This Island Invented Sailing as We Know It Today

That’s why it’s been chosen to hold the 35th America’s Cup race this year.

This Island Invented Sailing as We Know It Today

Bermuda’s Great Sound—the location of the next America’s Cup race

Photo by BermudaMike/Flickr

This year, Bermuda has the honor of hosting the 35th America’s Cup race—a legendary race, first held in 1851, between two sailing yachts. The defender this year comes from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club. The challenger will be determined by a number of matches prior to the America’s Cup match.

How did Bermuda score this privilege? Meet Mike Winfield, CEO of America’s Cup Bermuda and a crucial member of the bid team who advocated for the island to host the epic race in its 35th year.

We caught up with Mike to chat about his background, why the island is the ideal setting for the historic race, and how to enjoy sailing in Bermuda on your next visit.

America’s Cup is one of the oldest sporting events in the world. Why is Bermuda ideal to host it?

There are so many reasons Bermuda was chosen. The Great Sound is the perfect stadium sailing venue for America’s Cup. With little current and light waves, the actual marine conditions are perfect. With our variable winds, the teams will be challenged in different conditions. The Great Sound also offers a natural amphitheater for the race course, with many opportunities for viewing from the America’s Cup Village, from on the water, and from homes around the sound. All the bases will be either on or next to the America’s Cup Village itself. Never before will the America’s Cup be held so close to the spectators. The view of those extraordinary boats racing across one of the world’s most magnificent natural harbors will be nothing short of spectacular.

How is sailing a part of Bermuda’s DNA?

Bermuda was first settled by sailors en route to Virginia who were shipwrecked in a storm. Those early settlers loved the island so much that many stayed, and some built the island’s first sailing ships in 1609. The Bermuda rig was designed here on our shores, and it led to significant developments in sail racing. It meant the shape of a sail changed from square rigs to the now standard triangular sail, and for the first time, ships could sail upwind—and much faster.

Until recent years, children learned to sail from a young age. This year we’ve seen a resurgence of school-aged children being involved in sailing thanks to the America’s Cup Endeavour program. Every schoolchild in Bermuda aged 9 to 12 experiences a week of STEAM education and sailing as part of their school curriculum. More than 1,000 students have been through the program since Bermuda won the bid to host America’s Cup.

Tell us a little more about your background: Did you grow up in Bermuda? What were you doing before becoming CEO of America’s Cup Bermuda?

I grew up in Bermuda, although I was educated abroad in Canada and the U.K., but came straight back after university and began my career in the hotel industry. I have always described my relationship with Bermuda as a love affair; while I enjoy travel, I invariably can’t wait to come home. Flying over the coral reefs and the azure waters of Bermuda on approach is exciting every time.

I come from a hospitality management background. I was the CEO of Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa, a boutique resort in Bermuda, for 30 years. The resort is one of only two in Bermuda to be awarded the coveted four-diamond award from AAA. I’m also a founding partner of Hospitality and Tourism Solutions and have served as President of Bermuda Hotel Association on the Tourism Board for many years as well as many other boards and commissions. Other interests led me to chair the Bermuda chapter of the World Presidents’ Organization.

Prior to that, I consulted in the creation of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, an independent, government-funded destination marketing organization that promotes Bermuda, where previously Bermuda’s tourism was the remit of a department within the Bermuda government.

I enjoyed a political career as well, serving as a Minister, Senator, and Government Leader in the Senate, for the Bermuda government.

Today in my role as CEO of America’s Cup Bermuda, I work to lead our small team of employees and a large contingent of volunteer committee members.

When you’re not sailing or working, what do you enjoy doing in Bermuda?

Any visit to Bermuda should take advantage of our marine environment. Our beaches have been rated as some of the best in the world. You can go scuba diving on our 300 or so shipwrecks and on the reefs or just quietly snorkel around the shoreline. Most people leave Bermuda saying that they wish they had had more time to explore. And don’t forget to seek out the many dining alternatives—from local cooking to haute cuisine, it is all here. And a day exploring our capital, Hamilton, is an absolute must!