Auckland, New Zealand – America’s Cup Ground Zero

11 04 2013

Wow. That’s a big ship.

Today is our last in New Zealand. Our flights home, mine to Oregon, USA, and Elwin and Angelique’s to Amsterdam, all depart late today. We stayed in Auckland, at the Juicy Hotel, which is walking distance from the Auckland waterfront. So, as the day broke spectacularly blue and bright, we saunter off to explore that area.

After breakfast, we head straight to the waterfront. Docked are three giant cruise ships, looking like skyscrapers floating on their sides. The Diamond Princess is probably 14 stories tall. Thousands of passengers are disembarking, and I shudder contemplating spending vacation standing in line at every port. There’s also a car carrier, essentially a gigantic windowless box with a tiny bridge up top. It was disgorging its burden of the latest vehicles.

It was just perfect weather. No humidity. In the high 70s. Ahhhh.

We wander the piers, gazing out at the busy harbor. All the commercial freighters, the sailboats, and the mega yacht power boats as well.

Everywhere the Kiwi obsession with sailing is in full display. I spot some huge masts in the distance and convince Elwin and Angelique to go investigate. The area is known as Viaduct Harbor.


A mega sloop and mega ketch at the dock. Both over 120ft long

Along the way, we pass by the New Zealand America’s Cup Museum. This is a true manifestation of their achievement in the sport of sailboat racing. Outside, is KZ 1, a representation of New Zealand’s boldness in sailing.


New Zealand 1









Back in 1988 New Zealand’s Michael Fay used a clause in the rules which said a challenger can use any boat type 90-ft or less at the waterline for the competition, and set the race ten months hence. Traditionally, for decades, 12-Meter Class boats had been used. So New Zealand built a 144-foot mega yacht and challenged all comers to try to beat it (still 90ft at the waterline). But the rules didn’t say the defender had to build the same type yacht. So famously, Dennis Conner of the USA fired back, using the fine print, and built an ultra modern catamaran as a counter. It was a mismatch from the start. The multi hulled USA boat absolutely destroyed KZ-1. Since that time, America’s Cup competition has always been in “classes” of similar boats build to “class” specification, to maximize competition.

In those days, crews and sailboats of America’s Cup yachts were 100% from their home countries. At some point, pro sailors from any country were allowed to crew a yacht. And so it came to be that a boat from Japan or Switzerland could be crewed by citizens from anywhere. So, where would you guess the #1 country feeding today’s America’s Cup crews would be? New Zealand! Not only that. Somehow, over the years, one country and one town would build most of the boats sailing the America’s Cup. And what town would that be?

Answer: Auckland, New Zealand! That’s right. I noticed a gigantic Italian flag flying near the waterfront, and it was the headquarters for Prada Luna Rossa from Italy!


The 2013 America’s Cup will be sailed in 72-foot hydrofoil catamarans in San Francisco Bay. These boats reach top speeds exceeding 40 knots! Most come from Auckland. These boats don’t have traditional sails. Rather, they have wings. They are so challenging to handle that smaller scale versions called AC-45s have been used as training boats for several years.

Tucked in behind the waterfront are warehouses where teams build the AC72 yachts and gyms for each. The Italians, Kiwis, and Swedes had their boats built and tested here.

Kiwis have lots of sailing accomplishments:

  • 1995 NZL 32 “Black Magic,” skippered by Russell Coutts, stuns the world winning the America’s Cup
  • 2000 NZL 60 shuts out Italy’s Prada (Luna Rossa) 5-0 to defend the Cup
  • 2003 Kiwis Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth, sailing the Swiss boat Alinghi, defeat their countrymen sailing for New Zealand
  • 2007 the airline Emirates sponsors Team New Zealand. They reached the finals racing again against fellow Kiwis on the Swiss Alinghi. But Alinghi managed a narrow victory.
  • 2013 Team New Zealand has built the most successful AC72 catamaran thus far, and they were the first to manage to sail the craft consistently using hydrofoils at speeds in excess of 40 knots.


I wanted to spend more time at the America’s Cup Museum, but the time comes for me to head to the airport. One last left-side-of-the-road journey.

I’ve seen a lot in my month in New Zealand – live volcanoes and geysers, golden beaches, fiords, dolphins swimming under my sailboat, giant tree ferns, sapphire streams and seas, and glaciers. There is a lot to see and do here.

Definitely add New Zealand to your travel plans!



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