Freeman’s Bermuda Voyage Of Self-Discovery

March 17, 2013

Morgan-FreemanAll sailors have occasionally found themselves in peril on the sea — and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is no exception, revealing how a stormy passage from Bermuda to New York aboard a 30-foot sailboat proved to be a cathartic voyage of self-discovery.

Mr. Freeman [pictured] — who won an Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby” — has appeared in such critical and box office smashes as “Glory”, “Driving Miss Daisy”, “Unforgiven”, “Shawshank Redemption”, “Invictus” and “Seven” in recent decades.

But in 1979 Mr. Freeman — who has been sailing since 1967 —was still struggling to make a name for himself when he and his wife left Bermuda aboard their small yacht en route for New York.

“On the night Morgan Freeman thought he might die, he figured he could go out one of two ways,” said a “USA Today” account of the life-changing voyage. ” One, he could stay below in the cabin of the sailboat he was navigating from Bermuda with his wife, radioing for help that he knew would never come in weather so severe it had pummeled the boat to its side.

“Or two, ‘I could go out there and try to change things myself’.

“He changed things. On that voyage [Mr. Freeman], then a journeyman actor still trying to crack the film business, managed to right the boat — and himself.”

Mr. Freeman said the voyage from Bermuda determined the course of the rest of his life.

The actor has said the experience informed virtually everything he has done subsequently — prompting him to stop drinking, put his personal life in order and re-dedicate himself to acting [he had been thinking of quitting New York and returning to his family home in Mississippi].

“Every sailor has a survival story and that one is mine,” he told an interviewer.”We were headed back from Bermuda. Eleven days at sea. Big storm.

“And when we got within a hundred miles of New York, it was snowing. This was the first time it snowed in October in New York in a hundred years. It was a rough time.”

Reflecting on the profound and lasting impact of the ocean crossing in 2007, Mr. Freeman told an American newspaper: ”When I look back on that trip [from Bermuda], I’m grateful for it. You can’t just go hiding and hoping that something is going to save you. The only way you can measure your life is by testing it.”

Former Beatle John Lennon underwent a similar creative and spiritual reawakening when he sailed to Bermuda from Rhode Island just a few months after Mr. Freeman’s ocean crossing.

“Sailing has this impact,” said Stephen S. Fuller who now owns the yacht that John Lennon sailed to Bermuda aboard in 1980. “Having sailed almost 40,000 miles on the open ocean I can attest to the transformative effects that occur from the challenge of the sea, the weather, the darkness, the isolation, the danger.

“John experienced this challenge as all sailors do of being confronted by man’s insignificance in the cosmos, a little speck on the vast open ocean and then surviving and regaining land; it is a powerful experience … ”

Mr. Freeman broke through to mainstream movie stardom at the age of 50 in the edgy urban thriller “Street Smart” [1987], which brought him his first Academy Award nomination.

He appeared in that film with Christopher Reeve – also an enthusiastic sailor and a veteran of several blue water crossings from the East Coast to Bermuda.

Mr. Freeman — known as “Captain Morgan” in sailing circles — has returned to Bermuda a number of times, including during  the summer of 1989 when he sailed here aboard his Shannon  38, “Sojourner.”

Bermuda was the first port of call on a cruise that took him to the Caribbean; Mr. Freeman was so enchanted by the islands he subsequently lived part-time in St. Vincent & The Grenadines for five years in the 1990s.

In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan ravaged the Caribbean island of Grenada, destroying homes and changing lives forever. As a result, Mr. Freeman established the Grenada Relief Fund in 2005 and published a lavish charity cookbook which brought together a bevy of celebrities to benefit that island in need — including then Bermuda resident Michael Douglas.

“Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause” featured celebrities including Mr. Douglas, Tom Hanks and and Alicia Keys sharing their favourite island recipes and telling anecdotes about what the West Indian islands and Bermuda mean to them.

morgan freeman 2

In the Bermuda chapter Mr. Douglas shared two recipes from the menu of Aqua — the restaurant at his now-closed, family-owned Ariel Sands guest property on South Shore.

Coooked up by Barbados-born Aqua executive chef John Wason — who described the restaurant’s fare as “new Asian and Continental cuisine but with a Bermudian flair” — the recipes for Bermuda Bouillabaisse and Chicken Roti.

About Bermuda, Mr. Douglas said in the book: “I think because we’re out here by ourselves, about 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina—there’s nothing out here—that people are used to living by their wits. We figure things out in Bermuda …

“The fact is, the wealth of the island — the reinsurance companies and the offshore financing companies — make for a strong infrastructure. But this is also an island of faith.

“There have got to be more churches per capita in Bermuda than on any other island. And that makes for a strong core. I find it the most racially comfortable place—it’s about 60/40 black, and we just get along. The different races that mix here — Portuguese, West Indian, North American — we’re strong.

“And we pull together.”

Michael Douglas and John Wason pictured at Ariel Sands in “Morgan Freeman And Friends”

Ariel Sands

With his authoritative voice and commanding screen presence, Mr. Freeman remains one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood.

Aside from sailing, he earned a private pilot’s license at age 65 and has owned at least three private aircraft, including a Cessna Citation 501 jet and a Cessna 414 twin-engine prop. In 2007 he purchased an Emivest SJ30 long-range private jet and took delivery in December, 2009.

In his upcoming film “Last Vegas”, Mr. Freeman co-stars with Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Robert DeNiro in a comedy about a group of sixty-something friends who take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.

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