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As the 35th America’s Cup Draws to a Close, Bermuda Basks in the Glow
In the heart of the Great Sound in Bermuda where a ring of AC45 class boats race in the finals of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, a group of us eye the tall patterned sails of the finalists, each proudly displaying a country flag and sponsoring brand.

We had gathered on a yacht on the northwest tip of the island, near the America’s Cup Village where the races have been held for the past five weeks. The Cup now enters the final stretch as the event draws to a close on June 26th.

Choppers hover over us like dragonflies, eyeing the action and televising it. Police boats patrol the mish-mash of boats, catamarans and super yachts, and stately tall mast ships like the “Spirit of Bermuda” carrying party-loving crowds swirling their plastic glasses full of “Dark and Stormies” anchor at a respectful distance from the racers.

The eight finalists (Great Britain, New Zealand, Sweden, France, Spain, Germany and Bermuda) race around the sound and almost “sprint” to the finish line, with some hulls foiling as the winds pick up. In a dramatic finish, Great Britain sails away with the Youth Cup, much to the chagrin of the New Zealand sailing team which was clocked to take home the trophy.

But that’s the nature of sport.

David Kendall, who is with the Bermuda Tourism Authority, says that even though the Cup “has been a bubble” of an event, it has helped enormously to put the island on the map. “We would love to be able to host the event again,” he says.

The finals started last weekend, and New Zealand has won most of the races and is poised to take home the trophy, barring any unforeseen events.

Blessed by continuous days of strong sunshine and ideal winds, Bermuda boasts at least 100 of the world’s “super yachts” in its midst; these are boats over 30 meters long and are extremely expensive: “basically owned by the world’s one percent” says Bermudian Kevin Dallas, Chief Executive Officer of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
There are only around 5,000 of these yachts in the world, each retailing for millions. They winter in the Caribbean and summer in the Mediterranean; “The owner of this type of yacht will want to spend the winter in Antigua and summer in Ibiza,” jokes Dallas, “and they do the transatlantic journey every year.”

We see some super yachts in the distance, and watch as sailors tack into the wind, and jibe. Each boat has at least six people sailing it, and is powered by hydraulic systems with battery backup.

Despite the tension that could be part of the finals, the mood is relaxed and not white-knuckled: sailing is a chill sport.

“A lot of people flew into Bermuda just to see the America’s Cup,” says Kendall. The island has seen a lot of other events during this time, including hosting carnival for the first time in its history.

(The story goes that when Queen Victoria was told that the U.S. had won the first America’s Cup held in 1851, she asked, “Who came in second?” and was told, “Your majesty, there is no second place. It’s a winner takes all contest”).

Technically, it should be named “Larry’s Cup” because it is being hosted by Larry Ellison of Oracle. “His goal was to turn the sport into the Formula One of the ocean,” says Dallas.
Ellison chose Bermuda for two main reasons: because the broadcast lines work, and because the Atlantic Time Zone has proved better for both Europe and American viewers than anywhere else in the world.

In essence, this might be the world’s perfect natural amphitheater for sailing.

Near us is the Royal Naval Dockyard that was built in the 1840’s as the home of the British Atlantic Fleet once they lost all the U.S. ports: the racing happens very close to historic sites. “Even before the Cup started, we had a lot of exposure as a destination, and we have had a modest increase in visitors because of it,” says Dallas.

Bermuda is known for its beautiful beaches, world-class rum (Gosling Brothers), the financial services industry and high quality of life. Many of the high-end hotels on the island, including the Fairmont Southampton, and Hamilton Princess (which underwent a $100 million renovation in 2016) have seen high occupancy rates during the past year.

Teams sailing the America’s Cup trained for six months before competing, and several competitors actually “put their roots here and bought houses in Bermuda,” says Dallas.

The America’s Cup concludes on June 26th and New Zealand is expected to take home the trophy.