Bermuda bound: It's clear sailing for America’s Cup races
February 28, 2017 5:47 PM
A view from Hamilton Harbor of the Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda, site of the America's Cup races this summer.
By Christine H. O'Toole
HAMILTON, Bermuda — The breeze shifts west. A crisp quarter-acre of sail rises over our heads as bright-colored spinnakers bloom across the horizon. The Zara, a 35-foot catamaran, glides elegantly into Bermuda’s Great Sound.
Suddenly, a tiny hydrofoil darts across our path, perched on 8-foot-high fiberglass fins, with its solitary skipper suspended from one side.
“He’s a Cup sailor,” explains Bob Marusi, who’s invited me aboard the Zara. “They train solo on the Moths.”
As Bermuda prepares to host its first-ever America’s Cup races in May and June, the Great Sound will become the stage for the world’s most prestigious boating competition (www.americascup.com). The bonus for spectators: the amphitheater of clear turquoise waters rimmed by low green hills with pastel stone cottages.
But don’t assume you can camp out on Mike Bloomberg’s lawn to catch the races. The billionaire’s secluded Tucker’s Town estate might offer a fleeting glimpse of the competition, but each racecourse is a last-minute decision dependent on wind conditions. The only way to see the races is afloat. And that’s appropriate for Bermuda.
As we sail, Mr. Marusi reminds us that the island’s maritime pedigree goes back to 1609, when the English vessel Sea Venture foundered on a nearby reef. That’s not necessarily a good omen for the upcoming races, but it made Bermuda a British territory and a sailing mecca with a lively history of shipwrecks, rum and piratical yo-ho-ho. About 650 miles east southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., the island’s as popular with Yanks as it is with its Commonwealth cousins.
At the Royal Dockyards, America’s Cup teams are already preparing for the qualifiers, which begin May 26. Across the island, hotels are primping for an influx of visitors. The 62,000 Onions — local slang for the natives — may be outnumbered 10 to one by spectators, whose numbers will grow up to the final cup match June 27.
As we cruise back into Hamilton Harbor, we pass a clutch of superyachts moored regally at the marina of the Hamilton Princess Hotel. The resort is a wealthy pink dowager, founded in 1885 and named for a daughter of Queen Victoria. Now sporting a $100 million nip-tuck, the Princess has a new title: official hotel of the America’s Cup. The marina is part of a renovation that also included upgraded guest rooms, a new private beach club, three restaurants and a contemporary art collection.
Sailboats in Bermuda's Great Sound, site of the America's Cup races this summer. Christine O'Toole
Andy Warhol’s prints of Queen Elizabeth, silkscreened in vibrant pinks and greens, greet visitors at the front desk, suggesting the resort’s 21st-century shift in attitude. Proper English tea is still served daily, but the luxurious exhale spa also offers poolside yoga. The new restaurants have a more casual vibe under the direction of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, and the cocktails flow freely, especially the island’s signature concoction, the rum-spiked ginger beer known as a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
Hamilton, the island’s capital city, is one point of Bermuda’s urban triangle. It lies only 8 miles from both St George’s, the historic settlement at the island’s northeast point, and the nautical museum at the Royal Dockyards. But the island’s two-lane roads slow traffic to a benign crawl. The island’s serrated coastline, totaling 75 miles, creates private coves and beaches that keep life serene and oh-so-exclusive — an East Coast Bali Hai with an English accent.
Reaching the pink sand beaches along the south shore or the watersports centers near the Dockyards may take a half-hour from the towns. It’s worth the wait. Scuba divers and snorkelers rave about diving here, exploring a wealth of wrecks just 40 feet below the surface. Kayaks and jet skis abound. The ocean beckons, even after dark, with night diving and evening cruises.
Island cuisine borrows some flavors from the Caribbean, 1,200 miles south. Local food trucks offer spiny lobster and fresh fish is a mainstay. Mr. Samuelsson, owner of New York City’s chic Red Rooster, adds jerk spices to pork belly and grilled Bermuda onions to the fish chowder at his new restaurant at the Hamilton Princess. Harlem-style fried chicken and waffles appear on his Sunday brunch menu.
“A little island fare, a little uptown flair,” he says of his approach. “We have all the tools here to be a great global restaurant.”
At a gala unveiling its renovation last summer, the Princess welcomed a celebrity guest, escorted by a tuxedoed bodyguard. It was the America’s Cup itself. The sterling silver prize awarded since 1851 is the world’s oldest international sporting trophy. Come this June, it may trade hands one more time in the Great Sound.
— Christine H. O’Toole is a journalist living in Mt. Lebanon.
If you go
Bermuda is about 650 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C. While there are no direct flights between Pittsburgh and Bermuda, American, Delta and United offer one-stop service from $346 round-trip in mid-May.
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