Mike Lee of Red Beach landed a job as a grinder for Emirates Team NZ
Sailing is big on the Coast, so it is perhaps no surprise that a number of locals are involved in the America’s Cup – working on everything from organisation behind the scenes and caring for the trophy itself to powering Team NZ. Hibiscus Matters caught up with six people whose work is filling the sails of the 36th Challenge.
Powering the boat – Mike Lee
With no sailing experience, it was Mike Lee’s (pictured) strength as a competitive surf lifesaver that got him aboard Team NZ.
The Red Beach resident, aged 30, joined 11 other grinders in the crew in June last year, after a trial.
“They were looking for the biggest, strongest athletes they could find,” he says.
Mike is also in the NZ High Performance surf lifesaving squad and has successfully represented NZ in his chosen sport. However, he says he is a “terrible cyclist” so is happy that the ‘cyclors’ – the bicycle riding grinders of the last Cup – have been replaced by the ‘old school’ technique, using upper body strength.
Eight grinders power hydraulics that control all the sailing functions, apart from the foils.
“Through tacks and jibes, we are giving it everything we’ve got for a nice clean manoeuvre and to power the sails, which is constant.”
Although many hours are spent in the gym, Mike says that grinders require mental toughness, too.
“It’s not a glamour sport – it’s a lot of hard work.”
Positioned down low in the boat, and facing backwards, Mike says he can’t see any of the action – unless the opposition boat comes close.
“I’m focused on providing enough power. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Cup and I can watch it afterwards.”
He says grinders have a love/hate relationship with tacking duels.
“It’s extremely hard, but if you pull it off it’s rewarding and we’ve earned our pay. We are expecting quite a few of those battles in the finals,” he says.
Cup custodian – Hayden Porter
Looking after the America’s Cup trophy, including keeping it safe, is one of Royal NZ Yacht Squadron chief executive Hayden Porter’s most important “behind the scenes” roles.
Along with that comes the need to ensure the public feels involved.
“We wanted as many people to come here as possible and were focused on promoting that,” he says. “Then of course it all changed last year.”
“But the numbers on the water show that there are a lot of visitors from different parts of NZ who might not otherwise have come. There is certainly a buzz around the city.”
Around a third of the expected superyachts are here, which Hayden admits is disappointing, particularly because they get work done that supports the marine industry.
“Still, the ones that are here are spending,” he says.
The Stanmore Bay resident says his work involves overseeing all the club’s operations, including Cup-related governance as trustee, functions and regattas and making sure around 100 course marshalls are fed every race day.
The events include a dinghy regatta on a course from the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Bean Rock, a classic yacht regatta and events for superyachts on and off the water. These activities are also part of the RNZ Yacht Squadron’s 150th anniversary celebrations and were to be run between the Prada Cup finals and America’s Cup Match.
There is also a dinner, scheduled for March 8, where Kiwi sports broadcaster Peter (PJ) Montgomery, among others, will be inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.
Seasoned campaigner – Andy Nottage
This year’s America’s Cup is Andy Nottage’s eighth with Team NZ.
A fitter and turner by trade, the Stanmore Bay resident’s roles in previous Cup campaigns included engineering work for KZ1; metal work, welding and fabrication; winch/hydraulic development and, for the first time in 2007, shore boss.
In this campaign, as in 2017, his role is base and logistics manager and as such, Covid-19 has caused Andy some challenges.
The America’s Cup World Series was to be sailed in Italy and the UK and Andy managed the logistics of moving the Emirates Team NZ race boat, chase boats and portable base to Italy.
“Unfortunately, after I had just transhipped our race boat in Singapore, the World Series was cancelled due to Covid-19 in Europe, so I came home and remotely arranged for it to be returned to NZ,” Andy says.
His days are busy with “team base maintenance and compliance” and on race days he is often on the water, driving a chase boat.
He says the team is tightly knit. “No one person in this team is more important than the next – if the designers don’t design a fast boat, and the boat builders don’t build a perfect boat, then the sailors can’t win, no matter how good they are – and everyone understands this. When not sailing or training, the sailors work in different roles – the grinders may help the shore crew with things like building, maintenance and so on. It is a vital part of our culture.”
Andy’s own sailing experience includes around a decade on superyachts. “These days I rarely sail, but enjoy being on the water in my runabout, fishing out of the Hibiscus Coast Boating Club.”
Cup sales – Michelle Nottage
Michelle Nottage, Andy’s wife, manages the America’s Cup Village store. The store is in a building that served as Luna Rossa’s store in 2007 in Valencia. When the event is over, it will be shipped back to Europe. Michelle manages 15 staff, including 19-year-old Nathaniel Churches from Manly. She says while Team NZ clothing is the biggest seller, items from all the other teams are also in demand.
Complex systems – Greg Lewis
Army Bay resident Greg Lewis’s expertise in the increasingly complex world of sailing electronics and instrumentations led to his involvement in three America’s Cups, including the current one, as well as the Volvo Ocean Race.
In 2007 he worked with Team NZ and, in Bermuda, he was part of Oracle Team USA.
Before Team UK arrived in NZ last year, Greg helped set up the electronics for Ineos’s mast. He was part of the team’s shore crew – one of four electronics and instrumentation specialists.
“In 2007 it was all about navigation equipment and load sensors but it has got a lot more complex, involving control sensors as well as navigation,” he says.
Greg says the UK team is a good bunch. “There’s a great atmosphere – they like to give you a hard time,” he says.
Organising talent – Harold Bennett
If Covid alert levels allow, a number of regattas are to be held in association with the America’s Cup.
Manly Sailing Club’s vice commodore, Harold Bennett, is running some of those – a somewhat frustrating process, with one superyacht regatta postponed until the end of this month, due to the February lockdown.
Of course coronavirus has also affected the number of superyachts – Harold says around six are taking part in the Millennium Cup Superyacht regatta.
Harold is a Cup veteran – his first involvement was in 1986 as coach for the NZ Challenge.
He says although he prefers higher wind conditions, when the boats can be foiling, he believes Team NZ looks polished and there is some great racing ahead.
“I’m not making any predictions about a winner. Anything can happen with these boats,” he says.
The community can celebrate the America’s Cup together without leaving the Coast, with live screenings and events in Ōrewa and live screenings at Gulf Harbour Yacht Club. The three-day festival in Ōrewa takes place on March 12-14, when the final races are scheduled to take place. The family-friendly event in Ōrewa Town Centre will feature, on Friday and Saturday, more than 20 food trucks, free children’s entertainment and beanbags in front of a giant LED screen on Moana Reserve. Racing screens at 4.30pm, followed by family movies, 7pm-9pm. Organiser Hellen Wilkins of Destination Ōrewa Beach (DOB) says if racing does not take place that weekend, the movies and food trucks will still be there. The reserve has a permanent 24/7 liquor ban in place, so no BYO alcohol is permitted. The screen will face the restaurants opposite. The annual sandcastle competition will be on Sunday, March 14 and if the Cup challenge has not yet concluded, there will be racing on the big screen at 4pm. The festival is funded by a one-off 14.4 percent levy increase on all Ōrewa businesses, which raised $25,000 (HM June 3, 2020); the DOB events fund and sponsorship.
Gulf Harbour Yacht Club is showing free live coverage of all America’s Cup racing on the big screen in their clubrooms. Racing is scheduled from 4pm on March 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15, with reserve days if needed. Club facilities include a restaurant and bar with great member prices, indoor and outdoor children’s areas, extensive covered outdoor space and petanque court. The club will be open from 3.30pm each race day, welcoming members, guests and prospective members. Info and updates: www.ghyc.co.nz and the club’s Facebook page.