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Superyachts in the balance in Auckland Cup call

Superyachts will simply stop coming to Auckland if the Government’s choice for America’s Cup bases goes ahead, say key marine industry leaders.

With a decision due to be made on Thursday, there are just two options left on the table for team bases to be built on the city’s waterfront before the 2021 Cup regatta. But the option favoured by David Parker, the Minister with responsibility for the America’s Cup, could have a significant impact on the country’s $1.7 billion marine business if it’s chosen.

Even if the other option – preferred by Cup holders Emirates Team New Zealand – is successful, there still remains an issue of where to berth the invasion of superyachts expected in Auckland between now and the America’s Cup. 

Around 160 superyachts are predicted to pour into Auckland in the 2020-21 summer; each spending on average $2.7m during their stay, according to a report carried out by NZ Marine, the industry association. It forecasts an injection of $436m into the New Zealand economy from superyacht owners, staff and guests during the Cup period.  

Most parties involved in the protracted debate over where to house eight America’s Cup teams hope a decision will finally be reached at the Auckland Council’s governing body meeting tomorrow. Time is running out to have resource consent lodged for the successful site next month, so infrastructure can be in place by Team NZ’s deadline of August 31, 2018. Otherwise the Cup will be raced in Italy.

The Government’s preferred spot – the “Wynyard Point” dispersed option – is causing consternation in marine industry circles. The option includes six team bases on vacant sites next to the storage tanks on Wynyard Wharf, and two bases on a piece of land bordering the sea on Beaumont St known as Site 18. 

The marine precinct at Site 18 is home to seven marine businesses, including Team NZ’s current base. It’s a “rough and ready” site - with only gravel underfoot, it could be mistaken as an urban wasteland. But it holds huge importance for the country’s marine industry.  

It’s the only place on Auckland’s waterfront where the rigs of superyachts can be lifted out of the boats and laid down for work. 

Southern Spars, a world leader in carbon masts booms and rigging for yachts, uses the site year round. But the company’s general manager Peter Batcheler says his business will be forced to pack up and relocate offshore if it can no longer operate from Site 18.

“You kill the site, you kill the industry,” he says. 

“Site 18 is absolutely fundamental to superyacht servicing. Most of these superyachts come halfway around the world, from the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, with the absolute expectancy that if there was anything wrong with their rig, we would have the ability to take it off the boat, lay it down and service it. 

“Frankly, if they cottoned on to the fact that the capability to do that had been removed, they literally would not come here. And if superyachts don’t come, that throws the maths out for the entire America’s Cup campaign.”

Duthie Lidgard, managing director of superyacht agency Asia Pacific Superyachts New Zealand, agrees that the loss of Site 18 would have a “huge impact on the sailing and superyacht communities”. 

“It would seriously affect the number of boats that come down here for a refit. It’s the only site in Auckland where rigs can be lifted out – commercial ports are too expensive. Some masts are on the hard for four-five months being worked on.” 

The Wynyard Point dispersed options. Photo: Supplied

But more critically, Site 18 has been earmarked for bigger things for the marine industry. The neighbouring Orams Marine has been working with site owners Panuku, the city’s regeneration agency, to develop it into a full large-boat service centre. It would have a huge 650 tonne travel lift, able to haul out superyachts, ferries and tugs, and room on land to work on seven boats up to 70 metres long for serious refit and maintenance work. 

Peter Busfield, executive director of NZ Marine, says Orams Marine is poised to invest “tens of millions of dollars” into Site 18. “We’ve been waiting five-six years for this. We need Site 18 to add to the industry and create more jobs,” he says. 

Auckland, recognised as one of the world’s superyacht refit capitals, needs more room to accommodate big boats. The number of superyachts on the globe has climbed to 4100, and is projected to increase by a quarter or a third in the next decade. The 2017 Superyacht Annual Report on Refits has identified that Australasia could expect around six percent of the world’s superyacht refits over the next five years.

This summer, the city’s refit yards are already at maximum capacity. “Right now we are having to turn boats away because we are fully booked for the year, with the old fashioned slipways at Titan Marine and Orams Marine,” Busfield says. The Orams slipway was built in 1915. 

“We are giving that business away to Australia, who already have a strategy on the back of the America’s Cup to benefit from the superyacht visitation.  

“It would be absolutely stupid for any government or local government to make a requirement that Site 18 has America’s Cup bases on it. That would show they had no understanding of the relationship with these wealthy owners, and how you can transfer that into economic gain, to apprenticeship training and jobs for the people.”

The Wynyard Point option was originally tossed out from the long list of options drawn up by council and government agencies with the input of Team NZ. But David Parker, also the Minister of the Environment, asked that it be salvaged after a site walkabout last month, seeing it as the best option for protecting the harbour. 

Even if the Wynyard Basin option – with it sites spread over three different wharves – is the chosen one, Southern Spars will still be wary.  

Other plans exist to berth superyachts alongside Site 18, which could block access for vessels needing servicing and refitting on site. “We have to be careful that Site 18 isn’t chewed up by berths for other activities. It has to remain a servicing space,” Batcheler says.

So that raises the question: where will all the superyachts go?

A report prepared by Market Economics for ATEED predicted the number of superyachts in Auckland in 2021 could rise to a peak of 140 (between 50 and 60 of the big yachts currently visit New Zealand annually).

Lidgard, whose superyacht agency in Auckland takes care of the needs of visiting boats, expects normal numbers to double and already has bookings from wealthy clients.  

“We’re already seeing them arrive this season – coming early to do their servicing. Then they can see first-hand if they like it, and look at where to take their guests while they’re here,” he says. But it’s next summer that we are likely to see the influx begin: “Captains will bring boats down, and stay the maximum two years through until the Cup ends. 

“They will be floating hotels with guests coming and going. And services will be run off their feet - provisions, pump-outs, limos and helicopters.” 

As the world superyacht fleet increases, so does the size of the boats. Lidgard is already dealing with five boats that are over 100m long.  

Rod Marler, design and place director for Panuku, says a stocktake has been carried out on the Waitemata Harbour to find possible berthage for the big boats.

Another positive for the Wynyard Basin team bases option is that it also provides up to 10 superyacht berths, and additional room for eight J Class boats – the beautiful classic America’s Cup yachts that will race in their own regatta in Auckland in 2021.

“We’re also able to reallocate some berths in the existing outer Viaduct area. And there’s the a possibility outside of the Halsey and Hobson wharves, but it’s pretty exposed to harbour chop and breeze, so the more robust boats would have to berth there,” Marler says.

Marler is confident that Auckland could accommodate over 100 superyachts at one time, but those behemoths over 100m in length may have to anchor outside the harbour. 

“A lot of the superyachts will be associated with America’s Cup teams. We expect each team to have three-five superyachts, and they will want to be close to the bases,” he says. 

While Marler stresses that Panuku is not an advocate in the bases deliberation – “Our role is providing technical information to the council, the mayor and ministers, so they can make a decision with Team NZ” – the agency can make a recommendation.

“We believe Wynyard Basin is the only option we can deliver in the timeframe necessary to make the event actually work,” he says. “We would dearly like the council to make a decision on Thursday so we can lodge resource consent in January.” 

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