Setting Sail in Bermuda
What’s it like to be on the water with an America’s Cup racer? Pro sailor and TV host Tucker Thompson gives us a taste of life at sea.
“Keep an ear out. I’m gonna ask you to trim the sheet as soon as we hit this puff.” I’m aboard a 33-foot-long International One Design yacht named Falcon in Bermuda’s Hamilton Harbour. The classic, Bermuda-rigged boat is captained by renowned sailing commentator Tucker Thompson, and his instructions could not have come at a better time. With the wind whipping across our navy blue bow, he calls out again for us to tack across the water. “Pull!” he shouts, as thick rigging lines zip behind him. In no time, the boat shifts upwind and we’re headed west towards the Great Sound, the body of water that hosted the 35th America’s Cup in 2017.
“Bermuda and sailing are a perfect storm,” Thompson says while manning Falcon’s polished wooden tiller. “The history and the culture of sailing are ingrained here in Bermuda.” Indeed, the nation owes its very existence to a crew of sailors: In 1609, the Virginia-bound Sea Venture crashed on Bermuda’s reefs and its crew built the island’s first settlement. Later, in the 17th century, Dutch shipbuilders on the island developed the mast and rigging configuration—dubbed the Bermuda rig—that remains predominant in contemporary sailboats. And while the mid-Atlantic archipelago has been on yachters’ radars for decades, it was the 2017 Cup that brought the world’s attention.
“Competing in the America’s Cup is the goal of any top competitive sailor,” says Thompson, who served as the event’s official host. “It not only ticks a box, it is the box.” Thompson would know: A Michigan native, he learned to sail at a young age before attending high school near sailing-centric Newport, Rhode Island, and college in coastal Maryland, where he learned to compete. In addition to twice sailing in the prestigious King Edward VII Gold Cup, a flagship race on the sport’s annual calendar, he competed in the 30th America’s Cup trials in 2000, and has since hosted over 1,500 sailing shows around the world as a professional television analyst.
“You see those dark ripples on the water?” says Thompson. “That’s what we’re looking for.” He explains how we’re searching for “shag carpet” versus “tile floor,” sailor-speak to describe the appearance of wind, or lack thereof, on the surface of the sea. He also likes to talk about “puffs,” those gentle Bermuda breezes that have been filling our sails since we departed the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club—and apparently a big one is about to blow in. “This is literally the only time when you really have to be concerned with your head,” he says. Thompson instructs me to duck inside the open cockpit as the boom, which holds the mainsail, swings fiercely to Falcon’s starboard side as we tack once again. It’s an effortless maneuver made even more impressive by his ability to quickly shift back to host mode. “Just look at the turquoise water, the pink sand beaches, the picturesque houses on shore,” he says. “If you’re a sailor, you can’t get any better than Bermuda.”
As we swiftly sail past tiny islets and cays, basking in the blissful Bermuda sun, I can’t help but agree. It’s a recurring theme of our glorious day on the water—one that also includes rousing stories from one of the world’s most accomplished yachtsmen. “It’s surprising that events like the America’s Cup haven’t come to Bermuda sooner,” Thompson says, calling the island’s reliable high winds and flat waters a “match made in heaven.” Heavenly indeed, as our boat is granted stiff winds on the return leg home. We make our way past the candy-colored cottages that dot the coast as Bermuda longtails fly gracefully overhead, before pulling back into the marina.
Back onshore, I continue to take orders as any good first mate would. “Shall we grab a Dark n’ Stormy?” Thompson suggests. Aye, captain.