I will get onto the real flying boats in a bit, but last Sunday afternoon we walked down the drive and across the road to the north shore where we stood and waited for some very fast boats to fly past.
Standing there inside the curve of the fishhook (look at the shape of Bermuda and you will see where I mean) we could see right across to Dockyard, one huge cruise ship on the dock and another performing an elegant 180 degree spin, like a slow motion handbrake turn, before it unloaded the thousands for their own flying visit.
The Round De Island Power Boat Race (note: the island = Isle of Wight; de island = Bermuda) is held annually in August. This is distinct from the Seagull Race in June, which is also around the island and also powered boats but more akin to a hospital bed push than the throbbing blur of the real powerboats. I believe it began in the 60s and was not initially welcomed by the yacht-sailing fraternity that flank the Great Sound, which maybe why it now starts and ends up at Ferry Reach, St Georges; keeping a clear distance between power and sail is only sensible.
It is actually quite hard to find out much about the Bermuda Powerboat Association online – I guess they spend more time on the water than on the web. The Bermudian magazine last month republished an article from 1988, an interview full of “it isn’t like the old days” – it never is! Bernews have published the results and pages of photos, all much better than mine:
We might not have seen much but it was different, not something we would have experienced in the grassy fields of Finmere back in UK.
The real flying boats of Bermuda takes you back to the 1920s initially for local sightseeing but ramped up a notch when the government offered a £2,000 prize for the first flight between Bermuda and US.
A flying boat is one that is supported in the water by its hull with floats for added stability.
A seaplane is supported by floats alone.
That is the British definition, Americans use the terms more loosely and even have “floatplane” which just sounds like a toddlers version.
The first were brought to Bermuda by an WWI aviator called Hal Kitchener, nephew to the Lord Field Marshall. His father had been Governor of Bermuda so it isn’t surprising that he should return here after the war and he bought Hinson’s Island where he based his six ‘floatplanes’. He charge about $15 for 15 minute flights, the first of which carried his father-in-law clutching a letter from Hamilton to St George’s – Bermuda’s first airmail.
Ten years later the first flying boat reached Bermuda from US but it was several years later before an airport had been set up on Darrell’s Island and the Royal Mail Aircraft “Cavalier” carried mail while Pan-American flew a regular 20-passenger flight to New York. Hardly viable by today’s standards.
In 1942 Winston Churchill flew in the Boeing 314A Berwick flying boat from Bermuda back to UK. Compared to the Boeing 777 planes that currently fly the Gatwick-Bermuda route it was half the size but had twice the crew, for a maximum of 74 passengers (just 36 on night flights). The flight took 17 hours and 55 minutes. The in-flight entertainment was a celestial observation turret. I don’t think we afford todays PM such flights of luxury.
I have discovered during my reading on this a museum that I really really want to visit : Foyne’s Flying Boat Museum in County Limerick. If you click on any links in this blog then that would be the one (I am not paid by the Irish tourist board) Explanation: I might be a girl but I have a small collection of model aircraft that began when my best friend (aka husband-to-be) made me an Airfix Spitfire which he hung from the ceiling of my student room; now my mainly die-cast planes compete with books (mostly mine) and model tanks (not mine) for display space, but I don’t yet have a Seaplane.