Ronstan

This ‘America’s Cup’ is still for the amateurs

Published on May 16th, 2013

An hour into the race, there we were, 15 people crammed into a space not much bigger than a pair of office cubicles.

“Preparing to tack,” the captain called out.

“Primary grinders ready,” a crew member yelled.

“Tacking.”

“Primary grinders, first gear,” came the order.

The four of us started cranking as fast as we could.

“Primary grinders, second gear.”

We started cranking in the reverse direction.

The boom swung over our heads and the mainsail snapped hard as it caught a gust of wind. The glimmering white yacht heeled hard to port, the edge of the deck cutting into the blue Caribbean waters a foot away.

Canada II was flying, leading two other boats halfway through an America’s Cup-style 12-meter yacht race.

* * *

Most Caribbean cruise ship excursions involve bus tours of an island, leisurely snorkeling or lolling on a beach, frozen drinks in hand.

But for those craving adventure, the 12-Metre Challenge in St. Maarten allows novice sailors and committed swabbies to experience the thrill of racing 12-meter yachts built for the America’s Cup.

Having watched the boats race in 1987 on television, I wanted to hop on one during a cruise stop in 1997. I knew nothing of sailing except port, starboard, mainsail, booms and dinghies. But I wanted to be part of what looks like chaos but is actually precise choreography. I wanted to watch the ocean rush by and experience a tacking duel. But my wife killed that idea.

About a dozen cruises later, this past winter we realized we would be stopping in St. Maarten again. My wife asked if I had heard of “this America’s Cup thing” that she wanted to try. So 16 years later, 40 pounds heavier and much more out of shape, I booked our spots.

You see, there is one catch with the Challenge.

The passengers do the work… read on

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