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By Capt. Greg Clark
Before the summer of 2015, I had always regarded Bermuda as little more than a stepping stone on the way across the Atlantic, the first stop on an eastward crossing to the Mediterranean for many yachts, an opportunity to top off the fuel tanks, intercept any needed parts, and to give the crew a day of rest before continuing on to the Azores, Gibraltar and points further east.
So when the owner of the yacht said he’d like to spend two months in Bermuda last summer, the immediate question in my mind was, “what will we do with all of you?”
So began our summer and a quest to get to know Bermuda as a destination and potential cruising ground.
From the popular pink sand beaches lining the southern shoreline to the eight or nine nice golf courses, Bermuda also offers a healthy reef system unique in its isolation from other Atlantic and Caribbean reef systems and many interesting wrecks to discover. If one looks beyond the fuel terminal at Ireland Island and beyond the sheltered bay at St. George’s Harbour, Bermuda will not disappoint as a viable cruising destination in her own right.
As it turns out, Bermuda and her people have much to offer, and discovering the island nation that lies only three or four days (for most powerboats) off the eastern seaboard of the United States was an enjoyable experience for our guests and crew alike.
The island is really a chain of islands that encompass four primary bodies of water: Great Sound, St. George’s Harbour, Hendrickson Bay, and Castle Harbour. Each has its own unique attributes and is accessible by yacht with the exception of Hendrickson Bay, which is only accessible via tender due to a low bridge.
White lap-roofed houses in colorful pastels line the rocky hillsides surrounded by turquoise waters and laced with the ubiquitous pink sand beaches, for which the island is famous. Littered with shipwrecks, an extensive, mid-Atlantic reef system guards the northern and western approaches to the archipelago as well as the southern bays and beaches, which are exposed to the prevailing ocean swell.
Once in VHF or AIS range, Bermuda Radio is likely to reach out to yachts that have not already been in touch. It is responsible for keeping track of all vessel activity throughout Bermuda and does an excellent job. Its job (and that of all of us) is made easier and the entry process smoother if yacht crew have already filled out the requisite pre-arrival paperwork, obtainable from either Sandra at Bermuda Yacht Service (for those yachts entering at St. George) or David Carey for those entering at Hamilton Princess Marina.
Returning these prior to arrival will provide Bermuda Radio (and Customs & Immigration) all the information it needs to feel comfortable with the yacht’s approach to the island and facilitate a smooth entry into the country.
Although not technically required, operators at Bermuda Radio do appreciate a courtesy contact on VHF prior to repositioning when cruising around the island, just to let them know where the yacht is heading next, how many people on board, etc. They are not being nosy; just looking out for us. And they will pass on any relevant advice on traffic, conditions or whatever.
Safe entry is made by rounding the southeasternmost point at St. David’s Lighthouse, proceeding through Town Cut, and arriving at St. George’s Harbour. The first port of call for most yachts, customs can be cleared here. This is also where we find the historic and picturesque Town of St. George, a Unesco World Heritage site that contains many original buildings from the 1600s.
The oldest active Anglican church in the new world, St. Peter’s, is still in use and open to the public. The graveyard surrounding the church is interesting with the tombs of townspeople, sailors and travelers who wrecked on the treacherous reefs in the days before modern navigation made shipwrecks a rarity.
Each day in the town square, St. George townsfolk host a humorous re-enactment of a ritual dunking of a local woman found to be gossiping in the tavern the previous night, which draws quite a crowd. There is a unique perfume factory and showroom on Stewart Street, and a 15-minute hike over the hill behind town reveals three small swimming beaches: Tobacco Bay, Achilles Bay and St. Catherine’s Bay.
St. Catherine’s Fort, which guards the “narrows” entrance to the ship channel through the reef that leads to Great Sound, Hamilton, and the rest of Bermuda, is well worth the small admission charged for a tour and is quite well preserved.
When arriving at St. George, contact Sandra or Mark Soares of Bermuda Yacht Services. Sandra is the dockmaster for St. George’s Harbour and can locate a suitable berth for yachts as well as provide assistance for Customs clearance. It’s not a complicated process but she is there to assist if needed.
Mark, her son, was captain of a world cruising sailing yacht before returning to Bermuda to settle and begin a family. He has a wealth of local knowledge and can advise yacht crew in finding just the right location, beach or anchorage, or suggest activities to keep guests entertained. Both of them posses a keen awareness of the standards of quality and service that superyacht guests expect. They were prompt, accountable and helpful throughout our stay. And at the end of our stay, the accounting was spot on and the bill was fair.
After St. George — or before if guests prefer to save it for later — proceed directly to Hamilton and clear Customs & Immigration there. Access is straightforward through the “narrows” and the south ship channel, which is well marked and carries over 30 feet all the way to Great Sound.
A local prominent yachting family has recently purchased the grand dame of Bermuda hotels, the Hamilton Princess, and built a first-class superyacht marina on the property. They are in the process of a multi-year refurbishment and have wisely begun the transformation by improving the amenities. There is a beautiful resort pool alongside a nice alfresco restaurant and bar as well as a signature chef restaurant, also overlooking the marina. The docks are well built and the marina is within comfortable walking distance for guests to access the shopping area along Front Street.
David Carey is dockmaster at Hamilton Princess Marina and is also helpful and knowledgeable. He can arrange for customs to visit to clear yachts in upon arrival at the marina and will act as concierge during their stay.
