George’s Harbour, the most photogenic was the up the mast work.
Hazel is outfitted with mast steps that fold out from the mast and I also use a “bosun’s chair” (climbing harness as a safety back up).
The main job up the mast was to replace a hard shackle with a soft shackle on the spinnaker halyard block at the top of the mast. On my way up and down, I carefully examined all other fittings for chafe or signs of wear.
Interestingly, if you look up the term “white knuckle” in the dictionary, you’ll see the above picture.
“We Could All be Speaking Spanish”
At the Fort St. Catherine’s museum, the docent told me an amazing story.
In the early 1600s, just a few years after the British had established themselves in Bermuda (by accidental shipwreck in a hurricane coincidentally), their defenses were still weak and developing.
To their dismay, sentries at a newly established fort on the islands spotted two Spanish men-o-war (warships) approaching. Unbeknownst to the Spanish, the British fort had all of three cannonballs and limited gunpowder. Not wanting to engage, the British artillery put a warning shot across the bow of the lead warship. However, the Spanish kept coming. The British artillery managed to then put their second shot through one of the Spanish ship’s sails, certainly sending a message but doing no real damage. However in the excitement of reloading the soldiers knocked over their remaining gunpowder and it spilled on the ground. They had nothing left.
On the lead Spanish warship, the captain considered the situation and the fort and decided that continuing to sail at Bermuda would be suicide. The men-o-war bore off and sailed away.
The docent concluded the story, “If that captain would have made a different decision, we could all be speaking Spanish today.”
The Gunpowder Plot
In the US Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress forbade US trade with loyal British Colonies. This put the midatlantic Bermuda in a bind since it had become dependent on goods and food from the US colonies. Long-story-short, 100 barrels of gunpowder were smuggled out of British forts in Bermuda and transported to the colonies in exchange for food and other goods. That gunpowder was critical to the Revolutionary War’s outcome. Details below…
While the British were officially neutral in the US Civil War, sentiments in Bermuda leaned to the Confederacy. Somewhat because of the trade from the US south’s cotton to British textile mills and somewhat because of cultural similarities (Yankees were viewed as uncouth), somewhat because of…you guessed it…money.
There were fortunes to be made in blockade running. Wilmington, NC was the closest Confederate port to Bermuda and large, slow British sailing merchant ships would offload cargo in Bermuda. The Confederate-bound cargo of gunpowder and munitions would be transferred to small, fast but often unseaworthy steamships designed to run the Union blockades.
The success-to-loss ratio chart over time shows how effective the blockade runners were in the beginning of the war but how fortunes changed as the Union tightened its grip on Southern ports.
As you might tell, I’ve been enthralled with the history of Bermuda. However, as my weather window opens, Hazel James and I have got to say goodbye with a final load of laundry and some last-minute provisioning today.
After those trips, I’ll haul Lil’ Dinghy up on Hazel’s deck and prepare to sail tomorrow. I’ll also try to make a last blog post tomorrow morning.
I anticipate about 18 days of sailing to Horta, Azores and am hoping that Rhett will be there soon after for us to continue to Spain, mainland Portugal, or Gibraltar together!
I’ll try to make daily updates on the satellite tracker while I am sailing. Tomorrow I expect a north wind so will start sailing east on a port tack (wind coming across the left side of Hazel). The wind should veer to the southeast and south on late-Thursday or Friday and I will then tack to starboard and head north a bit before turning east again…at least that’s the the plan.
Fair winds and following seas!
8 thoughts on “Bermuda Shorts”
Loved the bird pics and history lesson. Thanks for educating those you touch. Thrilled to hear Rhett will join soon. Will be looking for sort burst messages over June. Peace, Fair winds, and safe sailing.
Loved your wee history of a Bermuda – Wishing you all the best on your journey to the Azores. We will be following you…cheers S&D
Thanks Donna and Steve!
Great stories Dan. The pictures from the top of the mast make it hard to believe you climbed that thing multiple times while alone and out at sea on your Virgin Islands voyage (as described in the book). Here’s hoping you stay ON DECK on the passage to the Azores.
Also, ironically, the large Royal Caribbean ship in your picture from The Dockyard is the exact ship that will be taking our family from New Jersey to Acadia and to Nova Scotia later this week!
Fair winds and following seas!
Oh that’s too funny about the RC ship. Have a great cruise!
Thanks. Very informative. Great pictures.