Telling stories about sailing and the sea is a tradition as old as exploration. When you find a salty soul who has been sailing the seas for decades and doing so on some of the best boats ever made, it’s time to grab a glass of rum and settle in for an escape.
That’s the feeling I got when I first heard about a sailor named Colin Percy.
Adventure and sailing runs through the veins of Colin. And if you would like to experience some of that you can read my interview with him below or jump on one of his historic 12Metre America’s Cup yachts in St. Maarten and go racing!
An Interview with Colin Percy, owner of 12Metre Challenge of St. Maarten
1. I know that sailing and being on the water gets in your blood, it’s like an addiction with no cure. How old were you when you when you knew that you wanted to sail and explore the seas and what was that defining moment?
Ryan, you are so right about sailing getting into the blood. With me it happened a long long time ago when I was very young. The family had moved to Montreal, and in due course were introduced to the yacht club, where a friend had a thirty something foot keel boat.
I was nine years old..and was totally captivated by how this wonderful craft came alive and glided through the water, climbing the wind seemingly, effortlessly. It was a whole new thrill and I was hooked.
One day, while I was waiting for the grown ups to return from racing, scouting around the boatyard, I spied an apparently abandoned dinghy. It was a scaled down version of a Y Flyer, a very quick scow of the day. It didn’t take much persuasion; the yacht club was delighted to have some one do something with it. My father was pleased that I had a project about which I was highly enthused. My mother saw it as a control mechanism to keep me in line; and I was totally thrilled.
Later, when we returned to England, Minneyy was donated and left behind. And that, Ryan, is how it all began!
2. Tell me a little about 12Metre and the beautiful boats you have.
Here, I think you are asking me about our little venture and not what is a 12. But just in case, I will answer both.
Back in the 80s, I was living just outside Toronto, two minutes from the Oakville Yacht Squadron on Lake Ontario; well into sailing; part of a racing crew and a keen sailor of my own cruising boat. But I was running four growing companies and they were taking their toll on my health and I was just not getting any quality time on my boat. When my doctor very effectively persuaded me I had to have a complete change: not wanting to become a statistic and leaving a wealthy widow ! , I extricated myself from my Canadian business ventures and moved to St. Maarten to run the other business venture, a small charter boat fleet of Nonsuch’s.
May 1989.. Antigua Race week, a bunch of us with four of the Nonsuch’s…..one of the gang suggested that as I had always had a love for America’s Cup 12s, why didn’t I buy one and take guests for a ride down the coast and back. You won’t make any money, but you’ll live longer ! My response; that if you bought two, you could race them….one yacht Club against another. And so the seed was planted. On my return to Canada at the end of the week I was interested to learn that the Canadian 12s were to be sold, as the caretaker had just had a stroke. It didn’t hurt that the chairman of the Canadian Americas cup challenge was one of the original Nonsuch owners! By late October of that year we had successfully negotiated the purchase of the combined syndicates of Canada ll and True North, along with 5 containers of spares, workshops, tooling and sails. We had formed a company in St. Maarten, created the necessary infrastructure and set up a base of operations. That week, the boats and containers were loaded onto a ship and set sail to St. Maarten, to begin a life that they were designed for… to race.
Our primary program offers guests visiting St. Maarten the opportunity to experience the thrill of actually racing on a genuine America’s Cup race boat. Not just sitting there like a bunch of puddings, but being involved in working the boat.
As we say in our introduction. “This is no sit down air-conditioned cruise. This is a get up and go for it race and you are all going to be involved. Each one of you will have a job on the boat today and the way you perform that task can very well determine the outcome of the race.”
Typically we will have a group of approximately 30 guests whom we will divide into two teams and brief them about what is going to happen. Then, we load the guests on to a tender and take them out to the race boats. On the way, we offer each guest a task, bearing in mind the wind conditions and their apparent fitness level.
Once loaded onto the race boats, our guests are then coached in the singular task they are to perform and the commands they will hear. Then we raise the sails, slip the moorings….and head out of the bay. It is practice time on the way down to the start of a shortened America’s Cup course.
We gybe and we tack. We power up the boat as it heads to wind and yes the adrenaline is flowing! And here comes the paparazzi! Our photo boat is there to record for posterity that very special moment when “Bill and Sue” competed in their own “America’s Cup Challenge”.
Just as in the America’s Cup, our race begins with pre- start maneuvers. At the horn, for the next six minutes, the boats dance their pas de deux, spinning around, ducking and weaving, trying to out- smart the other to gain a fractional advantage at the start. And all this time, the time keepers (guests) are calling out the minutes and the seconds to the start.
At the red flag, they are off. Two magnificent pedigree “greyhounds of the sea”, nearly seventy feet long with masts the height of an eight story building, in a boat on boat match race, slicing through the water at speeds the guests will never have sailed before. As they round the first mark, and head downwind, things change….this is no longer a holiday excursion boat ride……No…..now everyone “needs” to win…and the guests rise to the occasion.
There is a long way to go and tactics play a large part. Each skipper explains to his ‘crew’ his plan to stay ahead or get ahead. The racing is tight, with the boats tacking and crossings each other, up and down the racecourse. Eventually, only one boat can blast across the finish line first, to loud cheers. But after such a thrilling adventure, there can be no losers…so for all…a rum punch ‘Victory Celebration’ back at the base, where the guests can compare stories and browse through our America’s Cup boutique to pick up that special bit of memorabilia to re-live that moment when they won their America’s Cup!!
Besides our 12 Metre ‘America’s Cup’ Challenge, we also offer different group programs; incentive groups for the top performers of a sales team; familiarization programs for acquisitions, mergers and takeovers, where management teams need to get to know one another and bond as a team; intra corporate team building to improve cohesion in the workplace; weddings, where we frequently pit the bride’s friends against those of the groom! And on island, the Resort Challenge, between guests of local resorts racing for a trophy.