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8 Great Moments in Bermuda’s Sailing History

The romance and adventure of sailing are part of Bermuda’s DNA. Here are some highlights from its seafaring past, starting in the 1600s.

Fort St. Catherine guarded Bermuda's East End

For more than 400 years, seafarers have been drawn to the island, resulting in a rich, colourful maritime history. Discover just a few of the greatest moments.

1 1609: The Sea Venture Sinks & Bermuda is Born

St. George's waterfront

It all started with a shipwreck. A violent storm wrecked the Jamestown, Virginia-bound Sea Venture off the reefs on the island's east end. Sir George Somers and his entire crew (plus one dog) miraculously survived and began the colonisation of Bermuda. Somers and crew eventually made it to Virginia in 1610 aboard the Deliverance and Patience. Today, you can see a full-size replica of the ship in the Town of St. George’s Kings Square.  

2 1600s: The Bermuda Sloop is Invented, Changing Sailing Forever

The Bermuda sloop was developed on the island in the early 17th century. It soon evolved into what's now known as the Bermuda rig, the basis for all modern sailing yachts. What made the sloop so innovative? Its high, raked masts and triangular sails offered ships the ability to sail upwind. This advantage meant the Bermuda sloop became particularly popular with pirates (also known as “privateers”) who sometimes had to make speedy getaways. Today, you can see a replica of a Royal Navy sloop-of-war, The Spirit of Bermuda, docked in Hamilton Harbour.

3 1846: Gibbs Lighthouse Starts Shining

Gibbs' Hill is one of the world's oldest cast iron lighthouses

Shipwrecks are a big part of Bermuda’s maritime history, but for the past 169 years, Gibbs Hill Lighthouse has kept thousands of ships safe as they approach the island. One of the oldest cast iron lighthouses in the world, Gibbs' began its job on May 1, 1846 and has been flashing out its beam to seafarers ever since. Its powerful light can be seen up to 40 miles out to sea (and by airplanes at 10,000 feet and 120 miles away). You can climb to the top for a panoramic view of the island and the surrounding turquoise waters.

4 1864: The Mary Celestia Sinks, but Her Story is Far from Over

The Perfumery in the Town of St. George

Under the cover of night, the Mary Celestia – a Civil War blockade runner loaded with smuggled contraband – sunk to the ocean floor off the coast of Bermuda. Fast-forward to the 21st century, when divers discovered a cache of undiscovered goods in the ship’s hold, including a still-sealed bottle of 150-year-old perfume. In 2014, the Bermuda Perfumery recreated the sunken scent, earning international media attention. You can sniff and buy the Mary Celestia fragrance (packaged in a beautiful Bermuda cedar box) at the perfumery's shop. It's a citrusy, rosy blend.

5 1890s: The First Dark 'n Stormy is Mixed

A Dark 'n Stormy®, made with Gosling's Black Seal Rum

Less likely to spoil than fresh water and sturdier than beer, rum has long been the drink of choice for seafaring types. The spirit starred in the very first Dark 'n Stormy ®, a now legendary (and trademarked) combination of dark rum and ginger beer that's a favourite cocktail of sailors. It was likely created in the late 1890s after the Royal British Navy added a ginger beer plant to the Dockyard complex. For locals, the cocktail is usually concocted with Bermuda’s largest export, Gosling’s Bermuda Rum (produced on the island since 1850) and Barritt's or Gosling's Ginger Beer. Find out how to make Bermuda's national drink.

6 1906: The First Bermuda Race Takes Place

June in Bermuda

People thought original participants in the Bermuda Race were a little crazy. The 635-mile sailing competition (now known as the Newport Bermuda Race) saw high winds and big waves as approximately 170 boats set sail from Newport, Rhode Island. But the “Thrash to the Onion Patch” has endured. It’s the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, and it takes place every other year. The winner of the 1906 race was Tamerlane, a 38-foot yawl owned by Franklin Maier, skippered by Thomas Fleming Day. That inaugural race was notable for another reason – it featured a woman captain, Thora Lund Robinson, which was unheard of at the time.

7 1980: John Lennon Sails to Bermuda & Finds his “Fantasy”

A tribute to John Lennon at Masterworks

John Lennon docked his yacht in Bermuda, having sailed more than 700 miles from Rhode Island, with a serious case of writer’s block. The former Beatles genius hadn’t penned a song in almost five years. Bermuda changed all that. In a matter of days, he composed no less than 22 tunes, including many that would appear on his final album, Double Fantasy. At The Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art on the grounds of the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, don’t miss the statue commemorating Lennon’s time on the island by local artist Graham Foster.

8 2017: Bermuda Hosts the America’s Cup

Announcing Bermuda as the venue for the 35th America's Cup, presented by Louis Vuitton

| Credit: Gilles Martin-Paget

Perhaps the greatest chapter in Bermuda’s sailing history came in the summer of 2017, when the island hosted the prestigious 35th America’s Cup, presented by Louis Vuitton. The pinnacle of international sailing, the event attracted the world's best sailors and spectators from around the globe. The racing drama unfolded on Bermuda’s Great Sound against a backdrop of brilliant blue water, islands and beaches. See a recap of America's Cup race results and take a look back at favourite moments from the epic event.