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Bermuda, the Auld Mug and the realities of racing on Great Sound
Bermuda aerial shotNicolas Felix

Bermuda racing on Great Sound

Bermuda, the Auld Mug and the realities of racing on Great Sound

For many Cup fans, the decision to host the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda-rather than on the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s home waters of San Francisco Bay-came as a huge letdown, especially considering the dizzying heights that the Cup reached in 2013 during the nail-biting days of Oracle’s 8-1 comeback in the 34th America’s Cup.

The list of grumbles only grew louder and longer when the Protocol governing “AC35” contained weak (at best) crew nationality rules, as well as a lax constructed-in-country requirements.

For many seasoned Cup fans, the American-flagged Defender appeared to be rapidly giving away many of the spoils of a hard-earned AC34 victory, while simultaneously moving the competition to a small, exclusive and largely (economically) inaccessible island nation-a move that effectively excluded many of the newly minted sailing fans who were won over during the last Cup cycle.

This then begs the question: What do Bermudians think of the America’s Cup, and of the fact that their country is about to find itself in the international limelight, both this week during the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) Bermuda event (October 16-18), as well as in 2017, when the 35th America’s Cup is set to unfurl on the waters of Bermuda’s Great Sound?

This, of course, depends on whom you ask. While keen sailors are no doubt ecstatic to have sailing’s premiere event foiling around on their local waters, other residents were likely less enthusiastic, no doubt thinking of the traffic, the crowds and the congestion that would descend upon their island once the racing started. Others, however, have found great business opportunity in the ACWS Bermuda event, as well as AC35, the later of which is guaranteed to draw sailing fans from around the world.

Bermuda, the Auld Mug and the realities of racing on Great Sound

America’s Cup[ World Series Bermuda, October 2015Americas Cup Media

Recently, Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty and Rego Sotherby International Realty both reported big bumps in their sales figures as a result of the Cup. “World Series are great as smaller events but the 35th America’s Cup is expected to be the pinnacle of activity for sailing,” reported Penny MacIntyre, executive vice-president at Rego, to Bermuda’s local newspaper, The Royal Gazette. “All the hotels are sold out now so you can anticipate that for 2017 certainly that demand will spill into private residences.”

While this uptick in business is no doubt welcome news to some Bermudians, accessibility thus becomes a big question for all Cup fans, especially if the hotels are already booked solid, almost two years before AC35’s starting guns begin sounding.

Unlike San Francisco Bay, with its seemingly made-to-order stadium-sailing venue, as well as its myriad viewing opportunities, Great Sound is considerably smaller and is ringed with stretches of private property.

And while the organizers have gone to some efforts to ensure some spectator viewing-for example, one of the ACWS finishing lines will be positioned in Hamilton Harbor-Bermuda simply can’t compete with the sheer size and scale of San Francisco’s viewing areas, including the downtown piers, Crissy Field, Marina Green, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Couple this physical limitation with the already-booked accommodations ashore and expensive pricing (across the board), and it seems obvious that far fewer fans will be able to physically see the ACWS racing in Bermuda than they could in places like Portsmouth or Gothenberg, which hosted ACWS events in 2015, or in Chicago, which will host an ACWS event in 2016.

Just how small Bermuda is does not really sink in until you realise that the island is less than 21 square miles (54 km2) and the total population is 65,000. Assuming everyone and their dog watches the 2017 Americas Cup there will be around 70,000 on the foreshores.

Fortunately, local businesses are getting creative. Take, for example, Blue Sky Flights, a newly formed venture that will take sailing fans aloft in their four-seater Cessna 172 for aerial views of the ACWS racing. While not cheap, the views will be spectacular for those who can afford the price of admission.

Then there’s the question of local participation. This Thursday, October 15, will be celebrated as “St George’s Day”, and 500 students will be invited to participate in festivities and races (contested in traditional Bermuda Fitted Dinghies) ahead of the ACWS Bermuda racing, which is slated to begin on Friday.

Additionally, event organizers have created the Endeavour Community Sailing Programme, which will provide Bermudian students with a STEAM (N.B., the “A” is for Arts) education program, as well as a five-day experiential education program that’s aimed at increasing their knowledge of water safety and sailing. The program will offer a Youth Sailing program, as well as five college sailing internships with Oracle Team USA. Funding for the Endeavour Community Sailing Programme is secured through 2017, but it will be interesting to see if the program-which is intended to serve Bermuda long after AC35 has concluded-will reach the critical mass and public support needed to go the long haul.

“Although this is the final race before 2017 there will continue to be heaps of activity,” said Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill in an interview with The Royal Gazette newspaper. “I think one of the huge plusses is that this will literally put Bermuda on the map not just for sailing but for anyone on the east coast who doesn’t realize they can come to paradise on a two-hour flight. I would have no problem coming back here outside of the America’s Cup. I think the biggest issue will be trying to get me to leave.

And while Spithill might be getting comfortable in Bermuda, odds are beyond excellent that he will find the proper motivation to leave his newfound paradise if Oracle Team USA decides to defend AC36 in another venue, or if a Challenger successfully lifts the Cup back to, say, the United Kingdom or New Zealand.

When this happens, it will be interesting to see if the average Bermudian is sorry to see the Auld Mug leave, or if its passing will be regarded as relief to the small island nation.

May the four winds blow you safely home

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor

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