November, 2000: Bermuda
 
Bermuda's a great place. Unusually for us, we spent more than two weeks in one spot, St. George's Harbour at Bermuda's northeastern end. We rented scooters for a couple of days when Tina and Lou were still here, and drove madly from one end of the island to the other; but after that we relied on the excellent bus service. It's a lot less dangerous, gives you a chance to look around, and is much less expensive.

We chose the phrase "less expensive" carefully. Everything in Bermuda is outrageously expensive -- it's just a matter of more or less outrage. Scooters rent for almost exactly what cars rent for in the States. (It's against Bermuda law for tourists to rent/drive cars, so the only rental vehicles are scooters and motorcycles.) At the grocery store in St. George's, we paid $25 for two 6-packs of Coke, a large bag of ice, and 100 g. (3.5 oz) of gourmet cheese. The locals don't seem to pay much attention to the prices, though we noticed that people returning from the States come back with tons of stuff, probably for Christmas presents. There is no unemployment, and in fact the local restaurants have difficulty finding Bermudian staff.

There's clearly a racial divide -- all the public service personnel are black, and most of the golfers are white. But race relations appear to be harmonious, on the whole; for example, we just spent the evening in a local pub where the mostly black clientele made us feel very welcome.

Rob went golfing twice, once on a little par-65 course in St. George's and the other time at Port Royal, at the other end of the island. The layouts and views at both courses were spectacular, but the course conditions were not nearly as good as those in the Hampton Roads area. The greens were burnt out, and there were large bare patches in the middle of the fairways.

As soon as we got there, we looked up our old friend Chuck Millican, against whom we used to compete in 470's many years ago. He was the Bermudan Olympic Sailing Coach but has retired from that post, and now runs a custom embroidery shop in Hamilton. Chuck immediately hooked Rob up with the local Laser fleet, and as a result Rob spent two Sundays racing Lasers, in the Frostbite series. The venue is Hamilton Harbour, and both days the wind blew 25+ knots with 45-degree shifts. Rob was up and down (literally), placing in the top 5 several times but also failing to finish a couple of races. The post-race socializing as good, as always in the sailing world.

One of Bermuda's charms is its interesting juxtaposition of cultures and climes: the British traditions, the proximity of American pop culture, and tropical exuberance. For example, almost every house has a very English traditional formal garden with paths and hedges or fences. But the flowers are hibiscus, orchids and lilies rather than roses, the boundaries bougainvillea instead of hedge, and the fences are limestone or coral walls instead of granite walls. And of course the houses are all stucco in vivid colors or more subdued pastels. All the roofs are white and step-tiered, to provide a natural method of gathering rainwater into mandated cisterns. The abundance of all the white roofs lends a consistency and brightness to the wonderful green of the island vegetation.

One rainy Monday we enjoyed a "traditional skirling ceremony" at Fort Hamilton at noon. The Royal Bermuda Pipe Band marches in full Scottish regalia (kilts, plaids, etc.), and performs traditional Scottish tunes and marches. Under the date palms. They conclude with their rendition of some calypso tunes, but the only one we could make out was "Mary Ann." We've heard steel drum bands play "Danny Boy," and have to say that the musical translation seems to work better that way!

Throughout its history, Bermuda has had to deal with the issue of how closely to tie itself to America. The American influence is everywhere, but never seems to overwhelm the local culture. We watched Monday night football at a local bar this week, but one is equally likely to find soccer or cricket on TV or as the topic of sports conversations.

This is definitely not a third world country, and prides itself on being different from the "manana" atmosphere of the Caribbean. But that attitude does creep in, and there are aspects of life here that are reminiscent of "the islands." The telephones, for example. You cannot place a call to the US without using an operator. Of course, all you have to do is tell the operator that you want to use an XYZ calling card and she connects you to the XYZ line, so she doesn't actually place your call. This makes dialing 800 numbers impossible, so there are companies whose service departments we can't reach because they tried to make it easy for us by giving us 800 numbers!

Since the regular sailing season is over, we haven't had the opportunity to see the "fitted dinghy" racing. These are 14' sailboats that carry a crew of six: 5 of them sail and one bails! There are now only 6 dinghies on the island seriously racing, but serious is definitely the word for it! Each is sponsored/owned by a syndicate, which spends more than $10,000 a year. Each boat has a selection of masts, booms and spinnaker poles (and, of course, suits of sails for each). Masts can range from 24' to 48' high! Races start at a large tugboat which has lines running fore and aft along its sides. Half of the dinghies start on each side, at the stern, and hand-over-hand their way to the bow where they then shove off and start to sail. Instead of the traditional rule of starboard tack has right of way, when boats meet, they both must tack away. This changes tactics considerably! Another interesting rule is that it is only required to have one person aboard at the finish. Apparently, on the final leg all unused gear is thrown over, and in light air, crew members run to the stern and dive off with as much thrust as they can generate. Lest one worry that this is a dying sport with just 6 boats, we understand that the spectator fleet frequently numbers in the hundreds, and they are very knowledgeable, following the races without interfering with the racers. Sounds fascinating! We want to come back in the summer to see this.

The week after we arrived, St. Georges was awarded World Heritage Site status by the U.N., joining a prestigious group of sites that include the Statue of Liberty and the Great Barrier Reef. St. George's was founded in 1609 as a result of a shipwreck by settlers bound for Jamestown, VA, and still features 17th-century buildings built along narrow cobblestone streets. (The shipwreck provided the inspiration for Shakespeare's "The Tempest.") The settlers, by the way, built a smaller ship from the remains of their old one, supplemented by local cedar, and made it to Jamestown. But a number of crew members returned to found this little nation/colony. We think they may have gotten the better part of the deal!