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Inside a fortress fit for an America’s Cup champion

After years of being cooped up in a grimy, gritty base, America's Cup victors Emirates Team New Zealand finally have a sparkling new home on Auckland's waterfront. Suzanne McFadden takes a look inside, and talks to the man who's choreographed the transition.

To the victor goes the spoils. Office chairs that don’t squeak; no tent walls that leak when it rains; no mice scuttling in the roof.

This is Emirates Team New Zealand’s reward for winning the America’s Cup – a glittering new home that overlooks the Viaduct Basin and Auckland’s cityscape. It’s a far cry from the pokey, dingy base, constructed mostly from shipping containers and tents, that served the team for their last campaign.

Over the past few weeks they've made their new digs in the Viaduct Events Centre, on the eastern edge of Wynyard Quarter, look more like the home of an America's Cup champion. 

The view alone is dazzling. From the third floor of the building, which is now Team NZ’s mission control, the designers can spare a moment from their screens to gaze out over the Viaduct Harbour, which will be teeming with boats and people in the summer of 2021.

The meeting room, where future decisions will be made, looks west to the sites that will eventually house the Cup challengers.

Right now the team rattles around in the 6000sqm space, but by the 2021 America’s Cup, it will be humming.

For three years, Team NZ occupied the “gritty and grimy” site (team boss Grant Dalton’s description) that was an old fuel depot on Beaumont St. The tired building, on the block known as Site 18, was just big enough for the design and operations teams, but the rest of the work was done in massive tents and row upon row of converted shipping containers.

But it wasn’t all bad. The cramped quarters brought the team closer together. 

Andy Nottage, the man who choreographed Team NZ’s latest move, says to keep that closeness, they’ve replicated the open plan environment in their new home.

“Even Dalts’ office doesn’t have a door, so everyone can hear what he’s saying. That’s how he wants it,” says Nottage, the team’s logistics and base manager.

“He’s told us we’ve got to keep our heads on – don’t be spoiled by this place.” They’ve been told not to forget where they came from, or who they are.

They’ve brought some of the relics of their past with them – like all 65 containers that made the journey to Bermuda and back last year. A double stack of the containers will divide the voluminous boat shed and serve as workshops, as they have for the last decade.

But there were many things that didn’t come with them – like the mice that continuously scurried across the ceiling. “I caught five in a week,” Nottage says.

The old office furniture the team got second-hand 10 years ago also failed to make the move across to Halsey St. They have modern desks and chairs now, courtesy of their supplier Vidak.

“It’s very spacious in here at the moment, but we’ve set up 63 work desks for when we’re going full tilt,” Nottage says.

“To be back in a solid building, where there’s not rain running down the walls and across the floor, is fantastic.”

There’s still hard work to be done to make the events centre, built in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, fit for its new purpose. Men in hi-vis vests have been measuring out the floor of the great hall space to make room for Team NZ’s two 75m foiling monohull race boats. 

The construction of the first boat is “coming along nicely” at the team’s build facility on Auckland’s North Shore. It’s the first time in Team NZ’s history that they’ve built their own boats.

Renovations on the boat shed must be completed before the first AC75 arrives, probably next March. The glass and aluminium frames of one massive glass wall have been removed, ready for the arrival of two 14.5m x 9m doors from Finland. They'll allow the boats to be wheeled in and out every sailing day.

Work starts this week on building a mezzanine sail loft that runs the full 30m width of the building.

The walls of glass all around the base have both benefits and drawbacks. While the views out are spectacular, it means snooping eyes can also look in - a challenge that Team NZ now face, Nottage says.  

“In the design room, we’ve put mirror tints on the windows, which work well during the day. But we also have to be careful at night, so we’ve put in blinds.”

“What’s the America’s Cup?”

Nottage is one of the longest serving members of the Team NZ clan, having first worked on the 1988 big boat challenge.

But his introduction to the America’s Cup was not your typical one.   

He was 21 when a friend, Craig Roe, asked if he wanted to go to Perth to watch the first New Zealand syndicate contest the challenger series for the 1987 America’s Cup.

“I had to ask ‘What’s the America’s Cup?’," Nottage admits. "He said ‘It’s a sailing race’. I seriously had no idea; I wasn’t so much into sailing. (Even though he came to New Zealand on a ship from England, when he was four years old).

So they bought a Ford Fairmont station wagon, and with another mate, drove from Melbourne across the Nullarbor Plain, to watch KZ7 racing off Fremantle.

“That was the first injection of the Cup into my blood,” Nottage says.  They've got together at almost every America's Cup since.

Team NZ's logistics and base manager Andrew Nottage is working in his eighth America's Cup. Photo: Hamish Hooper/ETNZ

A fitter and turner by trade, Nottage ended up making parts for KZ1 in the America’s Cup the following year, through the engineering company he worked for, and he became a member of the New Zealand team for the 1992 Cup in San Diego.

After spending seven years working on superyachts around the globe, Nottage returned home to Auckland and signed up to Team NZ for the 2000 Cup defence as an engineering machinist. 

He developed the winch programme for the fated 2003 Cup defence, and in the 2007 challenge, Dalton asked him to be the shore manager in Valencia. He held that role again in 2013, and also moved into logistics – the painstaking task of moving an entire team across the world.

Last year’s Cup proved to be a tall challenge – shipping 65 containers, a tower crane, fork lifts, scissor lifts, knuckle booms and chase boats to Philadelphia; then trucking it all to New York before shipping it to the tiny island nation of Bermuda.

“It's just the way we do things. You have to be self-contained, especially in a place like Bermuda where you can’t buy anything,” Nottage says.

Which is why winning the America’s Cup – and holding its defence in your own country – gives the victor a little more of an advantage.

Let the people in

If the drawn-out negotiations between Team NZ, the government and Auckland Council over the America’s Cup village had gone in a different direction, the defenders would still be waiting for a wharf extension to be built, let alone a new building.

Instead, Team NZ took up the offer of taking over the Viaduct Events Centre. They won’t occupy the building alone. The organisation running the regatta, America’s Cup Events (ACE), will eventually fill the second floor. 

There will also be a hospitality area here – something that Team NZ has been lacking. “This time we’ll be able to pay back our suppliers and sponsors with hospitality,” Nottage says. “Before, all we could do was say ‘Come and look at the boat’ and they’d have to stand in a tent if it was raining. It was horrible.”

Much of the ground floor will be open to the public, in line with Dalton’s wish to have more interaction with the fans. There will be a retail store and the victorious catamaran from 2017, Aotearoa New Zealand, will be on display.

Nottage has enjoyed the challenge of setting up new headquarters. The move itself was “pretty easy” – team members packing their belongings into plastic fish bins, to be relocated to their new desks within an hour or two.

“Some of them had never been in here, so for them it was just an amazing surprise,” Nottage says.

He’s enjoyed working with the Wynyard Edge Alliance - the group responsible for delivering the overall project and infrastructure for the Cup.

“They don’t know how an America’s Cup team operates, so I’ve been working with them over the last year as a representative of all the teams, from a practical point of view,” he says. Last week he helped members of the American Magic syndicate with advice on organising their base.

Nottage, who arrives at work at 6.10am each day, says he's simply happy to help wherever he can. He’s often in the new Team NZ kitchen, doing the dishes.

“When you’ve been here a long time, you chip in and do a bit of everything,” he says. “We have to do it together; do whatever it takes to win.”

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