It’s easy to take the move to Bermuda for granted, but as Matthew Sheahan is discovering from his first visit to the islands in the middle of the Atlantic, this looks set to be a Cup like no other
You can Google it, Wikipedia it, or simply read a guide book about Bermuda, but during the last three days it has been the excellent and widely used online rainfall radar service that has reminded me where I really am.
Bermuda might not be in the middle of the Atlantic, but it’s not far off, the low lying islands are still 650 miles away from the nearest land. And over the last few days it has felt like it as various weather systems have barreled through these islands like a stampeding herd of cattle.
Last night was a perfect example as conditions went from balmy to an evening of rock gig style lightning accompanied by biblical rain and line squalls to sweep you off your feet.
During the daytime the humidity was at times sufficient to take your breath away before the high cover swept in, blocked out the sun and dropped the temperature by five or so degrees in a few minutes.
If you like weather, Bermuda has plenty of it.
So after a couple of days spent finding my feet, sailing an M32 cat (another story that I’ll tell later) and then talking to a number of the Cup crews as they prepare for this weekend’s AC World Series event, I feel like I am starting to get an idea as to what makes Bermuda tick.
Certainly when I, like others, heard the news that Bermuda had succeeded in its bid to host the 35th America’s Cup I gave little thought to the location and significance of holding the next event in the middle of an ocean.
But I was wrong not to.
“If you think you’ve experienced Bermuda by doing the Gold Cup match racing event you’re in for a shock,” said Softbank Team Japan skipper Dean Barker who is very familiar with the famous match racing event having competed three times. “The match racing series is held just off the harbour wall in Hamilton. Sailing further out into the bay is a different deal. In some ways it’s more like sailing in Auckland in that if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is to stick around for ten minutes and you’ll have something different.”
Artemis Racing’s Iain Percy has also competed and succeeded in the Gold Cup and agrees.
“Once you get away from the confines of the inner harbour you quickly realise that you’re on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic,” he said. “It’s a part of daily life here to be hit by weather systems as they sweep through.”
But aside from the weather, the next unavoidable feature of Bermuda is the country’s enthusiasm for boating. Given the archipelago that forms the territory, perhaps this isn’t surprising. Even just a quick tour on a scooter takes you through more picturesque inlets and harbours in ten minutes than you could squeeze into the most gushing tourism promo video.
But what has struck me the most in my three day introduction to the new home for the event before the ACWS action kicks off, is how different the 35th America’s Cup will be from anything that has gone before.
Sure, the plans to build an AC park like the one in Valencia or San Francisco is ambitious, not least because the islands don’t have any landfill to build the several acres of space that will be required to host the park. There are no mountains to dig up, Bermuda is having to import its hard core from somewhere else to build some more land for itself.
Even then, this is simply an issue of money and planning.
But what struck me most as I rode my scooter back from the proposed 2017 AC venue back to Hamilton, was how limited the access is to the site. Sure, most of the visitors will get to the venue via the ferry that runs from Hamilton out to the historic dockyard where the giant cruise liners berth, but the only road that leads to the venue is the width of a country lane. It’s like holding the America’s Cup at the end of your street.
As you drive along the only road that leads there and get close to the dockyard you currently pass one of Artemis’ training bases – a car park with three blue and gold branded dingy cats that are launched off the beach. It wasn’t that long ago that team bases had high walls, barbed wire and security guards on their gates. Now you can go and have a picnic while you watch them prepare for the biggest prize in sailing. I’m all for that.
So while the new generation of Cup boats might be pushing technology and performance further than ever before, the practical reality of how teams are training for the next Cup is more hands on and down to earth than ever.
Oracle team USA has stolen a march on all of the other teams by building a decent sized base close to the Dockyard area. But while they have two impressive sheds and a large, billiard table smooth, concrete apron to wheel their steeds around on, they also have an impressive dinghy dock to launch the many foiling Moths and other high performance dinghies that they have.
There’s a long way to go yet, and plenty more that will be revealed this weekend once the ACWS racing gets under way, but while the 35th America’s Cup will present plenty of new challenges, my initial impression is that this will be a Cup like no other and not just for the outrageously fast foiling machines.
But there is one other thing that I’ve learned very quickly. And that is if you are thinking of coming over and touring the islands, which you should, bring some ear plugs. Without a Bermudan driving licence the only vehicle you can rent is a 50cc scooter. And unless you’re still stuck in your teenage, heel dragging years, you’ll be sick of the sound of a moped after a couple of days…I know I am.