Video: Onboard Sint Maarten's 12 Metre America's Cup experience

It may be a long way from the racecourses of New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf, but this is as close to skippering in the real America's Cup as you can get without actually doing it.

The 12 Metre America's Cup race takes place on the beautiful blue waters of Great Bay, Sint Maarten - a tiny island in the Caribbean that's shared between the Netherlands and France.

I was visiting the island for a day while on a cruise aboard the Regal Princess, and being a fan of the America's Cup, found the opportunity to try the 12 Metre Regatta experience irresistible.

Originally I thought it would be like other yacht experiences where we'd just be sailing on a yacht that once raced in the America's Cup. But I was beyond excited when I found out that it wasn't the case, and we'd be taking part in a race with a format and rules identical to those of the America's Cup.

Once the crew had given us a brief history of the America's Cup - which had very little mention of New Zealand's major role in it, I have to say - we were out on the water, the clock was counting down and it was all go.

The yachts were sailed during America's Cup 1983 and 1987.
The yachts were sailed during America's Cup 1983 and 1987. Photo credit: Newshub.

Counting down to the starting gun. One minute, 30 seconds, 20 seconds...


We made a good start, we were in front and we had the starboard advantage.

Now, before you think you need to be an armchair America's Cup expert to enjoy the race, you don't. There are roles for everyone.

A very quick-witted woman also from New Zealand who I'd made friends with on the cruise was given the job of timekeeper and motivator. She made sure our timing before the start was on target and then provided entertaining moments of inspiration throughout the race.

I was on the grinder, spelt with an 'e' this time. It's really quite an intense workout. If I was feeling remotely guilty for neglecting the gym while on the cruise, just a couple of upwind legs operating this contraption took care of that.

Stars and Stripes was sailed to victory by longtime Kiwi nemesis, Dennis Connor.
Stars and Stripes was sailed to victory by longtime Kiwi nemesis, Dennis Connor. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The history of the yachts:

Stars & Stripes 87 (US-55):

This is yacht that took the America's Cup back to America after defeating Australia's Kookaburra III on the waters off Freemantle in 1987.

Stars & Stripes 86 (US-56):

This was one of four boats paid for by the Sail America Foundation to try and win back the America's Cup from Australia in 1987. It was used for testing before being replaced by Stars & Stripes 87.

True North IV (KC-IV):

This yacht, formerly known as Ivy, was built by the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club, also for the 1987 regatta, but the club ran out of money and never took part in the racing. Its hull was found abandoned by St Maarten 12 Metre Regatta organisers, who restored it and got racing.

Canada II:

Originally named Canada I for the 1983 Louis Vuitton Cup where it failed to win any races, this underwent a drastic redesign and took to the water in 1987 as Canada II. 

The tacking duels were tight.
The tacking duels were tight. Photo credit: Newshub.

On my team, there was less than a handful of Kiwis, with most of the others being American's on vacation.  

Our captain, who was from the West Indies, was thrilled to find out he had some New Zealanders on the team.

"You guys know what this race is all about... and you know what cricket is," he said.

Sailing downwind in paradise.
Sailing downwind in paradise. Photo credit: Newshub.

As we rounded the first mark, and then the second, we continued to stretch out or lead. Despite being competitive, on the final leg I couldn't help but take a break from the grinding, sit back on the side of the boat and just absorb the surrounding paradise.

The amazing deep waters, the rugged edges on the slopes of the extinct Mount Flagstaff volcano, and the slowly setting golden sun - it really is a beautiful part of the world.

Between me, my fellow yachties and the cruise ship we would soon leave on just a few hundred metres away, there was nothing but clear water... and about half a dozen turtles.

The sailing took place in Great Bay at Sint Maarten.
The sailing took place in Great Bay at Sint Maarten. Photo credit: Newshub.

Eventually, we crossed the line and became America's Cup champions.

As we returned to the shoreline, we were asked by our opposing team how we managed to pull off such a dominating victory.

Our captain was quick to respond.

"I got Kiwis onboard!" he exclaimed.

The 12 Metre America's Cup experience can be booked as part of Princess Cruises daily excursions, or online for any groups or individuals.

It really is the ultimate experience for hardcore America's Cup fans.

Dan Lake travelled to Sint Maarten courtesy of Princess Cruises.