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Sailing Destinations: Bermuda

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Hamilton Harbor Bermuda

Hamilton Harbor © Tom Lochhaas

Bermuda is a small group of islands some 700 miles due east of South Carolina. Boats have cruised to or through Bermuda for hundreds of years, and it is one of the most popular offshore destinations for sailors on the US East Coast. Bermuda is also a frequent stop for boats sailing between the US or Canada and the Caribbean or Europe. As a destination, Bermuda is the finish line for classic sail races and attracts hundreds of American boats on cruising vacations.

The area of the North Atlantic between the US coast and Bermuda is frequently crossed by hurricanes as they sweep north from the Caribbean Sea. Most passages to Bermuda, therefore, are made either in the late fall after hurricane season ends or in spring before the season begins. Sailboats also have to contend with the north-flowing Gulf Stream current just off the US coast, which may reach up to 2 knots in places and which spins off eddies that may help or hinder the boat’s progress. Using satellite imaging and other sensors, route planning forecasters can effectively advise sailors where to enter and exit the Gulf Stream to their best advantage.

Weather and Winds

The weather is generally good for sailing in November and April-May, when most sailboats cruise to Bermuda. These islands are far from the southern trade winds, however, and historical data on pilot charts show that the wind can come from any direction. If you’ll be crossing the Gulf Stream, check the forecast carefully before leaving port to avoid being caught in a northerly wind, which can produce steep waves that are uncomfortable and can become dangerous.

In the famous Newport-Bermuda sail race in June of even-numbered years, almost 200 fast sailboats make the crossing in 3 to 6 days, depending on the wind. In odd-numbered years the Marion-Bermuda race is a more relaxed competition for cruising boats.

Bermuda’s Attractions

A British overseas territory, Bermuda has much to offer cruising sailors. The city of Hamilton boasts the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and has a fine large harbor full of all types of boats. At the other end of Bermuda, the smaller town and harbor of St. George’s are home of the St. George’s Dinghy and Sports Club. Both clubs and both harbors have excellent facilities for transient cruisers. Chandleries, sail-makers, and other resources abound.

No visitor to Bermuda, however, should focus entirely on the water. An urban center, Hamilton is both historic and cosmopolitan. Jetsetters and cruise ship tourists find superb shopping, tasteful restaurants, and comfortable waterside hotels. St. George’s, in contrast, is more humble and more relaxed. Most sailors know intuitively which harbor and which town is better suited to their tastes.

With about 20 square miles of land stretched over many closely linked islands, Bermuda has a stable population of about 66,000. The economy is healthy and the people happy, and even modest neighborhoods are well kept and make for pleasant walking everywhere. The subtropical climate keeps the island warmer in the winter than the same latitude in the US, and cooler in the summer. Scenic beaches of pink sand seem to be everywhere, and the coral reefs make for good snorkeling and diving, although the water is cooler than in the Caribbean. Cultural and sightseeing attractions include historical museums and churches, art galleries, old forts, botanical gardens, nature reserves, caves, and walking trails and parks.

Navigation and Customs

With so many boats coming here from so many other countries, Bermuda has excellent systems for assisting with navigation and arrival. Mariners need good charts to avoid the plentiful reefs around the islands, especially on the northern side, but Bermuda Harbor Radio is easily reached on the VHF and will help guide you in. Customs must be cleared first in St. George’s Harbor, which is well marked and lit for day or night entry. You enter the harbor through a narrow rocky cut that seems very tight even for a moderately sized sailboat, but fears about squeezing through soon turn to embarrassment when you watch a large cruise ship make the same passage.

All in all, a voyage to Bermuda is literally a rite of passage for many American sailors, and the pleasant cruising conditions and shoreside delights ensure that many repeat the voyage year after year.

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