Auckland is known as the “City of Sails”, and with its glistening three harbours and more than 50 islands to explore, there’s probably no better place to learn how to sail.
And there’s no point doing things by halves. If you want to learn to sail, why not go the whole hog and try the America’s Cup Sailing Experience.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part as crew on an actual America’s Cup yacht.
The America’s Cup was sailed in Auckland in 2000 and 2003, and is the world’s oldest and most prestigious sporting trophy and ultimate yachting regatta.
Usually popular with billionaires and elite professional yachties, NZL 40 and NZL 41 offer the chance for anyone to have a go at sailing these grand prix racing machines.
Little did I know that the day I rocked up to experience life on the seas, I would be part of a crew largely made up of the French Navy. So to say I was in the minority as far as sailing experience goes, was a huge understatement.
My knowledge went about as far as knowing the difference between port and starboard, but I was keen for adventure and up for whatever was thrown at me.
First up, our skipper asked for some help with grinding. Well, I wasn’t quite sure what that was going to involve, as the only grinding I was familiar with was a dance move popular in RnB clubs.
I soon found out that grinding was in fact the action of winching the sails, which I thought would be a quite gentle affair as I stepped up to said grinder to do my thing. I faced opposite one of the French Navy officers as I took my position ready to grind.
But I was certainly not ready for the speed and energy my grinding buddy put into it, as I almost got flung into the air with the momentum. This was also not a good time to have a camera hanging round my neck as it bounced continuously into my face, so much so that I had to let go.
This proved to be lethal as I was repeatedly battered by the grinding handle as it ricocheted off my leg.
Fantastic. So after a fairly poor start on the grinders, I offered to take the helm as we sailed the beautiful Waitemata Harbour.
Keeping an eye on the horizon, or at least something in front of me would come in very handy, as I soon found out when I steered us off course as I took photos with my camera in my other hand. I quickly forgot the idea of taking photos as we caught a huge gust of wind and began quickly picking up speed.
The grinding crew swiftly got back on the job, and I moved out the way for the skipper to resume his position at the helm. I ended up just clutching onto the middle of the boat as we became more and more horizontal in the water. I was more concerned about staying on the boat than steering it at that stage.
But it really was all about being part of a team. There was no room for slackers, just as there would be in an America’s Cup race. And the weather and wind changed so much in the two hours we were sailing, that we had to keep changing direction to get the best conditions.
It was a fantastic experience, and even though I may not have been as up to scratch as the rest of my more experienced crew, this has to be the ultimate way to experience the real “City of Sails”.
The America’s Cup Sailing Experience costs $150 per person for two hours sailing.
It is run by Explore NZ, which offers a range of sailing, whale and dolphin experience trips in Auckland and the Bay of Islands.