You haven't sailed until you have sailed in an exclusive 12-Metre America's Cup Regatta Challenge on Great Bay in Philipsburg, in St. Maarten.
Our motley crew piled onto a tender at Bobby's Marina and motored out to the Windjammer Cruise Line's Polynesia, a 4-masted Barkentine I had sailed upon a decade prior, now moored in Philipsburg's Great Bay Harbor. We picked up other crew members from the Polynesia, and then motored to one of three racing yachts bobbing in the periwinkle brine: Canada II, Stars & Stripes '86, and Stars and Stripes '87.
Luckily. my crew was placed aboard Stars & Stripes '87, the same boat Dennis Connor won the 1987 America's Cup race in Fremantle, Australia. Although this is a tourist event held four times or more daily, the America's Cup Yacht Challenge was voted the number one shore excursion in the entire Caribbean by cruise line passengers. Prior to boarding the yachts, the sailors are divided into three teams, given a brief introduction, and crew tasks assigned. I was a primary grinder; others filled in as main grinders, one a time keeper, and the rest of the swabbies guarded the beer cooler.
At the red flag from the committee boat, we raced off with precision timing, slicing through the water like greased dolphins. This is an actual race around an America's Cup course, but shortened to five legs, and under the watchful eyes of the experienced, professional paid crew.
It was a grueling, three-hour, arm pumping grinding match to gain fractional advantage. We rounded the first mark and headed downwind to the next leg. The racing yachts race at a staggering speed. The skipper yelled racing and winning strategies to the swabbies at each leg. We are behind, then ahead, and then behind. A photo boat arrives for souvenir photos. There are certain downwind rules and cutting maneuvers to follow. We are ahead at the last leg and slip past the losers to WIN! Then, it's a rum punch victory celebration held back at Bobby's Marina, with customized team T-shirts handed out at the museum boutique shop. The souvenir photos are worth the $35 photographer fee. The minimum racing age is 12. There are no toilet facilities on board. Wear soft sole running shoes, T-shirts and shorts, and swim suit for an after race dip in Great Bay's Dutch delft briny drink.
The racing yachts of the St. Maarten 12-Metre Challenge are boats exlusively designed and built for the 1987 America's Cup in Fremantle, Australia. With the knowledge that the winds in Freemantle would be far stronger than previous America's Cups, the 1987 boats were designed and built larger, more powerful, and stronger, than ever before. These are the last of the legendary 12s, representing the zenith of the marquee. They are maintained in pristine condition, and kept authentic form, but modified to improve tourist safety.
Lets's Race On
The Stars & Stripes!
12 Metre Challenge
PO Box 820
Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Dutch West Indies
PO Box 025526
Miami FL 33102-5526
The 12-metre race is not monikered because of the length of the boats. They must conform to a formula, rather an equation, taking into consideration various measurements of the boat, and the result of the equation must not exceed 12. In fact, a 12-metre boat is about 70 feet long, the masts are 86 feet tall, and the boats weigh about 35 tons dripping wet.
Canada II and True North -
The 12 Metre Equation -
L = Length of the boat - 17 centimeters above the water.
D = Difference between the skin girth and the chain girth.
F = Freeboard (distance from the deck to water).
SA = Sail area (main sail and fore triangle).
In 1989 the Sint Maarten tourist racing venture was started with Canada II and True North. Canada II was designed by Bruce Kirby, the designer of the famous "laser light beam." Canada II was the Western Canadian Challenge, and is generally regarded as the fastest, light air, 12-metre boat in the world.
True North was designed by Steve Killing, for the owner Don Green. Green had been successful in winning the Canada's Cup against the USA with his yacht Evergreen. His plan was to build one hull, test it thoroughly, and from the lessons learned, design and build a second hull. Due to financial constraints and over zealous spending, the second hull was never finished. Finances ran low in both the Canada II and True North camps. Canadian businessman and sailor, Paul Phelan, combined both challenges under one umbrella and added major financial support.
True North IV -
"Ivy", was the unfinished sister hull to True North. In 1989 owner Colin Percy decided to leave this unfinished hull behind in Canada as a future project. In May 1993, knowing that there would be a demand for an additional boat for the tourist trade, "Ivy" was brought to St. Maarten in pieces and completed at Bobby's Marina. During a memorable party involving hundreds of enthusiasts, and 200 bottles of champagne, on December 4th, 1994, Ivy was launched.
True North IV - "Ivy"
Stars & Stripes -
In 1983, following the victory of Australia 2, Dennis Conner was dropped by the New York Yacht Club as the America's Cup front man, and he founded his own Sail America challenge. This would prove to be the most thorough, professional program the America's Cup had ever seen. Five boats would be involved. Liberty, the boat beaten by Australia 2, was joined by Spirit, which was modified and renamed Stars & Stripes '83. Sail America put together a design team led by John Marshall, teamed with the yacht designers Britt Chance, David Pedrick and Bruce Nelson. A completely new 12-metre boat, Stars & Stripes '85 was built and shipped out to Hawaii with the other boats for testing. Months of testing resulted in the building of a new, faster, radical hull, Stars & Stripes '86, built to take advantage of the heavy seas and winds expected in Fremantle.
Stars & Stripes - US56
Finally, with all the lessons learned from these four boats, the final Stars & Stripes 12-metre boat - Stars & Stripes '87 - was designed and built. Development and testing continued until it was time to go to Fremantle. The three new boats were shipped to Australia; so similar was their overall performance, that the final decision of which boat should race had not been made. Just days before the regatta, Stars & Strips '87 edged out Stars & Stripes '86 for the honor of competing in the 1987 America's Cup, recapturing the cup for the United States.
In August 1994, during the Sesquicentennial Regatta, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the New York Yacht Club, held in Newport, Rhode Island, Percy (owner/manager of the St. Maarten Regatta) met Dennis Conner at one of the yachtie cocktail parties. Conner knew of the 12-metre program in St. Maarten, and invited Percy to meet him the following morning. This led to an invitation to race aboard '87, and on returning to the dock, discussions were started, which resulted in Stars & Stripes '87 becoming the next boat in the St. Maarten fleet.
Stars & Stripes '86 - The boat had been sold to some Atlantic City casino operators, and it became available in August, 1995. Percy visited the owner in San Diego, made a thorough inspection of the boat, and agreed to buy it, and planned to move '86 to St. Maarten immediately to refurbish it and have it ready for the '95-'96 sailing season. Two weeks later, Hurricane Luis changed all those plans. Priority was given to salvaging the other four boats, rebuilding the premises, and getting back into business. Stars & Stripes '86 joined the fleet in St. Maarten in January 1996.
Stars & Stripes - US 55
If you are really a party animal, arrive in Sint Maarten in March for the Heineken Regatta. Over 2,000 sailors from 24 countries converge in Philipsburg for partying and yachting, and then you will be primed to coast into Carnival for a month long bash. - Read The Jetsetters Magazine feature on St. Maarten Carnival and America's Cup 2003.
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Photos by Bob Grieser. Roberto Ferreira, Sharon Green.