12 Metre Challenge, St. Maarten

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12 Metre Challenge, St. Maarten

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Review of "12 Metre Challenge, St. Maarten"

published 01/02/2017 | Pointress
Member since : 19/03/2014
Reviews : 256
Members who trust : 54
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Ciao ciao! Thanks everyone = sorry to say goodbye!
Pro Great fun and exciting
Cons None
Value for Money
Ease of getting around

"Primary grinders, stand by!"

The 12 Metre Challenge base

The 12 Metre Challenge base

~~~ Another island in the sun ~~~
Did you know that St Maarten is the smallest land mass occupied by two nations? This small island in the Caribbean (all 37 sq m of it), is divided between France and the Netherlands. The two sides are quite different in character but both rather charming in their own way. The Dutch half has lots of resorts and casinos while the French side is less developed and is known for its good restaurants and, as I once discovered by accident, naturist beaches.

The story goes that after many years of the island switching ownership, the French and Dutch settlers decided to split the island by nominated two of their own to walk around the island. The Frenchman walked south from the north coast while the Dutchman walked north from the south coast. The Dutchman apparently stopped for a few glasses of gin which slowed him down. However, although the Frenchman was able to claim the larger portion, the Dutch claim to have got the better portion.

The capital city of the Dutch side is Philipsburg which provided a welcome opportunity to retrieve some US dollars out of an ATM. Although US dollars are widely accepted in the Eastern Caribbean, the ATMs will generally spit out EC dollars. The cash machines on the Dutch side will give you US dollars; on the French side you are more likely to get euros. Anyway in the past, Mr P and I have spent quite a bit of time on St Maarten and rather than sightsee this time we wanted to do something a little different. Both sailors, we thought the 12-metre challenge sounded like something we would both enjoy.
~~~ The America’s Cup ~~~
The America’s Cup (sometimes referred to as the Auld Mug), started as a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. It was won by an American schooner, taken back to the New York Yacht Club and renamed as the Americas Cup. Under the rules, the yacht club that holds the trophy (the defender) can be challenged by a second club or yacht (known as the challenger). Nowadays, a number of yachts compete against each other to earn the right to challenge the defender as the America’s Cup itself is a match race between just two boats.

Post war austerity meant that it was time to look for a less expensive class of yacht and for the 1958 America's Cup Trophy, the competition adopted the 12 metre class of boat. This opened up the competition to other countries but even so the New York Yacht Club managed to hang on to trophy for an amazing 132 years until finally, in 1983, the cup was won by the Australians. It didn’t stay out of the USA for long, however. In 1987 the Americans won it back in a yacht called Stars & Stripes.

Big money is again necessary to compete in the America’s Cup and the competition is now between amazing catamarans which go at lightening speeds. This year will see the 35th Americas Cup in Bermuda. The defending champion is Oracle Team USA, who first won the America’s Cup in 2010, and successfully defended the title in 2013. However, they only did so with the help of Sir Ben Ainslee in what was an amazing turn around for team USA. Trailling behind the challenger, it seemed impossible for the US team to hold on to the trophy but Sir Ben joined the boat as tactician and the USA managed to come back from the brink in the most exciting series. This year, Sir Ben will be hoping to skipper his own British challenger for the Cup.
~~~ The 12 Metre Challenge ~~~
Founded by an America's Cup enthusiast, the 12 Metre Challenge operates in St Maarten and Cozumel, Mexico. For anyone who has ever dreamed of sailing a real America's Cup race boat, this is an opportunity to have a little taster. Except for some safety enhancements, the five yachts in the St Maarten fleet are in their original form and include the 1987 winner, Stars and Stripes.

Incidentally 12-Metre boats aren’t 12 metres long; their overall length is about 70 ft. The 12 refers to an equation that calculates various measurements of the boat and the result must not exceed 12.

~~~ How it works ~~~
We booked on a race (pre-booking is absolutely essential as this is one of St Maarten’s most popular tourist attractions) and then met other ‘competitors’ at the cruise terminal port. Here we were met by someone from the 12 Metre Challenge and were told all about the boats and their history in the Americas Cup.

We were then divided into two ‘teams’ of 16 and assigned a boat. Much to Mr P’s disappointment we weren’t assigned to Star and Stripes but to the Canadian boat True North. Each boat takes a minimum of 9 and a maximum of 18 passengers, in addition to a crew of 3 of 4. We were asked whether we wanted to actively participate (I think just about everyone did) or to just watch but no sailing experience is required to take part. We were then all given positions on the boat which we were asked to remember – primary grinders (working those winches), sail trimmers etc. That done we all boarded the craft that would take us out to the yachts.

Safely transferred on to the yachts, we were offered life jackets but they weren’t compulsory and most people didn’t both. All bags were stowed below and our roles on board were then explained. The crew are good at what they do – all the roles were well explained and we all got to try out our job. And hone our new skills while we sailed down to the starting line for the Challenge race. Mr P and I were both primary grinders – working the winches on the large genoa sail (the one at the front!).

~~~ The race ~~~
The start of a yacht race should be exciting with boats (in this case just the two) jostling for position. It has to be timed perfectly – not too early nor too late. Our skipper did well and True North was over the line first. It was then on the next mark which we rounded first. Our skipper then took a different course to the Stars and Stripes and in order to get the best winds headed inland. Mr P and I suspect that the race is rigged to a certain extent to make it as an exciting experience as possible ‘for the punters’. We lost place by this manoeuvre and the Stars and Stripes was soon well ahead but we were momentarily distracted by the arrival of the safety boat with a professional photographer won boat to capture True North flying through the ocean.

Rigged or not, the finish was really exciting! We trimmed our sails, we worked the winches, we tacked to get the best position possible.

Complimentary bottles of water and cans of soda and beer were all available and enjoyed during the quieter leg of the race and after the race. The professional crew folded the sails as we then bopped about waiting to be picked up and returned to shore. The total time on the water was about two and a half hours.

~~~ Back on land ~~~
Back at the 12 Metre base at Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg rum punch was served and of course purchases could be made at the well stocked gift shop including replica America's Cup crew shirts etc. Of course you could also get purchase a colour photo of the race which at $40 was a little pricey but I so enjoyed my afternoon that I bought one anyway!

After half an hour the company launch took those ready to leave back to the cruise base terminal although those wanting to look around the town could always catch a water taxi back.
~~~ Other things you might need to know ~~~
What to wear – short and a t-shirt over swimwear is probably best and boat or soft soled shoes. You are also advised to take a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. There was a heavy rainshower while we heading for the start line but it soon passed and we quickly dried off!

Toilets – These are racing boats, stripped out to the minimum so no creature comforts on board and that included washroom facilities. Total time on the water is 2.5 to 3 hours, so please make sure you've made arrangements "to go" before you board!

Restrictions – For everyone ages 12 and up. You need to be relatively nimble to take apart and while the team are happy to accommodate less mobile crew wherever possible, you would need to discuss any access issues with them before booking.

Booking and $$ – The Challenge races are run very day of the week and all the scheduling and availability information is on line. The adult price is $95.

~~~ Recommended? ~~~
You can probably guess what I’m going to say. Unequivocally, yes! Seasoned sailors and novices alike will really enjoy this experience. 5 out of 5

ignore the specific criteria - they don't quite fit!

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Comments on this review

  • Secre published 23/03/2017
    Nicely done
  • bettyboo47 published 23/02/2017
    wow what experiences you have had!!
  • rolandrat123 published 20/02/2017
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Product Information : 12 Metre Challenge, St. Maarten

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Listed on Ciao since: 16/01/2017