Bermuda Swimcation

Turning forty didn’t phase me. Fifty? Just meant I’m in a new age group. Turning sixty, which I did a year ago, that one told me I’ve got limited runway before I blow this pop stand. So… I feel I need to combine things, to double up, to squeeze 50 years into 25 (i.e., training vacations).

The wife and I try to get out of town during December, but I don’t have enough time left to just look. That's inefficient. Enter the Slowcation which in the past have been bikecations for Mr. and Mrs. Slowtwitch, such as this one in Morocco. But I get tired of falling out of swim shape during December (my local pool closes for that month), and I thought a swimcation during the pool closure would serve us well.

I found these Swimtrek folks which looked promising and Slowtwitchers on our Reader Forum chimed in, giving the thumbs up. But no trips were scheduled when we needed them so, okay, I’ll riff off a Swimtrek location and we'll swim and glamp at Isla Espíritu Santo of the coast of La Paz, Mexico. Seemed perfect.

But then I started hearing about the land of Flora Duffy, and the ITU World Bermuda in late April, and I migrated Google Earth from the Baja Califoria Sur to Bermuda. From 10,000 feet the open water swimming looked pretty good. What follows are a few shots of Slowtwitch Swimcation Bermuda. Field limit: two.

Some disclosure is in order. That WTS race that takes place April 28th has an age group component to it (an Olympic and a Sprint both). I'm nosy. And pushy. And opportunistic. One thing followed another and Slowtwitch is now a partner in that event, i.e., there’s now a business relationship there and while I tend to travelogue our Slowcations here anyway, it didn’t seem right to omit this fact from you all.

That photo above, that’s me swimming in Warwick Long Bay. I asked the locals where do they do their open water swimming and this is one place they like.

I got tired and decided to run back and what you can’t see here is the trail right where the sand meets the trees, and the train of horses walking. This is, apparently, a prime running spot for the locals.

I knew some Bermudians, but I’d never been to Bermuda. So I hunted up those I knew, and made some new friends, and remember I'm nosy and pushy, and my new friends threw a dinner for my wife and I the first night we arrived.

Bermuda has a long history in triathlon – longer than most. Its first triathlons were staged in 1979 and some of the big money races that took up a lot of space in our print publications in the 1980s were staged here.

Two of those at our dinner were Jim Butterfield and his wife Debbie. Yes, you’ve read the Butterfield name on these pages – Tyler Butterfield, the perennial top-10 (in recent years top-5) finisher in Kona is their son.

Tyler has good genes. Jim Butterfield was 7th in Kona the first year the race was held on the Big Island, in 1981, and I interviewed (that’s us talking above) Jim while my wife and I were in Bermuda. We talked about that 1981 race, since I was in it too. (I didn’t do as well as Jim. There were 300-and-some in that race, Jim was 7th, I was 27th.)

Jim was an Olympic rower for Bermuda before he became a top runner and triathlete, and Debbie placed 4th in the 1985 Boston Marathon, and her 2:38 marathon time is good now, but was really good back then.

You don’t really need to rent a car in Bermuda and that’s good, because you can’t rent them anyway. You can rent this. It’s a Twizzy and you get these at hotels, such as the Hamilton Princess where my wife and I stayed. They’re electric, which is also good since gas is $8 a gallon. Or you can rent a scooter.

Let’s talk about bicycles here. Would you want to ride a bike in Bermuda? The roads are narrow. But there’s not really much traffic; households are allowed only one car; scooters are limited to 15hp or 150cc engine displacement; and the top speed on the island is 35kph (20mph). The top athletes in the WTS race could all get speeding tickets during the bike leg for their average speeds if the letter of the law were enforced.

So, yeah, there is cycling here and this shot above is of downtown Hamilton, right where the WTS race will take place. See the pastel colors of these buildings? This is Bermuda. The most ardent memory of this place were the colors, of the water, yes, but mostly of the architecture. Most of the houses are painted in these pastel colors.

And the place is spotless. Bermuda has a hood. It’s called Back o’ Town. Most of us could live there no problem. I’ve been to a lot of harbor towns. I’ve never seen one where boats in slips or on docks sit in cerculean waters. Mostly they sit in dark, oily waters you don’t want to swim in. Not here.

One more thing about the riding here. This is Corkscrew Hill. The amateur races feature a 10k loop, so, two or four loops depending on the distance chosen, and this little cookie is on that 10k loop. It’s steeper than it looks. The Elite race has a much shorter loop, so, more times up this hill. It’s going to be an honest course. This is the spot to spectate the elite race.

I’m swimming here in Shelly Bay, which was my next open water workout, and the water was a little calmer here because this happened to be the leeward side of the island while we were here.

The water was probably low-70s, too cold for many of the locals because they’re used to the near-80s during the summer. But it was perfect for me!

I’m exiting the water here in my absolutely impossible to kill ROKA jammers and that same company’s R1 goggles, which I like, but I like the F1 better because the F1 has changeable nose pieces for my beady, deep set eyes. Like the TYR Tracer. It's a good thing I prefer cheap goggles.

This island has 60,000 people on it. It reminds me of New Zealand, in that a small group of people who need to replicate what larger communities have seem to overachieve. Think about it. How does New Zealand and its 3 million folk produce so many good sports teams and individual endurance athletes?

Bermuda is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller yet than small New Zealand, yet it has a full road bike race series, a full MTB racing season, triathlons, a big half marathon, a big downtown road mile, and these aren’t even close to Bermuda’s major sports. Above is one of the places we ran.

Because Bermuda takes its sports seriously it built its National Stadium and inside of it is its National Aquatic Center, a short bike ride from WTS race centrer. I chatted up the swimmers (remember, nosy and pushy), and I got the best of the lot to commit to swim legs on VIP relays for the upcoming ITU World Bermuda race.

The wife and I swam twice in this pool, and while Bermuda is imperial in some measures (Fahrenheit) it is metric in the pool, so, you get either 50 or 25 meters depending on whether the bulkhead is installed.

What is this place like? How to put it? Imagine the fun and the temperature of a Caribbean Island, which is where my wife likes to hang because I swear she’s got family on every single spit of land between Florida and Venezuela and visits them all. Now then, imagine a place more… Calvinist. Bermuda is kind of a strict and stoic place in certain ways. American boaters will throw trash in the ocean. A Bermudian sailer, seeing that trash (not his) will sail by and pick it up.

The downtown of Hamilton, where the WTS race takes place, is built around this Anglican cathedral (above). No building in Hamilton can be built taller than this cathedral. There’s something charming and provincial about a law like that and, well, that’s Bermuda. It is said there are more churches per capita here than in any other country.

Mind, I was in Bermuda not even a week, so an expert I’m not. Just, there’s no mistaking the genteel spirit of Bermuda, but there is a thing called the Bermuda Heroes Weekend that takes place in June I really would like to see, and pictures of it look to me less genteel.

If my dodgy knee can hold up for 4 more months, I do believe I’ll make a go of the Sprint distance event here on April 28. If I understood right, there’s something called the Feather Mile that will take place during triathlon week. It’s a theme run combining (I think?) the flavor of the Heroes festival and the Front Street Mile, which is the big road mile that takes place in a couple of weeks.

One final thing. Bermuda was cheap to get to, but it isn't necessarily cheap once you land. I've got a Bermudian Slowtwitcher writing up Bermuda On a Budget, because the next time I come I'll probably try to be a bit thriftier, and some of you might also find this helpful.

(Photos: Some images above I took; some my wife Tanya took; the images of me, or of the both of us, were taken by Bermudian photog and multimedia wizard Nhuri Bashir.)