Considering the important role shipwrecks have played in shaping the 400-year history of Bermuda and all the mystery associated with the Bermuda Triangle, it’s fitting that this tiny, isolated archipelago of interconnected islands nearly 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina has become one of the world’s top insurance industry centres.
Traditionally known as a lush paradise for tourism and a tax haven for the rich, this self-governing British Overseas Territory now is home to the headquarters of many of the world’s top insurance companies ― all located in Bermuda’s bustling little capital city Hamilton, as is the headquarters of Bacardi. This commercial success means Bermuda is becoming very built-up, with new condominium developments, houses and apartment buildings springing up all over its 21 square miles of land area.
But although the insurance and financial services industries have become Bermuda’s biggest economic mainstays since American entrepreneur Fred Reiss first brought the reinsurance business to the islands in the 1960s, Bermuda’s natural advantages still make it desirable to tourists. The fact Bermuda lies in the path of the warm Gulf Stream gives it a climate that is semi-tropical in summer and benevolently mild in winter despite its relatively northerly, mid-Atlantic location some 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The coral reefs surrounding Bermuda are dangerous to ships, but they also have given it miles of pink-sand beaches that rank with the best beaches on Earth.
Bermuda was named after its discoverer, the Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez. He found the islands ― the peaks of an enormous undersea mountain ― in 1503 when his ship ran aground on the islands’ notorious reefs. But like Spanish, Portuguese, French and British mariners who also came ashore in following years, Bermudez didn’t stay.
However, in 1609 Sir George Somers and 150 colonists, officials and crew on their way to Jamestown in Virginia, Britain’s first colony in the New World, became shipwrecked off Bermuda’s northeast coast near what is now the tiny and utterly charming town of St George’s. Swimming ashore, they remained for several months and built a ship from local cedar wood ― the Deliverance, a replica of which can be seen at St George’s ― to sail on successfully to Jamestown. Somers’ Bermuda shipwreck adventure was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’.
Somers remembered his Bermuda sojourn kindly and on his next voyage brought colonists, who founded St George’s. The Jamestown colony failed (a re-supply voyage arrived to find its colonists had mysteriously disappeared), but the colony at St George’s thrived and the town has remained continuously occupied since the early 1600s. This makes St George’s the oldest English-speaking community in the New World. Recognising the town’s historical importance, the United Nations declared St George’s and several 18th and 19th century British forts nearby a World Heritage Site a few years ago.