Here's What It's Like To Ride A Wind-Powered Sea Missile Around NYC
When I first learned of the America's Cup back in February, I imagined it as an elitist, playground-for-the-rich type of event I'd never really fully understand.
I didn't go to Harvard or Brown, and my dad isn't a hedge fund manager, so competitive sailing was never high on my list of summer activities.
Thursday, though, I spent the afternoon on the back of the Artemis Racing AC45 catamaran, an ultra-lightweight sailboat that doesn't so much sail through the water as it does glide across the surface, as the team from Sweden turned in a few practice runs ahead of an America's Cup World Series racing weekend on New York's Hudson River.
Some background: According to reports, Oracle Team USA spent anywhere from $115 million to $300 million to win the America's Cup in 2013, with about $10 million going toward the construction of their sailboat.
So, yeah, my impression of the America's Cup as a playground-for-the-rich type of event doesn't appear to be far off base, which is why I knew from the jump this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My day started with a train ride down to lower Manhattan's Brookfield Place Waterfront Plaza. Once I checked in and gathered my credentials, I headed to the event Media Center to get briefed for my adventure on the high seas.
OK, we were just in the New York harbor, really, but we did reach a speed of 50 miles per hour while the water and wind whipped all around the Artemis Racing crew and yours truly.
After watching a safety video, I was outfitted in some serious racing gear that had me feeling like I was getting ready to board a rocket ship to Mars rather than a sailboat ride on the Hudson River.
After we geared up, we were led down to the North Cove Marina where we hopped on a small power boat that would take us out to the larger support boat of the AC45 catamaran.
At this point, I was shaken. I had been asked numerous times that afternoon about my "sailing experience," to which I sheepishly replied, "I've taken the ferry around the Statue of Liberty a few times."
No turning back now, though. I was suited up like Matt Damon in "The Martian," and I was ready for whatever I was about to experience -- at least that's what I kept telling myself.
"Hold on tight," our driver - captain? - said. Next thing I knew, we were jetting out of the marina and racing toward the Artemis Racing support boat.
Once on board, I had a perfect view of the six competing AC45 catamarans sailing around the Hudson. It was like being in the catbird seat at a private show. The full weight of the moment was beginning to hit me, and I wasn't even on board the actual racing boat.
First, I watched as another writer went for a ride on this wind-powered sea missile. The Artemis Racing support staff and I followed closely, speeding past lower Manhattan as we tracked the AC45's every move.
"Holy hell," I thought, "I'm next."
I'm pretty sure my legs were jelly as we pulled up alongside the AC45, but it was go-time. A member of the six-man crew grabbed my hand and pulled me aboard for what was about to be the coolest experience of my life.
I was told to walk across the boat's netting and sit down behind a big pole at the rear. Remember, this thing is wind-powered and lightweight; there are no actual seats or seat belts. Instead, I was told to grab hold of this thin blue rope and not touch anything else.
Once I was situated, the crew began moving around with what I can only describe as organized chaos. Within a few seconds, we were off. As we picked up speed, the AC45 rose out of the water, and I actually felt like I was flying on a magic carpet over the Hudson.
While the Artemis Racing crew shouted out commands and raced around the boat's surfaces to change directions and gain acceleration, all I could do was hang on tight and smile wider than the Cheshire Cat.
I had no idea what was happening, but I was experiencing the ride of my life. As we cruised around New York City, water sprayed me in the face and wind gusted all around me. I was alive.
It was pure, unbridled joy. The kind of happiness money can't buy... unless you're a billionaire or one of the most skilled sailors in the world.
Before I knew it, my ride was over. I was soon back on the original, small power boat, speeding toward the North Cove Marina. Did that really just happen? Was it all a dream?
The America's Cup is a beautiful display of competitive craziness, and as unreal as my experience was, it was just a glimpse into this world I don't think too many people know about.
It was a day I'll never forget, and the tequila shots afterward were as much a celebration of Cinco de Mayo as they were of my surreal Thursday afternoon.