Outdoor Adventures: A Race to Paradise

Jun 5, 2016 - 6:15 PM

It’s a famous island in the Atlantic Ocean that’s the perfect outdoor summer playground—secluded yet accessible. Its 21 square miles boast more golf courses per mile than anywhere else in the world. This enchanting destination has hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, exciting equestrian matches, and a prestigious yacht race from Newport, Rhode Island. And it’s a quick flight from the U.S. mainland. Martha’s Vineyard? No, Bermuda.

Many think of Bermuda as being in the Caribbean. In fact, it’s much farther north. The subtropical fish-hook-shaped archipelago lies 665 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, where its spectacular pink-sand beaches and multicolored coral reefs are enriched from northward-flowing Gulf Stream currents.

Few tests of blue-water seamanship are as iconic as the 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race, which has long been run every other year. It’s nicknamed “the thrash to the onion patch,” based on the high swells that boats typically encounter on their way to the place where sweet Bermuda onions really do grow. The New York-based Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club have jointly organized the event since the 1920s.

On Friday afternoon, June 17, 2016, the 50th Newport Bermuda Race will begin over the course of several hours. At the sound of the gun, as many as 200 yachts will cross the starting line at the mouth of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay at the foot of Castle Hill Inn, where spectators will gather on the long, sloping hotel lawn. Each sailboat will be rated and handicapped according to size and speed. The fleet will then disappear across the open Atlantic, where it will be out of range of rescue helicopters for much of the route. Cohesive, well-trained, and well-rehearsed crews of 10 sailors will be on their own.

On Sunday or Monday, the first super yacht will appear on the horizon in Bermuda. The first winner will pass the finish line in sight of St. David’s Lighthouse, a red-and-white-stone structure on the island’s east end that has been flashing warning signals to vessels since 1879. Smaller boats will follow on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some of them will be winners, too, based on their performance in one of seven major categories.

During the race, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club will host a week-long celebration of the event, culminating in a lavish awards ceremony at the governor of Bermuda’s historic official residence, which overlooks the island’s north shore.

What to do in Bermuda while you’re not on the golf course or waiting for the colorful yachts to appear on the horizon? Enjoy Elbow Beach Resort and Horseshoe Bay, arguably the island’s most famous beach. June through September are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving, with air and seawater temperatures averaging about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.     


A Bit of History

BermudaRace.com reports that in 1906, the sailing establishment believed it would be perilous for amateur sailors to race offshore in boats that were under 80 feet long. Thomas Fleming Day, the editor of The Rudder magazine, disagreed, according to the website, insisting, “The danger of the sea for generations has been preached by the ignorant.” Believing that an ocean race would be safe and would make for more skilled sailors, Day founded one on his own. The Brooklyn Yacht Club started the race in New York Bay; the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club finished it off at St. David’s Head.

Critics forecast disaster. Rumors suggested that the three boats in the race carried funeral wreaths so the sailors would be ready for a decent burial at sea. The smallest entry then (and in the race’s history) was a 28-foot sloop that was notorious for her size and because the crew included a woman. Today, she wouldn’t stand out among the 200 to 300 female sailors in a typical Bermuda race.    


TRAVELER INFO

For more on the Newport Bermuda Race, go to bermudarace.com or call (401) 537-9156.

For general visitor information, see gotobermuda.com.

Private jets and airliners ­arrive at L. F. Wade International Airport, which has a 9,669-foot runway.
Longtail Aviation Ltd. (442-293-5971) provides private jet charters and aircraft support.


Thomas R. Pero is publisher of Wild River Press and the author of two books about fly fishing.