I accept that high-speed America’s Cup sailing is not something currently well known to the majority of Bermudians. I was glued to my TV throughout the entire race series for the 34th America’s Cup, but then I was brought up on the America’s Cup.
The Hollis family built fast ocean crossing schooners out of cedar in Bailey’s Bay in the 1800s. My great-great grandfather Lawrence Hollis was the sailing Master of the first HMS Bermuda (pictured above).
His son and my great grandfather, William Thomas Hollis, built the last sailing HMS Bermuda on the Bailey’s Bay side of Harrington Sound in 1847 for the Royal Navy. She was launched on December 19, 1847.
The newspaper of the day described her as follows: “The HMS Bermuda is a very fine looking vessel of about 185 tonnes, is most substantially built and will, in all probability be a fast sailor.”
Flatts Bridge had to be taken down to let her out to be towed to the Royal Naval Dockyard, Ireland Island – now the venue for the 35th America’s Cup – for final fitting out by the Royal Navy.
The schooner America was the first winner of what would come to be known as the America’s Cup. She was launched in May 1851 only three-and-a-half years later, and was of strikingly similar size and proportion.
The Bermuda-built schooners and sloops of the period were considered some of the fastest in the world. My great-great grandfather and is son, William Algate Hollis, after hearing of the famous win by America were of the view that HMS Bermuda could have beaten her and saved British pride. But then we would never have had the opportunity to host the modern America’s Cup in 2017.
HMS Bermuda was lost on January 19, 1855, when she hit a reef at night off North East Caicos Island. My family has followed with keen interest the America’s Cup ever since. I was brought up on it, listening to races on the radio and later following mark rounding’s on telex reports.
When the Australians finally won it in 1983 to bring an end to the longest winning streak in the history of sport, I followed every race on the edge of my seat. It was the best 4 out of 7 series. It got to 3-3.
I was sitting as an acting Magistrate at the time. I adjourned the case I was hearing halfway into the proceedings and sprinted down to Disco 40 to watch the finish of the race live on a large screen. Australia II beat Liberty across the line by 41 seconds. As most Bermudians at the time traditionally supported Australia, the party went well into the night.
By Wendell Hollis