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America's Cup: Welcome to Kelly's Place - Maybe the coolest office in New Zealand

by Suzanne McFadden 2 Mar 13:59 PST 3 March 2021
Emirates Team New Zealand - the ubiquitous team tender is never far away - offering the engineers and designers the option of going on the water to see a test session. - America's Cup 36 © Richard Gladwell / / nz

A sailing rookie hailing from the mountains of Colorado, Kelly Hartzell plays a crucial part in Team New Zealand's defence of the America's Cup. She explains her role as a mechatronics engineer to Suzanne McFadden.

Kelly Hartzell may have one of the coolest offices in New Zealand right now.

Most days – even during lockdown – you can spot Hartzell on board Emirates Team New Zealand’s second chase boat, trying to keep up with Te Rehutai as it rockets around the Hauraki Gulf.

Attached to Te Rehutai, Team NZ’s slick race yacht, are a multitude of intricate sensors measuring the forces and strains the radical, highly-refined hull is being pushed through.

Hartzell stands at the front of the chase boat cabin with her laptop open, wearing a mask when Auckland is at Level 3, and making sure the data is continuously pouring off the foiling monohull. “It’s constant vigilance,” the 28-year-old laughs.

Sometimes you’ll find Hartzell on Te Rehutai, tucked inside the hull checking the sensors’ wiring. “But I’m more about translating raw numbers into something that makes sense,” she says.

Some of that data is fed back to the sailors “so they know how much force they’re putting through all of the boat’s components, and where they are relative to our design limits.”

Working on a whizz-bang boat on Auckland’s harbour is nowhere near where Hartzell ever expected to be, having grown up in the snowy mountains of Colorado. But as Team NZ goes through its final paces before defending the America’s Cup, Hartzell wouldn’t swap it for the world.

“It’s really been amazing, watching the pace of our improvement and how far we can push ourselves within the scope of the design. I love it,” she says.

“Every day we can see the work people are putting in is really making a difference, each time we’re out on the water.”

The delay to the start of the America’s Cup match with Italian challenger Luna Rossa until at least next Wednesday, because of the latest Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland, only gives Hartzell and her team more time to perfect the systems.

Hartzell is a mechatronics engineer, who joined Team NZ at the end of 2019 after going through what she calls “a quarter-life crisis”.

The daughter of two engineers, Hartzell was always drawn to enter the same field. With a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and a Masters in engineering management, she spent five years working for the Ford Motor Company in Michigan.

She was working on AWD (All Wheel Drive) technology in cars, measuring torque and control, particularly on winter road conditions.

“But then both my partner and I were graduating university and we’d had five years in the industry, so we sort of had this moment of ‘Is this it?’,” she says.

“We’d heard good things about New Zealand, so we decided to move there. We figured why not?”

The couple spent their first two months travelling around the country and applying for jobs while on the road. “Then I was scrolling through my morning email of all the jobs that had been posted, and I almost scrolled past it. But I was like, hold on, that sounds interesting,” Hartzell says.

The job description for a “talented and enthusiastic” electronics, mechatronics or mechanical engineer to help develop and look after the sensors and data acquisition systems on the Team NZ race yacht fitted with what Hartzell knew how to do.

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