Final destinations are foremost in our mind when we set sail. Usually though we find ourselves in a country not considered anything more than a stopover for provisions and a rest. For the most part these brief and welcome interruptions to our journeys offer respite as well as some delightful surprises. Bermuda is one of those such places. Thinking our stop here would be only for a couple of days, Mother Nature had other plans and decided we must stay longer.
A British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is not one island but an archipelago of over 150 islands. Almost 600nm from the east coast of the USA, Bermuda has a history shaped by the naval exploits of the 1600s and 1700s; development grew particularly during the American War of Independence in the late 1700s. The British heritage is evident through building designs, a peculiar dialect, and street names such as Shinbone Alley and Waterloo Lane. Hamilton is the capital of Bermuda and is a one hour bus ride from St Georges where Blue Heeler is anchored.
Over 400 years old, the scenic town of St Georges is the oldest continuously inhabited town of English origin in the New World and is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. St Georges was the first place of habitation when a ship, the Sea Venture, wrecked on the reefs. Fortunately for them, all hands survived to eventually build a couple of ships and continue on to Virginia. The brightly painted houses constructed from local limestone are coated with a white lime-treated paint making them watertight. The bright white roofs remind me of a Christmas cake – as if you could snap a piece off and eat it! The people are friendly and will walk onto a bus or into the bank and announce themselves with a “Good morning everybody!”.
Near to the beautifully restored Town Hall are the Ducking Stool and Gallows where punishments are re-enacted for the benefit of the tourists. One of the oldest buildings is St Peter’s Church built in 1612 and is the oldest Anglican Church in continuous use outside Britain.
A special annual celebration for Bermudians is ‘Bermuda Day’. Luckily for us we were here for the occasion and Wayne, Denise, Etienne and myself took a bus trip into Hamilton to watch the parade. The parade showcased community groups with dancing, marching, loud bands, and Gombey dancers. Particular to Bermuda, Gombey dancing has its roots from West Africa and is traditionally danced by boys and men wearing brightly coloured and decorated cloaks, masks and headware.
The Gombey dancers at the Bermuda Day Parade encouraged locals to follow behind cheering, dancing and singing along to a loud beat. The locals dressed up for the occasion – young ladies in 10 inch heels and short frocks; young men with slick hair, trendy shirts and sneaky Calvin Kleins; young children and babies also were dressed for the occasion with bows and ribbons stuck on their bald heads. There were smiles, clowns, pocket-sized dogs with coats on, and cheeky little girls blowing bubbles.
Returning to our boat later that day we passed a group of older menfolk who had obviously spent the day celebrating. One of them hailed us and said “Where’ve you come from?”. We told him that we’d spent the day watching the parade in Hamilton. Another guy sitting on the ground, amusingly inebriated, started to carry on and curse, whereupon the other guy got up told him to “Stop yer cussing” ripped the cap from his head and thumped him with it! All we could hear as we walked back to the dinghy dock was “I said stop yer cussing (whack).yer hear me..I said stop yer cussing (whack)”… Very funny!
Next day we took the ferry to the northwest corner of Bermuda to the Royal Naval Dockyard and the National Museum of Bermuda. Constructed in the 1800s the dockyard is a tourist must-see. Unfortunately the Commissioner’s House which houses much of the history exhibits of Bermuda is closed to the public due to restoration work. The Queen’s Exhibition Hall/museum displays information and artifacts from over 500 shipwrecks and the development of Bermuda since its beginnings in the early 1600s. Walking around the ramparts offers views of the cruise ships, the acreage of the dockyards, plus the Dolphin Quest pond where cashed-up holiday-makers can swim with the dolphins. The High Cave Magazine built in the 1870s used to store gunpowder and munitions but now presents information on the prisoners and convicts transported to Bermuda during the Boer War and World Wars. Within the dockyards are artisans, glass makers, cigar makers, ice-cream shops and the famous Bermuda Rum Cake shop.
Before we came here we were warned that Bermuda was expensive. That is certainly the case and it’s a destination for the well-heeled tourist. Items are heavily taxed and a sandwich and drink for lunch could easily cost you upwards of US$20 each. For yachties, Customs clearance is US$35 each, but the anchorage is free making the stay a little cheaper than travelers in hotels. A glass of house wine can cost US$9, but a bottle of Aussie wine is less than US$15. A pub beer can set you back US$7 but a six-pack from the supermarket is US$13. Good job we have stacks of canned food from Thailand plus a Soda Stream pop maker!
So, our originally planned two-day stopover is now heading into its second week. Strong easterly winds are holding us in St Georges Harbour while the east coast of the US is under a blow of its own. Closer to the east coast of the US is the Gulf Stream which runs northwards up to four knots. Like the treacherous Agulhus Current in South Africa, we must also be mindful not to cross this strong current when winds are from the opposite direction otherwise we could be in for big walls of water! Within the US, Texas is suffering from massive floods, other areas are being battered by tornadoes and next week the hurricane season begins. When Mother Nature talks, we must listen…
We wait patiently and will leave when we can. Until then here’s some of the faces from the Bermuda Day celebrations – enjoy!