I’m sitting on a white leather couch in a Bermuda apartment, in air conditioning, following my first real shower in a week, barefoot, looking out over the bay. The last 24 hours have been a total immersion into what can simply be described as a magical island. How I have never considered Bermuda, or even found it on a map prior to this trip, was a total oversight. Something tells me that this place will be a significant backdrop to the second act of my life. I hope you enjoy...
I woke up on the saloon couch at 0700 on Thursday morning. When I left my watch at 0130, we were bearing north east trying to miss Bermuda by 10-15 miles, so that we could change to a port tack closer to sunrise, and take a western approach to the harbor entrance, which lies on the eastern end of the island. The previous 5 days, sailing on a starboard tack (the wind blowing against the “right” side of the boat) meant that sleeping in my cabin involved rolling into the lee cloth, while the couch meant I would roll against the soft, secure backrest. Now, as the early morning light found its way into the saloon, I realized I was rolling opposite, being held on the couch by the rough edges of the saloon table. We were now on a port tack (wind blowing against the “left” side of the boat). The change in heel direction alerted me to our final approach.
Jumping out of bed may be an exaggeration, but I sprung to life and ran up the companionway to spot the small British colony that was greeting us after a vast horizon of blue sea for 5 days. We were about 3 miles from shore, but I could make out the small hillside, and the cluster of houses looking southeast off the island. We slowly made our way between the buoys that guide you safely through the reef system that naturally defends the entire island. To land on a reef after our successful sail would be a terrible disappointment and lapse of sailing judgement - I’ve learned from experience how “cutting corners” to land can be painful.
The narrow gap (50 yards wide) that allowed access into the large Bermudian harbor gave us a sense of the island’s substructure. The entire island is made of reef, that must have emerged from the sea at some point in geological history. Old reef looks like an abrasive gray concrete, full of character. I later learned that nearly every house has been constructed of this reef, quarried on the island, which has helped it survive countless hurricanes over the previous 400 years - faring much better than their southern neighbors in the Caribbean.
Once inside the harbor, the magic of both an ocean-crossing landing, and specifically, the charm of Bermuda began setting in. At anchor or moored against the quay, in the early morning light, were no more than 50 yachts of various sizes. Mostly sailboats greeted us, but there was one mega yacht parked stern-to against the dock. We pulled up to the landing that houses the Bermuda Customs office, so we could “clear in” to the Island. I learned that you fly a yellow “quarantine” flag on your vessel when you approach a country different from where you departed, until you pass customs. We had our small yellow flag flying as we pulled up to the dock.
A couple officials, one man and one woman, greeted us pleasantly as we tied down to cleats, and asked us to come with them along with passports so we could clear quickly. Though official, there was an air of comfort and efficiency with the process. We filled out the normal customs forms, and let them know we did not have livestock, heavy artillery, or syphilis onboard - though I can’t vouch for the entire crew. The process concluded with a stamp from the officials in our passport: “Bermuda - Arrived by Sea.” I’m glad they put the treasured stamp on the page opposite my BVI trips. I walked proudly out of the office, my sailing resume growing.
Back onboard, we motored over to the quayside where we would be tied up for the next 4 days until departure on Sunday. We had to execute a docking strategy popular in Europe called a “Mediterranean Mooring”. To utilize less of the dockside, and thus allow more vessels to share a common pier, all the boats back into their spot, tying stern lines to shore, and securing the bow to a mooring ball located 60-80 feet off the dock. We slowly backed by the mooring ball, picking up the line connected to it on the way. I practically ran from the stern of our boat, with a line attached to our bow in hand, trying to thread our line through the eye of the mooring line, and tie a bowline knot, before running out of real estate at the bow which would allow our boat to crash ass-first into the dock. Thank God for the hours of senseless knot tying on the couch at home - I pulled the knot fast, just as I reached the bow, and the mooring ball, with line attached, ripped the knot right out of my hand. I held my breath as the line became taught, and the knot held. We were secure. Sigh.
On land, in front of the dock is the Dinghy Club, one of the several sailing clubs on the island. Our Club would be hosting another 20 boats showing up over the next couple days on their way to Europe. These boats, unlike us, were all part of the ARC Europe (Atlantic Rally Crossing). Think of it as a bunch of boats (30 in this case) wanting to cross a big ocean or do a passage together - “rally”. In principle, a rally sounds logical, especially if you have never done that particular passage - you have the comfort of knowing you’re surrounded by others, going in the same direction. In reality, 10 miles from departure, every boat is lost on their unique horizon, and you can’t expect your neighbor to just pop over to share their mustard at sea. Should you take on water or have a real emergency, your friends are a few hours sail to help you. We were not part of the rally, but our captain has participated in the past, so was able to park amongst the others. I’m anxious to mingle with a bunch of other captains and crew, or perhaps just crash their party.
The crew went ashore and showered at the dinghy club - now that I say that, I’m glad I stayed onboard and washed off in the comfort of the boat. Somewhat fresh and rejuvenated, I loaded my backpack and walked with the crew up the hill overlooking our bay. The walk to the town of St. George’s Harbor isn’t more than 3/4 of a mile, or 5.2836 kilometers - I can’t figure out their damn conversion. Every house we passed along the way was painted a vibrant color, maintained an immaculate hedge line or lawn, and had a stunning view of the harbor below. The flowers blooming on their plants gave off a scent even a nasal-congested mouth-breather like me could appreciate. The short hike also helped shake out the cobwebs of a motion I hadn’t used in nearly a week. The sun was now rising high above, and the cool morning air was giving way to the warm, humid climate of a pleasant Caribbean island. I was happy to be on land.
