Postcard from St. Maarten

France and the Netherlands share one small 37-mile long island in the Caribbean. The bustling Dutch St. Maarten to the south, sprawling with resorts, marinas, and casinos, and the sleepy French St. Martin to the north, reminiscent of a Mediterranean fishing village. This island may be small in size but it's big on cultural, culinary, and creative things to do. When traveling to this island be sure to step out of your comfort zone, and try something new.

Each year in February and March, the Heineken Regatta takes place in the Dutch city of Philipsburg. With unbeatable northeastern trade winds and a comfortable 77 degrees Fahrenheit, it was a great time to visit and made me forget about the cold winter back home.

Watching the regatta, I was drawn to the excitement and beauty. Thousands of the world’s top sailors from 35 countries participated in this race and I too yearned to hoist a sail and feel the exhilaration of fast-moving yachts, but I knew nothing about sailing.

The 12-Meter Challenge in Philipsburg offers novices, like me, a hands-on opportunity to actively work and experience the thrill of racing on a genuine America’s Cup 12-Metre class yacht. Several times a day, all year-round, anywhere from 9-18 guests per boat race to beat their counterparts to the finish line.

Our group settled onto the Stars and Stripes, considered among the most famous sailing vessel in the history of America's Cup. Grinding winches, trimming sails, and punching a stopwatch were some of the positions assigned by the 12-Metre Challenge Crew to active participants. I coveted the job of the primary grinder. Nervous, the crew members put any fears I had to rest and patiently instructed all of us on how to specifically do each of our jobs and outlined the strategy for winning the race.

Under a watchful eye, the first mate yelled out, "Primary grinders, ready?" Two of us started cranking as fast as we could. The boom swung out and the mainsail snapped as it caught a gust of wind. Then its "go time" and the head-to-head race against the Canada II was underway with the crew instructing us on what to do each step of the race. The adrenaline rush of sailing these fast yachts in the clear blue waters of Great Bay was exhilarating. Consisting of five legs, three upwind and two downwind, the Stars & Stripes was the first to cross the finish line with Canada II trailing 12 seconds behind! We won!

After such a uniquely thrilling race experience, participants from both yachts headed inside the 12 Metre Base at Dock Maarten to toast with a celebratory rum punch and check out the souvenirs. Our team earned bragging rights, but there were no losers at this race.

When you travel, push the boundaries of your comfort zone, whether it’s a unique experience, visiting a new country, or trying a new food. You’ll never come out a loser if you do.

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