Royal NZ Yacht Squadron, general manager Hayden Porter prefers boats with motors, but has spent his life around the sailing community. He now finds himself custodian of the America’s Cup and about to enter preparations for the next defence. Editor Terry Moore spoke with Hayden shortly before Auckland Council made its decision on the preferred team base for hosting the 36th America’s Cup in 2021.
I am not much of a sailor – but as my wife points out, they don’t employ zookeepers to run zoos. I grew up in Christchurch and my first boating experience was at Banks Peninsula, sailing around Diamond Harbour in Optimists and other small boats. My family had various powerboats and I often went fishing with Dad in a dingy with a little Seagull outboard, catching blue cod. My family moved to Auckland for my last year at school so I went to Takapuna Grammar for seventh form – and though that school is renowned for yachties, I was too engrossed in other sports like dragon boating, soccer and cricket.
I studied hotel management and my first job was at the Mon Desir hotel on the North Shore, after which I moved to the tourism mecca of Queenstown for a few years. The America’s Cup brought me back to Auckland in a way – the role was duty and revenue manager for the brand new Hilton Hotel. I was to make sure that all the rooms were full to capacity for the defence of the America’s Cup in 2003. It’s a great example of what an America’s Cup defence can do for Auckland going forward.
I got in at the development stage of some of Auckland’s biggest hotels, but following the global financial crisis, a lot of new hotel builds ceased. I moved to Niue and lived there with my family for three-and-a-half years running a tourism development programme for the NZ and Niue governments, building hotels, re-branding the island and gearing it up for tourism. It was a blank canvas role that you could add your own flavour to. I was assisting with attracting yachties to visit, as well as cruise ships and fishing charters – it was a very marine based place. Our two boys, Isaac and Lachie, grew up in Niue and had some amazing experiences including swimming with humpbacked whales.
My parents lived in Army Bay and we stayed with them when visiting home. We really enjoyed it so when it was time to move back to New Zealand, we opted for something we felt was closer to the island lifestyle and moved to the Hibiscus Coast in 2013/14. My wife Sarah found an acre in Stanmore Bay, close to the Weiti River and surrounded by farms, yet only a 10-minute walk to the beach. When we first moved there I tried to take a summer off, but a consulting contract came up running a Sydney hotel, so I commuted from Stanmore Bay to Sydney for three months. Then Sarah, who is a keen sailor, encouraged me to apply for the role at the squadron. When I looked closer, it covered all my interests – it’s a very diverse operation and way more complex than any hotel. There are more than 50 fulltime staff and we have everything from a very large food and beverage operation, which can serve up to 5000 meals a week, to a large training side. This caters for adult learn-to-sail through to high performance athletes including many of the Emirates Team NZ previous and current members and almost all of the Youth America’s Cup team. We run 1500 race starts a year through the club – from small youth regattas to international events such as the Volvo Ocean race. Collectively, we have a lot of ‘brains trust’ that we can draw on. My job is to help bring all that together.
While the boating was certainly a bonus, running the business is my primary focus. The club has been around for almost 150 years, so there’s a lot of tradition to maintain while ensuring we are set up well for the future. We have over 3000 members, around 60 sponsors and corporate members, and that is constantly growing so I have a lot of balls in the air at any one time. That suddenly stepped up another gear when Emirates Team NZ won the America’s Cup. Suddenly I have a role as custodian of the Cup while it is in NZ – and a big part of that is to ensure that the public feel involved. As well as bringing it to Gulf Harbour Yacht Club, we had a two-week tour of NZ, from the Bay of Islands to Bluff covering more than 20 smaller regional clubs and it was quite an experience for everyone. Last month we took the Cup to China. It goes business class in its own seat with a security guard sitting next to it and we had 24-hour security while we were there. We went to promote the sport of yachting in China and long-term seeing if there’s interest in entering the America’s Cup again.
In my view, the most sensible option for the team base, that will leave lasting legacy benefits and work for the event, is the Halsey extension. Starting in January, my job will step up a notch as I’m responsible for accepting entries to the 36th America’s Cup to be hosted here in Auckland in 2021, all going well. The event is actually a challenge between yacht clubs and with that the squadron is responsible for making sure the whole of NZ is behind the team and that the cup is accessible for Kiwis to come and see. We have a support role to play, helping where we can with Emirates Team NZ, as we do with the dozens of teams that we have competing at any one time all over the world. We have a team in the Extreme Series, which is almost a second tier to the America’s Cup, and youth teams compete all over the world at any one time gaining experience on the world stage and preparing them for a professional career in sailing. We also support NZ Marine in terms of promoting job opportunities in the marine industry including boat building. The nationality rules within the America’s Cup protocol go back to the original Deed of Gift so we are reverting to the original intention of the competition. I can only see positive effects for the NZ marine industry as a whole – we saw what it did at the last defence and they’re expecting 150 plus super yachts into NZ through that period, which each contribute $3 million per vessel to the economy. All those boats need work done on them, fuel and other services.
I have been surrounded by sailors my entire life and a lot of my good friends and family have sailed at a very high level, so I understand the sport and the people very well. I wasn’t able to go to Bermuda for the last Cup, as I had to be ‘last man standing’ in Auckland as the local media and club contact. News crews came down every morning and I was also managing the hundreds of people who came to watch the racing at the club. Two seconds after the boats cross the finish line, the commodore is handed a challenge for the next America’s Cup, and that country becomes the challenger of record. At the club, all our email servers were shut down, phones were turned off and there was security on the door because potentially if someone handed a challenge to one of our staff, that could be the challenger of record. You have to accept the first one. In the end, our commodore accepted the next challenge, from the Italians, which was done at the bottom of a super yacht in secrecy.
It’s exciting times as we prepare for the next challenge and I feel very privileged to be involved and responsible to make sure we are represented well and that the code of ethics that go with being a custodian of the Cup are executed well. Ideally, it’s not a one-off!