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Author Topic:   Trip Report--America's Cup
jimh posted 01-29-2003 10:34 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
No, No, we didn't just get back from New Zealand and the 2003 Louis Vuitton Cup for the Challengers, although very aggressive pricing on the air fares to down under did make us give it some serious thought. (Ultimately the notion of a 15-hour airline flight and my aching back and legs turned us against that trip.)

We did just get back from a Caribbean cruise aboard a true classic, the S/S NORWAY nee S/S FRANCE, the longest ocean liner ever built and a contemporary of the UNITED STATES and the QUEEN MARY from the 1960's . The NORWAY is still running as a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, and plies the Caribbean on delightful 7-day cruises.

OK, enough of the plug for NCL...

On to the story:

We stopped for a day in St. Marten, where an enterprising Canadian has set up a great operation that features five former 12-Meter America's cup contenders and trial horses. For a reasonable amount of money ($80) they take you and 14 other guest out for an hour and a half of rather well similated match racing.

We had signed up for this months in advance. When the day arrived the weather was perfect, a nice breeze and light seas. We queued up on the cay to await tendering out to the boats.

The first thing to surprise me was that the boats were all still in racing trim: no engines, no accommodations below deck. Except for the addition of a couple of stanchions and a small rope life line in the forward part of the boat, they were in the main just like they were in actual racing competition.

Of course the sails were not racing grade. The dozens of head sails normally carried aboard were replaced by a roller furling genoa. And the boom had been raised three feet from its real deck sweeper original location. The main was shortened a bit on the hoist, too, so the horsepower was down.

The boat is sailed by 14 guests and three paid crew. The guests crank the coffee grinders, trim the main and work the running backstays. The crew trims the jibs and drives the boat. The rest of guests watch.

The boats include three Canadian boats. The owner of these boats is also the operator of this little venture. In addition to True North I , II and IV, he has leased two versions of STARS AND STRIPES from Dennis Connor.

We expected to find the STARS AND STRIPES boats were old trial horses, but to my complete astonishment they were USA-55 and USA-56. For those not familiar with the history, USA-55 was THE boat that actually won back the America's Cup from Austrailia in Freemantle in 1988.

My luck was good and Chris and I ended up aboard USA-55! What a thrill. I had watched this amazing boat race for hours and hours on ESPN telecasts (which I have on dozens of recordings from the broadcast). Now I was actually on board and racing her!

The races are match races, two boats competing, and use the same windward/leeward course that the Cup racers used, although with shorter legs.

Luck was with us and we beat TRUE NORTH II by about 100 feet. The racing was very spirited. We often split tacks and had crossings with less than ten feet separation. It was very exciting!

Now the best part: After the race, the skipper let me take the helm and drive USA-55 back to her mooring! To put this in perspective, for horse racing fans it would be like getting to ride Secretariat at Churchill Downs. What a thrill.

After getting a feel for her, the skipper gave me a cue to tack the boat, and I hollered "tacking", put the rudder down, and slid across the stern cockpit to the other big wheel. This was just amazing!

After about 3-4 minutes my moment at the wheel was done and I returned to passenger status, but the thrill will live forever.

If you have any interest in 12-meter racing and ever happen to be in St. Marten, don't miss this chance!

By the way, they have a Boston Whaler 31 on a lift at their dock, so they are Whaler enthusiasts, too.


kglinz posted 01-29-2003 11:17 PM ET (US)     Profile for kglinz  Send Email to kglinz     
That sounds great. America's II operates out of Lahaina,Maui and we went out on it last year. It does have an engine now and a smaller sail, but it flys. It still has the winged keel,which weights 22 tons, as I recall. When we went the Trade Winds were up and we were plowing through waves with the deck awash. Hell of a ride.
rmart posted 01-30-2003 07:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for rmart  Send Email to rmart     
Great story Jim. I am a huge racing fan and have had the chance to both helm and call tactics in a host of events like like the NOOD's, SORC's, and J-105 events all over the country from Miami to Cape Cod, North Americans, Figawi...etc.

