I have been a big sailing fan for many years. I grew up with America being the only nation to hold the America’s Cup — and Dennis Conner was the winningest skipper. At least, until Australia beat us!
When they were still building the yachts according to the 12 meter rules, building the monohull boats, and flying spinnakers … I loved to watch the tacking duals, the protests, the close races. It was exciting.
During those days, a small business on the island of Saint Martin acquired a bunch of old 12 meter boats, namely Stars and Stripes from the Australia challenge, and several Canada boats. I was in the islands for the first time, and I got to take a ride on Stars and Stripes, as a “crew member” (they charge you $60 for a 1 or 2 hour “race” against the other boats, mostly for cruise ship passengers.)
When we were there, though, a hurricane had just rolled through and torn up lots of the island. And I was sitting on the dock in Phillipsburg, the day before I was supposed to leave, and this Englishman walks up to me and asks me, when are you leaving?
“Tomorrow,” I said. “Well that’s too bad, I am looking for crew members.”
He smiled, and explained that the Heineken regatta was two weeks away, and he needed some sailing crews to man his boats that he was entering. Well it was Colin Percy, who owned the “Sint Maarten 12 Metre Regatta” business, and he wanted me to crew … a 12 meter Armerica’s cup yacht! How could I say no?
I talked to my boss at work (at the time I was the principal engineer at a local Phoenix company that built network test equipment), and his response was pretty much “How can you say no? Go!” So I flew back to the USA for a few days to take care of some things, and went right back down to Saint Martin, and started training with the rest of the crew.
I got to crew for one of Dennis Conner’s skippers, and for Chris Dixon, who was an America’s cup skipper and a 3 time world match racing champion. Even had a drink with him, in the bar.
On one of the race days during the regatta, we had a “guest” on the boat, admiral Ellis of the USS Enterprise. He was a burly guy, so he got to be the main grinder — our tactician was a smallish Scot, Roddy Anderson, who really knew his stuff, and the whole race he was yelling at Ellis, “C’mon, man, put yer back into it!” Later I asked him if he knew who our guest was… “You mean I’ve been yelling at a bloody Admiral??” Later, Ellis invited us over to the Enterprise, he gave us a nice tour. Wow. I can say I have been on the bridge of the Enterprise!
After the race, I offered to buy the sailing crew dinner at a local restaurant. We ran into a table of really cute girls. It was Playboy magazine, they were on the island for a shoot… It was a fun night. Heck, it was a fun month.
Since then, the cup regatta has changed lots. There has been lots of time spent in courts, talking about the rules, there was a one sided race between a monohull and a catamaran, lots of crazy stuff.
This year, though, is different. The 12 meter boats were lucky to make 18 mph. These boats… 50(!!) mph. Take a look: