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Gladwell's Line: A Cup Milestone .. NZ Deputy PM descended from early boatbuilding family

by Richard Gladwell, 23 Jul 12:19 UTC 23 July 2020
American Magic's Defiant after her unloading in Auckland © American Magic

Sometime before this week is out, we expect to see the first America's Cup Challenger sailing on the Waitemata Harbour.

American Magic, the team of the New York Yacht Club, left their COVID-19 required 14-day quarantine, Wednesday, and hoped to be sailing by the end of the week.

There was too much breeze for sailing on Thursday - and probably too much for a first sail on Friday.

Saturday looks to be ideal. However, Auckland's weather is highly changeable as we have seen with Emirates Team New Zealand's program - and handy three and four-hour weather windows often make a surprise appearance.

The first challenger sailing on the Waitemata is a milestone event for the 36th America's Cup. For the doubters, it is a very visible signal that the event will take place.

For New Zealand sport it is a big step back to normality. American Magic is the first international sporting team to be allowed into New Zealand to compete post-COVID-19.

For American Magic, it marks the end of a sailing hiatus that has lasted five months.

In the context of a "normal" America's Cup cycle, a five-month sailing time-out ending four and a half months before the start of the first Cup regatta would be terminal.

Interviewed on on May 12, Executive Director, Terry Hutchinson told host Tom Ehman, "these are definitely nervous times."

"I would go as far as to say that the success or failure of our program lies in the next eight or nine weeks," he added.

That was a reference to the decision to send their first AC75 Defiant, to New Zealand ahead of time, after the cancellation of the America's Cup World Series Regattas in Cagliari and Portsmouth.

Fortune does not favour the faint-hearted.

In mid-March, American Magic was already packed in readiness for the voyage to Cagliari, Italy for the first America's Cup World Series.

In early March, the worsening COVIDA-19 pandemic in Italy led American Magic, to seek a declaration from the America's Cup Arbitration Panel, that a Force Majeure situation existed and they should be excused from the Protocol requirement to compete in Cagliari.

Before the Arb Panel could make a ruling, event organisers, CoR36 called off the first America's Cup World Series regatta on March 13.

That decision came just in time for American Magic to avoid sending their AC75 on a fool's errand to Cagliari, with Defiant set to leave Florida on March 16.

Ten days later the second regatta ACWS Portsmouth was also cancelled.

With the worsening COVID-19 situation in the USA, the team decided to charter a ship and take the AC75 and 32 containers of gear to New Zealand.

Of the other two America's Cup teams, INEOS Team UK shipped their AC75 Britannia back to their base in Portsmouth, UK and have been sailed the modified boat for the English summer.

Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa has been the least disrupted of any of the teams, and have been able to remain sailing from their base in Cagliari. They fitted electric engines to the AC75, obviating the need for six grinders, and sailed with just five crew - staying within social distancing regulations in force at the time.

The Italians haven't had a smooth run, with a dismasting at the end of January. That was followed by a broken bobstay - with their bowsprit being ripped out, taking a big piece of the hull and deck.

While Emirates Team New Zealand hasn't had an easy time of it, they are well into their work and focused on their end objectives knowing there are no transition phases left between now and the Cup.

American Magic will be keen to get into the same groove and get sailing for the first time in five months.

Classic fleet grows

Around 250-300 people crowded into Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron on Sunday afternoon for the ceremonial launch of Ida - the latest, and a superb, addition to the growing fleet of Classic Yachts in Auckland.

The 125-year-old Bailey design is 30ft on the waterline, 45ft overall on the deck and 58ft including spars. She was rescued from an awful fate in Sydney by John Street of the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust - and is the 11th classic vessel on the Trust's register.

The most notable of them all is still a work in progress - the 53ft Daring, dating back to 1863 - seven years before the first Match for the America's Cup in 1870. She was lost on the trying to cross the Kaipara Bar two years later when her master elected to run her up on the northern end of Muriwai Beach after being caught on a lee shore in a SW gale.

She was swallowed by the sands until 18 months ago, emerging after 150 years and was excavated, and is now being restored at Yachting Developments Ltd.

Forebears of New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, built Daring at Mangawhai Heads. Part Scottish, Peters' antecedent Donald McInnes hailed from the Isle of Skye, before emigrating to Nova Scotia, learning the boatbuilding craft, and then moved to New Zealand. In conjunction with Donald McKenzie, he opened a boatyard in Mangawhai in 1862 and launched Daring a year later.

While the current focus is on the America's Cup and latest sailing technology, the Classic fleet forms a vital and very tangible explanation as to why New Zealand sailing and the marine industry it has spawned has a reputation for quality, success and innovation.

Unlike Classic fleets in other countries, New Zealand's is almost entirely comprised of indigenous designs - with most built by their designers.

Many of those involved in the current America's Cup and other aspects of sailing are the current generation of those designers/builders. Others have parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who crewed boats that were the hot-racers of their time and are still racing in the Classic fleet.

So maybe it is fitting, as New Zealand prepares to defend the America's Cup for the third time, that we have a Deputy Prime Minister who can trace his maritime heritage back to where it all began.

How many other countries can make that claim? We suspect none. And maybe that is the Kiwi point of difference.

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