Finding pink sand
Bermuda itself is safe and clean; we never found any dodgy areas. The taxis are expensive but the bus service is great and reasonable. Wonderful restaurants are everywhere to explore. In St. George, we liked the Tempest for fine dining, and Wahoos for great seafood in a more casual surrounding.
In Hamilton, the Mad Hatter is a fun dinner house where the tradition is to select a funny hat to wear from the huge selection decorating the restaurant. Devil’s Isle just off Front Street has a more casual, hip atmosphere with excellent food and a nice wine selection.
There are several pleasant anchorages in Great Sound, one in the southern portion (Little Harbor) just off Jews Bay and next to Five Star Island. This is the place to enjoy watersports from the yacht or take a tender to the water dock of the Southampton Princess hotel. A hotel shuttle can take guests up the hill to enjoy lunch or golf at the hotel’s facilities, and another shuttle can provide access to the pink sand beaches on the other side of the hill.
Unfortunately, the largest concentration of pink sand beaches is along the exposed southern shore where the bottom drops off quickly and where the shore is exposed to the prevailing wind and swell, making beach landings difficult and potentially hazardous.
Nevertheless, the southern shore between Warwick Long Bay Beach and Horseshoe Bay Beach has a series of adjoining picturesque coves with aquamarine water and pink sand separated by rocky outcroppings. These have to be the most beautiful beaches in the North Atlantic. Well worth the effort, however you get there.
In the lee of Somerset Island is another pleasant anchorage, sheltered from the prevailing southwest winds. Anchor near the rocky bluffs where there are few homes, just below Fort Scaur, where the Admiralty chart indicates a “Boiling Hole”. (A small cave is visible at the water’s edge but we never saw any indication of how the spot got its name.) There is a dingy landing in the rocks that provides access to the fort itself, and to the Railway Trail that runs the length of the island.
The railway is a relic from the 1930s and is no more, but the track way has been made into an extensive walking and biking trail that has only a few breaks in it.
From the Somerset Island anchorage, a nice dinghy trip can be taken by first heading south through the Somerset Bridge, the world’s smallest drawbridge, with a span only wide enough for the mast of a sailboat to pass through. Traffic is regulated via red/green traffic lights as regular PWC tours are conducted through this area.
Once through the bridge, continue through Ely’s Harbour with many moored boats and homes lining the hillsides. Out on the end at Daniel’s Head, you can spot the bow of the HMS Vixen, the first twin-screw warship in the British fleet, unceremoniously sunk in an effort to block the channel from marauding enemies. Today, it is home to many fish and is a fun stop on the dinghy trip.
Continue clockwise around to find Somerset Long Bay Beach and three small islands that are nice snorkel sites with loads of turtles. Finally, continue to Watford Bridge and back around to the yacht at anchor.
Anchoring off the Royal Naval Dockyard and tendering in will provide guests an opportunity to visit the headquarters of the Royal Navy in the Atlantic, along with extensive souvenir shopping opportunities.
The fort is extensive and there is an excellent museum inside. Not to be missed is the Frog and Onion Pub, located in the fort itself and dating from 1609. An entire menu of cruise ship activities including rendezvous diving are available, but it can be crowded.
The south end of Dockyard is slated to be the site of the America’s Cup race next summer. Organizers are well aware that this premium event will place Bermuda under the spotlight of world attention and are working hard to ensure that the expectations of visitors — and visiting yachts, in particular — are not just met, but exceeded. Plans call for extensive development including hotels, an America’s Cup Village and premium superyacht berths, many with views of the finish line.
A perfect spot
During a period of flat calm days, we took advantage and anchored overnight on a flat spot of sand just south of the country’s largest coral reef, North Rock, off the northern ship channel. Out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by extensive coral gardens, just below the surface, loaded with reef fish, it’s a perfect spot for a night snorkel or dive.
Perhaps our favorite anchorage in Bermuda was just off the wealthy enclave of Tucker’s Town Bay in Castle Harbour. Accessed from a small opening on the southern shore of the island, Castle Harbour is essentially a wonderful saltwater lake, filtered by tidal currents on both sides and with a series of small islands, little coves and beautiful beaches, great for swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.
Surrounded by mansions and overseen by the famous Mid Ocean Club, Castle Harbour is protected from all directions and is a lovely anchorage for all water activities. From this anchorage there is access to wonderful wreck and reef diving with Terry or Jake of Tucker’s Point Dive & Water Sports. They have many years experience diving the wrecks of Bermuda and can accommodate yacht guests with their nicely equipped dive boat or they can accompany guests in the yacht’s tender. Castle Harbour also offers easy access to the famous Swizzle Inn, ostensibly the origin of the rum swizzle.
Most anything from North America is available in Bermuda from gourmet food and beverages to manufactured goods, just at a price due to transportation and duty.
Tender access to the commercial side of the airport is also available from either St. George’s Harbour or Castle Harbour. The private FBO, Cedar Aviation, is on the opposite side of the runway and requires taxi service.
Bermuda has a long history and there are numerous historical ruins and forts left from its years as the headquarters of the British Royal Navy in the Atlantic. In the end, we didn’t have much trouble spending a summer exploring this lovely spot, which just so happens to be on a direct line between New England and the Caribbean. It could quite easily fit into a natural migration between summer and winter seasons, heading south or east. I wouldn’t be surprised if we stop here again.
Capt. Greg Clark is master of the 160-foot Christensen M/Y D’Natalin IV. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.