2-82. Island of the Devils

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Ahh Bermuda, that beautiful Caribbean island filled where natives in grass skirts offer you exotic drinks under palm trees by a waterfall and where planes and ships suddenly disappear in vast numbers!

Well, hopefully you picked up on the fact that everything in that sentence is wrong, except for the occasional palm tree. Let’s take a closer look at a place that many people get all wrong.

Bermuda is not in the Caribbean… it’s nearly 900 miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina in the middle of the North Atlantic. It’s nearly 1000 miles from North of the Bahamas which ALSO aren’t in the Caribbean. There are no waterfalls, as there is no water. Bermuda is a desert island, and the only fresh water comes from rainfall. The first natives were English shipwreck survivors, and today they tend to wear expensive shorts rather than grass skirts.

Explorer Sebastian Cabot may have named the island “Ya de demonios” (this is disputed) because of the strange sounds he heard from the shore. These were probably just the native wildlife or perhaps the growing population of feral pigs, but in any event, the name Bermuda for original discoverer Juan de Bermudez is the one that stuck.

Bermuda has always been a place of danger. It was first discovered by the Spanish in 1505, but there’s no record that anyone lived there. They did drop off some pigs, though, to provide a source of food should anyone try to colonize the island. In 1609, the crew and passengers of the ship Sea Venture did just that, but not on purpose. Their ship had gotten separated from a fleet heading to Jamestown and was forced on the rocks. All 150 survived, and were happy to find a source of food in the pigs. Their leader, George Sommers died from eating pork, though we’re not entirely sure how. The official cause of death is “surfeit of pork” which literally means “too much pork.” It was probably food poisoning, though.

Water was a bigger problem, and it still is today: most Bermudian’s get their water from rain that falls on specially designed roofs and is collected in cisterns. The picturesque limestone buildings that typify Bermuda aren’t there for your enjoyment so much as to provide a source of water for the residents.

Though the island was a salvation for the Sea Venture, if it hadn’t been there, the crew would have probably made it to Jamestown. Bermuda is a wrecker of ships. There are more than 300 known wrecks on the hidden reefs that surround the island. Wreckage is so common that it often intermingles, with ships foundering and falling on the unfortunate remains of a ship that suffered the same fate years if not centuries earlier.

Planes were similarly challenged with Bermuda. When tourism started in the 30s, wealthy folks would fly there and some of them never made it. At this time, there was an unknown, invisible force that could make planes disappear. Today, we call it the jet stream. It’s a fast moving river of air that can push against a plane and secretly impede its forward movement. Early planes had no way to determine ground speed at night, and flying into the jet stream, they’d assume they were making good time. In reality they were flying very slowly… while burning up fuel as though they were traveling hundreds of miles an hour. And if you miss Bermuda, there’s nothing else for a 1000 miles to land on. Though never proven, the hypothesis is that planes such as the Ariel Tiger may have simply run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.

Today, the island is an insurance center and tourist spot. They drive on the left, and scooters are common. American tourists plus scooters plus driving on the left means a lot of accidents, and cruise lines inform passengers that renting scooters is not advised. They estimate that for every cruise, there’s at least one broken arm from a scooter accident.

Should you visit Bermuda? Of course I’m going to say yes. It has a fascinating history with old forts and caves to explore, interesting wildlife and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Just don’t expect Jamaica.

A rather unfortunate modification of an old PanAm poster by a New Zealand artist.

A rather unfortunate modification of an old PanAm poster by a New Zealand artist.

 

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