Captain Hank gave us a short tour of downtown St. George’s, which was made up of cobble-stoned streets not more than 20 feet across, cutting through a multitude of perfectly maintained buildings and houses constructed 100 years or more in the past. We were walking through history, with modern day scooters and two-door electric cars zipping by. The island population is made up of dark-skinned islanders, colorfully dressed, and eager to say hello. I was immediately struck by the polite and good-natured demeanor of everyone. In the British Virgin Islands, I always get the feeling that I am intruding on the lives of the residents. The opposite is true here - they can’t wait to talk to you.
We sat down to our first real meal and, wait for it, first cold beer in 5 days! Going without both for nearly a week was a small success in moderation. My bride and mother would both be proud of me - please stop reading. Following a couple beers at lunch, Alejandro, Rob (who we now call “Goose”) and I decided to catch the bus to the town of Hamilton, on the island. We loaded an air conditioned, clean, and modern city bus to take us the 13 kilometers (don’t ask how many miles) to the largest city on the island. This gave us a $4 tour of Bermuda. I expected, from my experience in the Virgin Islands, that the closer we came to the city center, the more poverty, garbage, weather destruction, and unpleasant sights, sounds and smells would emerge. I was surprised, no shocked, to experience the same colorful houses, manicured lawns, and complete lack of garbage anywhere. The school children entering or exiting the bus were dressed in pressed uniforms, well-behaved, smiley, and friendly. I wonder how affordable Bermudian prep-school would be for one or two of our misbehaving girls. Only kidding. Kinda.
I would describe downtown Hamilton as the love child of Rodeo drive, Midwestern values, and a Nicholas Sparks novel. We exited the bus, and needed to use the public restroom, which waits colorfully on the water’s edge for any passerby. I walked into what could have been the Four Season’s lavatory, and again, was reminded that this place cannot be real. Seriously guys, if I fall on hard times, I’m a shoe-in to write for the Bermudian Board of Tourism.
We spent the afternoon shopping for foul weather gear for Alijandro, a nose-shadowing visor for our Texan, and the multitude of gifts a doting father needs to bring home for his loving (and somewhat greedy) daughters if he ever hopes to travel again. Not to be outdone, I also ventured into the Old English Shop and picked up a pair of Bermuda shorts and a pink polo for myself. If I could get away with the Bermuda professional look - coat and tie, Bermuda shorts, dress socks and dress shoes, I would change my wardrobe tomorrow. Practical, professional, and colorful - I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on in the States.
So as not to forget what sailors’ primary tradition at shore is, we visited the Pickled Onion for some adult beverages, while overlooking the harbor. I was treated to (are you still reading, mom) several “dark and stormy’s”, the traditional drink of Bermuda. 1 part Goslings Dark Rum (Made in Bermuda), poured over a glass of ginger beer. I’m sure it gets its name from the stormy look of the black rum descending on the light-colored ginger beer. It took me several glasses to be absolutely sure that it was my favorite new drink. Responsibly, I decided we should get back to St. George’s...so as not to miss happy hour.
In one last shopping effort to support the economy, we purchased our own bottle of Goslings and ginger beer at the store next to the bus stop. To top off what was sure to be the perfect sailors shore visit, we acquired 6 Cohibas. Feeling dangerous, and weighted down by the numerous purchases, we caught the bus back to St. George’s, pleased with our enchanting trip to Hamilton.
It was rush-hour when we left at 1700, and were once again amazed (are you recognizing a theme) by the precise, relaxing, and efficient way in which the bus was filled to capacity, the air conditioning cooled to comfort, and headed away. I sat down next to a friendly resident, who helped me understand how she acquired their water (roof runoff), rid themselves of garbage (incinerator) and handled her own 14-year old daughter (space). She gave us suggestions for breakfast (fish and potatoes at Mama Angies), cocktails (Swizels) and a fun hang out (Mimi’s yacht club). Everything I ever needed to know in life I learned in Kindergarten, and on Bermuda public transportation.
After the walk back up and down the hill from town, and a quick visit to Brenda, the Dinghy Club’s bartender for some ice we were back at the boat. The entire crew was there. I wanted to test my recently acquired Dark and Stormy concocting skill, so whipped up a few cocktails for happy hour. As the sun began to descend over the harbor to the West, I enjoyed the surprisingly slight buzz, and total relaxation that only a 5-day passage, and a full-day of sight-seeing could illicit.
I noticed that the boat next to us, having pulled in while we were exploring, was an Oyster! When accused by my bride of surfing “sailing porn” at night, the Oyster is always the object of my affection. She is the boat that will take our family back to Bermuda, and around the world one day. I couldn’t wait to meet her owners, walk her decks, and venture into her cabin. I believe buying a boat is cheaper than acquiring a girlfriend - I’m confident Tara would agree. Sigh.
We made ourselves presentable, and walked back up and down the hill into town to cap off our evening with a dinner at the famous Wahoo’s in St. George’s. I thought a nice bottle of wine would pair well with the chowder and fish I ordered, but alas, I lost my battle to a week’s long gap in sleep, and a day of adventure and consumption. Half a glass into dinner, I began to fade. I gave into the evening, and after finishing my seafood, walking up and down the hill, and calling to say goodnight to my girls, I fell into a still sleep in my top bunk instantly. What a day. What a landing. What an island. Can’t wait for tomorrow, when we move ashore.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
LOVES to sail !
Follow our crew (Royce, Tara, Avery, Charley, Nora & Ruby)
as we blog our sailing adventures
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