But I would probably trade many of those events for the chance you had to take the helm of a 12 meter....or even better one of the new ACC boats.

Sounds like I should plan a trip to St. Marten in the near future.

By the way do you think Alinghi was holding back something in reserve against Oracle??? Can't wait till the Cup.

Nice to know that a fellow Whaler lover appreciates yacht racing.

GAwhale posted 01-30-2003 09:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for GAwhale  Send Email to GAwhale     
Great Story!

During the summer of 1983 I had a job at HOOD sailmakers in Marblehead, MA. I helped make the sails for Challenge 12. (I still have my 'WISS'(brand) scissors). She was the Austrailian boat that did not win. The sails could be made in the USA as long as they were designed in the home country (something like that).

As a kid my family went cruising (sailboat) through Newport, RI. I remember watching with awe as they towed the twelve meter boats out to sea for practice. The sailboat left hardly a wake. Art in motion.

Arch Autenreith posted 01-31-2003 11:22 AM ET (US)     Profile for Arch Autenreith  Send Email to Arch Autenreith     
Nice story jimh.

Leaving for the Caribbean in 6 weeks for some bareboating. A mono and a cat. Not in the same league as what you did but the 'racing' will be fun albeit not very fair. I'll be on the cat.

I've often read of what you did and would like to be on the J-class. The stats are incredible. (A 120% genoa bigger than some lawns!)

Can't put the Montauk in the overhead so bought some pack rods to catch our meals.

jimh posted 01-31-2003 02:26 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
To elaborate on the racing: it was quite spirited as the staff crews don't like to lose to each other. That day was USA-55's turn to win both the morning and afternoon regattas. The wind was pretty brisk, about 12-15 knots.

I did not anticipate how close the staff skippers would drive these boats. After a leeward mark rounding we had the two boats close-hauled and within a few feet of each other. We often ducked the other boat on split tack crossings and came within feet of her transom.

My skipper told me that in most conditions down there TRUE NORTH IV was the fastest boat, and likely could have given USA-55 a real race for it in Cup competition if they had not run out of money.

He also said that Dennis Connor himself came down and raced USA-55 against the staff crew on TRUE NORTH and lost twice! Of course, the guys had local knowledge, and USA-55 was really built for the rough conditions off of Freemantle.

I would have paid $80 just to get on board USA-55 and sit still for two hours. To have been able to go out for a sail and a race--plus get to drive--made this an experience that exceeded all my expectations.


As for the cruise ship, the NORWAY is in really nice shape for a 40-year old liner. She has been rebuilt twice, most recently in 1990 when two more decks were added, bulking up her otherwise sleek profile. At 1,035-feet LOA she is still the longest liner ever built. She gets 33-feet to the gallon in her current trim. When galloping across the Atlantic in her original form at 35 knots she got about 9-feet to the gallon. The fuel price increases of 1977 ended her career as a transAtlantic liner.

She draws about 35-feet. When we stopped at Great Stirrup Key in the Bahamas, we anchored with only a couple of feet under her keel. An onshore breeze in the afternoon prompted the captain to really push her sideways with all five thrusters, leaving quite a plume of sandy colored water swirling out from the hull.

As part of the refit to cruiser from liner, two of the four propellers and shafts were removed. Two new 4-bladed props 18-feet in diameter were installed. Four boilers were removed, although the turbines remained for ballast. Her top speed was cut about ten knots (to 25-knots from 35-knots) and she cruises at 18-21 knots, with a 75% reduction in fuel consumption as the benefit.

Rumors of her retirement from the Caribbean abound--she has had two "last cruise" trips already. She appears destined to become a gaming ship in Asia, if you can believe the scuttlebutt.

We were glad to have the chance to be aboard her for seven days, our first cruise in any ship of this size.

Her comtemporaries from transAtlantic cruising have long since been retired. The S/S UNITED STATES--the fastest liner ever built--lies at a Phildephia pier, stripped to the bare metal and wasting away. The much older QUEEN MARY is permanently moored in Long Beach, Californa, without steam her boilers or turning her turbines for decades.

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