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In almost 30 years of covering the America’s Cup, in the some of the most spectacular locations around the world, I cannot recall any that matched the spectacular setting that Tamaki Makaurau gave us for this, the 36th defence of the oldest international sports trophy in the world.
The crowds that gathered at the Viaduct Basin (brought to life by the America’s Cup vision of the late Sir Peter Blake and Sir Michael Fay) were joined by thousands more who found vantage points all around the spectacular Stadium Courses set on the waters of the magnificent Waitemata. Add to that the thousands of fans aboard the spectator fleet out on the water, and we were treated to a spectacle that was unrivalled in the history of the Cup.
But there was something else that made this special.
There were many sailing experts who doubted that the concept of a 75 foot foiling monohull would ever fly, but here, on a stage that seemed uniquely designed for her, Te Rehutai put those doubts well and truly to rest as she flew into the history books, arguably changing the face of the America’s Cup forever. This wasn’t just a boat race. It was a race of technology where Kiwi design, engineering and innovation was on full display. And that success may have created our biggest challenge. How do we keep this team together to defend the Cup?
We saw in 2003 how difficult that can be when a challenger with deep pockets, Ernesto Bertarelli, simply bought the people he wanted from Team New Zealand, along with the IP they had developed through that hugely successful 2000 defence.
There have been those who have questioned the loyalty of this team should it decide that the best chance of staying together to defend the Auld Mug is to take it offshore, so they can raise the kind of money that is needed to do that successfully. Team New Zealand has never had the biggest budget, and this will not be the first time it has been forced to go looking offshore for funding.
In 2015, after the America’s Cup Events Authority, whose chief executive was Sir Russell Coutts, withdrew the option of holding the Louis Vuitton Challengers Series in Auckland, the Government followed suit by opting against additional funding for Team New Zealand’s 2017 Bermuda Challenge for the 35th America’s Cup.
I can still recall visiting a disused shed down the back of the Viaduct Basin where Dan Bernasconi and his design team hunkered down while Grant Dalton cajoled money from anywhere he could to keep the dream alive. The press release announcing the closing down of the team had already been written, but somehow the "never say die" Dalton, supported by one of the unsung heroes of the team, Tina Symmans, pulled the funding together to keep the team afloat and, on the smell of an oily rag, they went to Bermuda and brought the Cup home anyway. If it were not for the sacrifices this team had to make, once the Government had pulled all of its "taxpayer funding" from them prior to Bermuda, the America’s Cup would never have returned to these shores.
But not only did Dalton and his team find a way to keep the challenge alive, they also refused to sign on to the Coutts/Oracle concept of turning the America’s Cup into a travelling road show of identical catamarans, no matter who won. Team New Zealand was the only team that refused to sign. Had they not held that line, Te Rehutai, the foiling monohull that has captivated the world of sailing, would never have made it off the drawing board.
Since New Zealand’s first challenge for the America’s Cup — in a plastic boat — we have continually stretched the boundaries of technology and innovation, almost always on the smallest budgets. "Team New Zealand" has been the most successful America’s Cup team over the past 30 years — four-time winner of the oldest international sports trophy in the world, and now, the only team outside of the US to defend it more than once.
For almost 20 years Dalton, and much of the team still around him, have added to the powerful brand that is "Team New Zealand". His methods have often been unorthodox, maverick even, but he and his team have got the job done.
So rather than questioning their loyalty, let’s show our support as they try to find the best way to defend the Cup once more. Ideally that would be here on the shores of the Waitemata with multiple challengers, but we also have to accept that the cost benefit of this may no longer meet the Government’s priorities. It didn’t in 2017, but this team still found a way to bring the Cup home to give us the spectacle we have just celebrated.
I have no idea how the current Isle of Wight scenario might play out but there is something very Kiwi about the idea of saying, "Hey, the schooner America had to go to the Isle of Wight to win this thing. What say we Kiwis, for the right money, bring it to the Isle of Wight to see if you’re good enough to win it back!".
I think we would find that the world would be tuned in for that. The oldest sports trophy goes on the line in the place where that history began. And the New Zealand technology brand would be at the front and centre of that story.
How is that for bold, innovative, thinking outside the box.
- Sir Ian Taylor is the managing director of Animation Research Ltd and 2019 New Zealand Innovator of the Year.