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America's Cup: 'Almost full' sign goes up in Auckland

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 17 Oct 02:40 PDT 17 October 2019
J class racing in the opening day of the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda © Richard Gladwell /

Despite earlier media reports to the contrary, 130 superyachts have registered an interest in attending the America's Cup events in Auckland in 2020-2021.

They were advised of the berth pricing on August 15, and all 73 berths have been booked with a deposit of one month's rental paid.

Earlier reports cited various sources claiming less than half hat number of superyachts would visit Auckland for the 2021 America's Cup regattas.

Event organisers are now contemplating how to handle the overflow. Economic forecasts put the expected superyacht fleet numbers at 160, and with late arrivals not requiring berthage that optimistic estimate be achieved.

Busfield says that the budgets had been based on 26 boats for the Millenium Cup which is conservative given that 45 yachts competed in the event in 2000.

NZ Marine CEO, Peter Busfield told Sail-World that the spend per superyacht had been calculated at $NZ2.7million. "That included total spend right down to gym memberships," he said.

Rough numbers for economic spend on that basis come to $NZ350million from superyachts. Five teams at $NZ50-70million each adds another $300million, with visitor spend to go on top of that. (About half a team budget is spent in the country hosting the Cup, with budgets this time around reaching up to NZD240million). Visitor spend is variable given Auckland's reputation for price gouging the from 2000 and 2003 Cups. To date, there seems to be less of a Kiwi-Bonanza feel about the 36th America's Cup.

Busfield is quick to point out that the visitor spend from superyachts is not concentrated in Auckland, with most of the owners and guests spending some time in Auckland, but the majority of the time being spent elsewhere in New Zealand on vacations not centred around the yacht racing. Indeed in the two previous Cups in Auckland, he notes that many of the superyachts and their owners started leaving Auckland two weeks before the start of the America's Cup Match as teams were eliminated. With a smaller number of teams and all four challengers sailing in the semi-final of the Prada Cup, this exodus is less likely.

Options to house the superyacht overflow included a similar plan to Bermuda where many superyachts preferred to anchor in locations away from the America's Cup Village at the Royal Dockyard, and would move to their berthage area each day on the edge of the racecourse.

In the Auckland context, this could involve anchoring off the Hauraki Gulf islands, along the North Shore beaches, Waiheke Island and similar locations, or anchoring in the harbour.

A tender accreditation process is being considered to allow superyachts to embark and disembark visitors directly into the America's Cup Village area.

Grant Calder from America's Cup Events had a more reserved view of the superyacht situation commenting that the berths were still being allocated, and the options for dealing with the overflow were being worked through with the Harbourmaster and Council.

Four of the five America's cup bases have been handed over to the teams. Emirates Team New Zealand are well ensconced and operating out of Base A - the former Viaduct Events Centre.

Base B - the extension of Hobson Wharf off the Maritime Museum is understood to have been handed over to Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

Calder confirmed that two of the bases C and D had been handed over to the teams. "C & D were handed over on Monday morning with a Blessing."

Bases C & D have been allocated to New York Yacht Club and Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd.

Construction for base D which is for Stars + Stripes USA, will begin this month. Calder said that his understanding was that NYYC American Magic will begin to pour their concrete slab in January next year.

"My understanding from all the teams is that they want to have their bases up by July next year," he added.

Time constraints are believed to have been responsible for a rethink of the stylish plans for the Italian Challenger's base.

Otherwise, the ambitious multi-faceted development project is on or ahead of time and running under the $220million budget.

Karl Grant, Construction Manager for Wynyard Edge Alliance, noted that it had been nine months since the first work started on the first piling on Hobson Wharf, and to date, 700,000 hours had been spent on the project.

Dominating the project at present is a reconstruction of the Daldy Street stormwater outfall, which is being extended with new 3.5metre diameter pipes to run the 500metre length of Wynyard Wharf and will exit further out into the Waitemata Harbour tidal flows. "Standing inside the pipe is like standing in a small garage," Grant quips.

A six-metre deep excavation into the harbour bed is required to house the new pipe, which which will be sealed in place with mudcrete.

The new outfall is not required for the America's Cup but has been brought into the Cup construction plans. Currently, the British and New York team's base pads are covered with pipes for the new stormwater outfall.

Removal of the tanks for Base E (Stars + Stripes USA) is almost complete. The new Sealink Facility is due to have its Blessing and handover on Monday, which will permit the removal of the existing facility from in front of Base E.

The area that was to be used by Base F will in part be used for a yet to be announced public informational facility.

Most notable change around the harbour and bases is the construction and completion of eight separate breakwaters from Wynyard Wharf in the west to Hobson Wharf in the east.

A series of events for superyachts and J-class will be held in New Zealand over the summer of 2020-21. They include the Millenium Cup, six boats sailing in the J-class World Championship. Some will sail to New Zealand on their own bottoms, but all will be shipped out of New Zealand after the Cup to return to the Mediterranean. A new sinking submersible ship currently under construction in China will make her maiden voyage to New Zealand to transport vessels out of New Zealand after the America's Cup.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron will be running a superyacht regatta in Auckland, which Busfield says will probably be the first time in the world that two major superyacht regattas are staged within three weeks of each other. The J-class regatta is after the superyacht regatta in Auckland.

As happened in Bermuda, there will be an informal race with the six J-class, on March 6 to open the America's Cup regatta.

A fishing competition is planned the week before the Millenium Cup - open to owners and guests only, with the fish being caught from the superyacht and not a tender, and with each vessel being provided with an expert guide from New Zealand's oldest game fishing club, the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club.

One of the challenges past the America's Cup will be to keep the superyacht traffic coming to Auckland. "We used to rate New Zealand as a refit destination, but when we did exit surveys, 90% of the vessels did not come to New Zealand for a refit, they came primarily for tourism, and because the skippers knew New Zealand had some refit capability, that work was done at the same time. They won't spend $750,000 to send their boats to New Zealand to have a $2million refit," Busfield adds.

One option is to encourage the superyachts to transit between New Zealand and Fiji for several years and stay in charter work, with both countries having very accommodating tax regimes for this activity.

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