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Remembering Lennon in Bermuda

  • Sailing voyage: John Lennon and son Sean on the Megan Jaye boat, in St George’s Harbour in 1980 (File photograph)
  • Memorable trip: Hank Halsted, who was captain of the Megan Jaye in 1980 when John Lennon sailed to Bermuda, visited the Lennon sculpture in the Botanical Gardens in 2014 (File photograph by Scott Neil)
  • Bermuda vacation: John Lennon and son Sean, on the corner of Burnaby Street and Front Street, in 1980 (File photograph)

It is 40 years ago today since John Lennon sailed into St George’s Harbour to begin what became his last summer vacation.

The songwriter and musician rose to fame with the Beatles in the Sixties.

He spent two months on the island in 1980 working on songs that featured on his final albums, Double Fantasy and the posthumous Milk and Honey.

He was part of a crew of five on the Megan Jaye, a 43ft yacht, that sailed from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda.

The captain was Hank Halsted.

This week, Mr Halsted said he felt incredibly lucky to have been part of the 1980 voyage with Lennon.

“It was a life-defining experience at age 30. How do you get picked to sail John Lennon to Bermuda? Holy cow — luck of the draw,” he said.

The boat encountered a storm during the journey, and Lennon was alone at the helm for a number of hours during the tempest. Mr Halsted said the voyage was a cathartic event for Lennon.

“I got to be an observer and watch an amazingly strong guy discover his amazing strength.

“It was a time when he was looking for some healing, and he was able to find that from the ocean,” he said.

“John said it best with the line ‘There’s no place like nowhere’, and that’s really what being offshore was like for him. It was time out from his life, time out from the city, and in touch with the elements he hadn’t been in touch with.”

Mr Halsted has sailed to the island many times, including as a competitor in the Newport-Bermuda sailing race, in which he has twice won the 1-2 single-handed and double-handed return.

He said that during the 1980 voyage, he and Lennon became instantaneous friends and had a lot of conversations during the six or seven days at sea.

“We would bat ideas back and forth, it was like playing mental ping-pong,” Mr Halsted said.

“The greatest joy was we were both coming from the same place, both being children of the Sixties — he was ten years older than me. We had both been around the same corners, although he had been around his corners on a grander scale.”

The crew of the Megan Jaye, which included Tyler Coneys, Ellen Coneys and Kevin Coneys, celebrated reaching Bermuda with a meal at a restaurant in St George’s.

John Lennon remained in Bermuda until the end of July.

He rented a house in Fairylands, Pembroke, and visited locations that included Disco 40 on Front Street, and the Botanical Gardens, where he chose the name of a freesia for the title of the album Double Fantasy. The album featured Bermuda rock drummer Andy Newmark

Yoko Ono, Lennon’s wife, and their son, Sean, also visited Bermuda during his stay on the island.

The musician, whose hits include Imagine and Give Peace a Chance, was shot dead outside his New York apartment in December 1980.

In 2012, a concert was staged and a sculpture by Bermudian Graham Foster unveiled at the Botanical Gardens to commemorate Lennon’s connection with the island.