new auckland

Laying the bases for the 36th America’s Cup

Both ends of Auckland's Viaduct Harbour right now are punctuated by industrial noise. 

Hydro-blasting at Wynyard Wharf; pile driving at Hobson. The literal foundations are being laid for the 36th America's Cup. By mid-this year Aucklanders will see another step up in the development that's been likened to pre-party renovations - when the Government and Council coffers open up to present the city's best face to the world. 

At the old events centre near Te Wero bridge the Emirates Team New Zealand signs have been up for a couple of months, and the souvenir shop is already open - although the 2021 livery is not yet available. Eventually the shop will be twice this size, with information and technology displays showcasing the history of the Cup. Glass sides of the building on the eastern wall have made way for two massive hangar doors, made in Finland, which will allow their boats to slide out of the shed. The double-layered doors, nine metres high and 14.5m wide, are built to snow standards so they will both block the wind and insulate the shed. The big AC75 mono-hulls measure six metres to the deck - the foils alone weigh about 1.5 tonnes. A moving gantry is being built inside to give the 30 shore crew easy access, and the containers that accompany the team to regattas around the world are stacked in place, the stairways to them under construction. At the end of the old events centre a mezzanine floor has been built as a sail loft, as the yachts put the 'sails' into sailing again. 

Base manager Andy Nottage says getting the boats out of the shed is definitely a bit of a fiddly job. Once the hull is out a crane drops the mast and rig on top, and the same crane lifts the yacht into the water. The public will get a good view of the process from Te Wero and numerous other vantage points in the basin. Letting the public in on what's going on has been a key component of designing the bases and cup village. Nottage says there have been a few challenges adapting the events centre building, including having to knock out poles that house stormwater pipes and re-route them. 

Under Cup rules the boats can arrive as early as March 31 but we're likely to see them by mid this year. The water space directly in front of team headquarters will be handed over to ETNZ in May. At the moment the area is being dredged - the boats have a 5.5m draft - so about a metre of material has to come off the sea bed. 

Two massive hangar doors have been installed in the old events centre. Photo: Alexia Russell 

From Team New Zealand's base there's a good view of the set up for the challenger of record, Prada. At the moment it's all cranes and piles as the end of Hobson Wharf, at the back of the Maritime Museum, is strengthened and lengthened. A barge is being used to install piles which will support the deck surface. Next, in will go berths, fenders and lighting - after that it's up to Prada to build their accommodation. The expected handover is September this year, Team NZ has no doubt the base will be pretty swish - the Italian team has plenty of money. 

A new breakwater - one of six to be built - is going in to make sure the berths being constructed are as tranquil as possible. This is where the spectacular J-Class yachts will be housed in time for a Christmas regatta at the end of next year. These grand old ladies, the classics of America's Cup racing, have been upgraded with modern technology. Described as "the world's most beautiful racing yachts", the class was revived at Bermuda and will race again in Auckland. Provision is also being made for more than 80 super yachts due to arrive for the Cup - although some will be so "super" they will have to anchor off, probably around the back of Waiheke Island. 

At the other end ....

Past all the container-style restaurants and near Silo Park is where the other challengers - five of them - will be housed. Wynyard Wharf will see the biggest make-over for this regatta, a transformation that will take Auckland's waterfront area another step up. Stolthaven has removed 12 of its tanks and work has started on dredging, strengthening the 100-year-old wharf piles, and building bridges to enable cranes to drop boats in the water. Workers are blasting old concrete off the piles and will be re-spraying them with new material. Wharf repairs should be completed by June. Access to Brigham St has been shut off. Three bases will be built on the vacated Stolthaven site, and they should be ready to hand over to syndicates by July. BTS has yet to remove its tanks which will house the remaining two bases - that will happen by August this year. The decorated tanks in Silo Park will remain. 

It's this development that Auckland Council's chief operating officer, Dean Kimpton, is excited about. Like cleaning up your house in time for a big party, the America's Cup has shifted forward the timetable to develop Wynyard Wharf into a public space. How much forward depends on results in 2021 - "The only question we have is if - no, when - they win AC36 we will need to keep the bases being established now for competing syndicates," he says. 

Safety and spectators 

All the key resource consents are in place for the work being done now, although there will be a few modifications - "nothing we are worried about," Kimpton says. "Once the bases want to let us know what they want, there will be some additional resource consents needed but we're not expecting anything exotic." Behind the scenes a great deal of work is being done on event planning - questions over where will people go to watch the races, and how will they be moved safely. That includes on the water - "we're expecting an armada of people every day" - and places such as Bastion Pt, North Head and Rangitoto. Kimpton says safety is a key concern, and how to manage alcohol issues on the water. Ultimately the Harbour Master is responsible for that, and that role is part of Auckland Council's domain. The Coastguard's role has been boosted with the help of some lotto money, and it will be involved with water safety. 

You mean so that a spectator boat doesn't plough into the side of a race boat?

Kimpton's face pales. "Don't even talk about that."

Another aspect of the planning involves both the Crown and council thinking about how to leverage the event for the rest of New Zealand. That includes live streaming options for race watching - so where do you put the cameras, and what apps do you make available to improve the experience? 

Kimpton admits that all this work is a constant challenge in terms of resources, at a time when construction resources in Auckland are stretched. He is full of admiration at the way Wynyard Edge Alliance - the group responsible for the infrastructure for the regatta - is getting the work done. There's a lot of public money at stake - $136.5 million from the Government and another $113 from the council. But he's clear there is no more cash in the pot if costs blow up. "We are not going back for one more cent," he says. 

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