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Touching the Soul of Bermudian Spirit

Published on May 12th, 2017

by Al Seymour, The Royal Gazette
Just as a medical injection in the arm takes a while to take effect, the America’s Cup has slowly swept through our Bermuda islands in a way that has touched the very soul of the Bermudian spirit, igniting renewed enthusiasm for appreciating the magnificent legacy of our shipbuilding and sailing.

In the early years, much of this involved slaves who became so skilled in the craft that respect for their ability and craftsmanship was undeniable, and the road to where we are today was paved with blood, sweat, tremendous courage, determination, sacrifice, pain and a will to survive against all odds.

As the countdown draws near when the global spotlight will focus on this prestigious sailing event taking place in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, all of Bermuda should embrace and celebrate progress of the human spirit, which at best has no limits.

Contrary to some perceptions that the event is a party for the wealthy, the America’s Cup and the people involved have proved that they represent an outreach into all sections of Bermudian community life. That in itself puts Bermuda as the overall winner because many of our young people are getting a first-hand look at why Bermuda is the ideal place to stage such an event.

The amazing development in the Dockyard area, with the building of a village to accommodate the many attractions connected to the event, is not only visually stunning but serves to boost the opportunity for entrepreneurs and enhances our tourism product at a time when our economy is in need of significant improvement.

While most of the sleek sailing vessels in the competition have the appearance of craft from another planet, the skill required by crew members to operate these vessels is incredibly demanding. What makes this even more exciting is that Bermudians are not just spectators, but several have taken on the challenge to qualify for participation. Meeting such high standards is a giant step outside of the box on an island this size.

As this is still Heritage Month, and a great time to reflect on Bermudian seamanship over the years, I am reminded of a moment at sea during summer months with the James Minors family in St David’s back in the mid-1940s. They owned a boat slip where they repaired and built boats. To be around them was an adventure in itself.

Strong swimmers and great fishermen, the men of that family seemed to have no fear of the ocean, a trait that was probably handed down from previous generations.

I vividly recall an occasion when they invited me on one of their boat trips.

Along the North Shore, something became entangled in the boat propeller, bringing everything to a standstill. I am sure there was no radio on board, but there was no panic.

The boat had a small cabin and I was seated near the entrance. Moments later, one of them removed his shirt, and without hesitation, plunged into the deep water. After a few anxious moments, he resurfaced holding high some type of cloth or rope. The others quickly pulled him on board and the engine was restarted.

The trip back was uneventful, but I pondered that experience years later, with even greater admiration for those who take on the challenge of the deep. Although just a young boy, I never once felt in any danger. Through the ages, boating provided an avenue for making a living, especially for men in the black community, and several became skilled enough to pilot ships into our harbours where knowledge of the narrow shore passages and rocks beneath the surface meant the difference between success or failure.

Almost forgotten are the days of the one-man ferry service in Hamilton, where evenings one could sit and watch from an area near the Flagpole as a small vessel was rowed across the harbour to Paget with a passenger or two.

The sea has always been an intricate part of Bermuda life, and even to this day there are places where people wait for a returning fishing boat.

There is always quiet excitement when a vessel is spotted on the horizon, making waves heading home to dock with fresh Bermuda fish on board.

The America’s Cup is indeed a very special event, but what is even more significant is that it has revived and reminded us all of our place in history when it comes to sailing.

We cannot live in yesterday, but from experiences along the way, we can help to make the most out of today in hopes for a better tomorrow.

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