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By Dorie Cox
Many yachts are making their initial trip to Bermuda for the country’s first hosting of the America’s Cup this month. And with that comes other firsts for crew, the industry and the island.
“My crew are excited,” said Capt. Jason Halvorsen of M/Y Marcato, formerly Copasetic. “The first mate stopped there once for fuel, but this is everyone’s first time. None of the crew or owners knows much about sailing, but this is a great opportunity for visiting a new place with this expedition yacht.”
Capt. Kent Kohlberger is a long-time sailor, but neither he nor his crew on M/Y Safira have been to Bermuda.
“We’ll stay on the naval dock and be able to see the race start and finish,” Capt. Kohlberger said. “We go through the racing village to get to the yacht. The races will be great. There is so much new technology and new racing classes.”
Chief Stew Frem Layco said M/Y Safira, previously private, will be on its first charter as well.
“I’m excited to show what I can do,” Layco said.
Safira Stew Leanna Richards is ready for both her first charter and her first major sailing spectator event.
“I lived on a sailboat in Key West,” Richards said. “But I have a lot to learn about sailing.”
No stranger to Bermuda or sailing, Capt. Gianni Brill is thrilled to see the races. He will run S/Y Arabella, a 157-foot Palmer Johnson, as a spectator boat for New Jersey’s Manhattan Yacht Club. The three-masted schooner will be one of a limited number of boats with permission to be on the course, he said.
New for the country of Bermuda are guidelines for yachts visiting the 35th America’s Cup, many of which will be on charter.
“This is a first; we never allowed foreign-flagged vessels to charter here,” said Joe Simas, vice president of marine operations of Meyer Agencies, which processes charter permit applications. It also serves as agent for cruise lines, cargo ships, the Navy, and “whatever sails in the ocean,” he said.
The temporary permits to charter are only available from mid-May to mid-July, and Simas said he enjoys working with the crew he meets.
“Yacht crew are easy to work with and very self sufficient,” Simas said. “Yachts are different, with different sets of rules, a little easier than a cruise ship with 1,500 crew and 4,000 guests.”
But, as often is the case with newly instated rules, there are challenges.
“It’s new for everyone, and it’s hard to learn on fly,” Simas said. “As long as everything in the application is in order, they should have their permits. We’re all working together to get this done.”
Also new are several facilities that have come online for the event. Caroline Bay Marina began construction in November and has completed phase one, 80 slips for vessels up to 80 feet and 33 slips for vessels larger than 80 feet. A marina building with a lounge houses a Bermuda Customs office, marina CEO Ralph Richardson said.
The company serves as another of the three agents listed on Bermuda’s Ministry of Economic Development list to process the new charter permit. Richardson said yacht crew will like the location in the Great Sound.
“All the activity is very close; I can see practices from my office,” he said. “Depends on wind, but races will be within a couple hundred yards.”
The marina’s first paying customer was scheduled to arrive in mid-May in time for the grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 22, he said.
“Crew will see a little finishing work, but we’re effectively complete,” he said. “All the pedestals have been tested, and we have full occupancy.”
Bermuda Yacht Services is the third in a government-issued list of local agents.The staff said everyone was so busy preparing that they had no time to comment.
Switzerland-based BWA Yachting booked dockage for about 50 yachts at three other facilities for the month surrounding the races, said Laura Esteve, vice president of the Americas for the worldwide ship agent. She also serves as head of the company’s America’s Cup Superyacht Program.
The north channel of the island was dredged and filled to build Cross Island, an eight acre area for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup event village. And the cruise ship dock at Front Street has Mediterranean mooring for yachts as well as Hamilton Princess Marina, Esteve said.
Most of these yachts will take advantage of the government’s temporary charter option.
“The government took huge steps to allow for charters the months before, during and after the event,” Esteve said. “We hope they decide to continue allowing charters because it is so close to the states, it’s fantastic for an option.”
She expects the event to be beneficial to yachting.
“The locals are excited to welcome yachts and want to make Bermuda a yachting destination,” she said. “They are focused on welcoming captains and crew and have worked hard to get marinas ready.”
BWA Yachting has the same focus.
“For crew, we are getting access to The Village, we’re conducting captains briefings, and we’re working on a social calendar for crew,” Esteve said. “We’ve assigned a personal concierge to all boats, they are key. It’s a great stay for crew; town is close.”
With all of this newness comes questions.
Capt. Brad Baker flew to Bermuda in March to check it out and he will be taking M/Y Rena, a 146 foot yacht to Bermuda for the races.
“It will be chaos for us in a country that has never done anything like this,” Capt. Baker said. “This is Olympic level and not all will go as planned.”
“We’re feeling a lot of concern if Bermuda can handle this?” Capt. Halvorsen said. “The crew is thinking about logistics, will there be enough provisions, enough flowers? A major concern is not enough taxis and no rental cars.”
Capt. Halvorsen said he faced paperwork challenges when preparing for the trip.
“It’s been difficult on us charter boats,” he said, blaming the newness of the temporary permits. “They said to get a permit, then said we need a liquor license and a lot of pre-customs clearing on their website, which keeps crashing.”
These things challenge captains and crew.
“The island is not prepared for what it’s about to be given,” he said.
Still, the yacht and crew plan to be on the island for a month and are optimistic.
“Our job is to never say no,” Capt. Halvorsen said. “I hope to be pleasantly surprised.”
Meyer Agencies’ Simas is also hopeful.
“This is a test,” he said. “I want crew to experience the best and come back on different cruises instead of just stopping in to take on fuel. Usually they bunker here for a few days then are off to the Med. We’re going to surprise them. We’ll be ready for the task.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below.