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Sailing dreams beckon in Bermuda

Press AssociationPress Association 12/07/2016 James Edgar

Clutching my shiny new sailing manual, I look out over the still waters of Hamilton Harbour and watch the under-8s lesson glide back into the marina.

This dinghy sailing doesn't look too difficult, I decide.

After I'm shown the ropes of my companion - the 12ft (3.6m) RS Feva - on the quayside, I am towed out into the blue Bermudian waters to see what she can do.

Within minutes I understand why I was told to wear my bathing shorts. Getting to grips with the combination of ropes, rudders and rigging is trickier than I first thought.

I have come to Bermuda to master the basics of sailing dinghies, and there surely can be no better place to learn.

Protected on almost all sides, Hamilton Harbour is a nursery for novices, and while I am here, the breeze is gentle and the sun always shines.

My course is with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, which is right on Hamilton's waterfront and one of the oldest royal clubs in the world, having been founded in 1844.

My prize may only be the modest Royal Yachting Association's (RYA) Start Sailing qualification, but as I gaze at the intricate model boats and out over the bay, I allow myself to daydream about a far greater spectacle in the not-too-distant future.

In May and June next year Bermuda will host the 35th America's Cup, and this remote British Overseas Territory could not be more excited.

Sailing is in the blood of the Bermudians, so with the planet's biggest race coming to town it is impossible not to get caught up in the hype.

The Great Sound will be the stage for the big races, with Bermuda's horseshoe-shaped coastline serving as a vast volcanic amphitheatre, from where fans can watch the drama unfold.

In the final, up against defending Oracle Team USA - who won the last Cup in 2013 - will be the winner of the challenger series, the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, captained the holders to victory last time round, but now he's hoping to steer his own team, Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) - which was launched in the presence of the Duchess of Cambridge in June 2014 - to glory.

The original 1851 Cup was awarded to a Royal Yacht Squadron schooner named America for winning a race around the Isle of Wight, but the trophy has never since been in a British team's hands.

Now the British bid has the royal seal of approval and the Cup-holding skipper on board, there are high hopes it can be returned "home" after 166 years.

Britain's ties to Bermuda date back to 1609, when the flagship of the Virginia Company, the Sea Venture, was shipwrecked on its way to the new English colony of Jamestown in Virginia.

Bermuda is still characteristically British: red pillar boxes, driving on the left and an unyielding passion for cricket.

Yet this tiny archipelago of 65,000 residents is also distinctly individual and quirky.

Pink, green and blue houses perch on the limestone rocks above the shore, and locals go about their business in equally flamboyant pastel-coloured Bermuda shorts and knee-high socks.

Measuring just under 54sq km, this territory has an intimate charm that rubs off on visitors, and I easily find myself slipping into "island time" as I drink one of Bermuda's trademark Dark 'N' Stormy or Rum Swizzle cocktails on the famous pink beach.

Bermuda's history of swashbuckling pirates, shipwrecks and adventure adds much colour to legend and folklore.

Accounts by survivors of the Sea Venture are believed to have inspired William Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest, which he is thought to have written over the following two years.

Some view the Bard's reference to "still-vex'd Bermoothes" as proof he had Bermuda in mind when penning the stormy scenes in which Alonso, his son Ferdinand and their companions wash up on Prospero's island.

There is also plenty to explore by land on this Atlantic archipelago, as I discover during a bike ride along the renovated old Railway Trail, which follows 34km of the route taken by an ill-fated train service that ran for just 17 years, from 1931 to 1948.

The short section I cycle down takes me past Fort Scaur, an imposing 19th-century fortress designed to protect the Naval Dockyard from enemies attacking from the South Shore beaches.

These days, Scaur Hill Fort Park is a tranquil nine-hectare site with breathtaking views over the Great Sound - the perfect place to watch the America's Cup races.

And now I have my Start Sailing qualification, perhaps Sir Ben might consider me as a crew member for his team. But if not, I guess I'll sit up here with a Swizzle instead.

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