time will tell

I read the other day that Sir Michael Fay (and some others) has resigned his membership of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) in protest for their agreeing to a defense of the  America’s Cup in Barcelona rather than Huaraki Gulf off the coast of Auckland. (A bit late by the way with dibs already being made on the first two team bases in Barcelona)

This is not the first time Sir Michael has steered a different course from the RNZYS for, as he was a member of the Squadron at the time, I have often wondered he launched his Deed of Gift Challenge with the so-called New Zealand ‘Big Boat’ from Mercury Bay Yacht Club and an old Ford Zephyr motor car rather than the more well known RNZYS.

To have launched a Deed of Gift challenge, one might have thought, would have required detailed research and knowledge of every aspect of the Deed of Gift which, of course, makes absolutely no stipulation that any defense should be on the home waters of the defender, rather than the “course” should be mutually decided between the two parties, ie the challenger and the defender.

The defending club’s flag officers surely have a duty to the club (or Squadron in this case) to mount as meaningful a defense as possible, with the most likely success of defending as possible.

That, naturally, includes the correct level of funding.

No one can take away from Sir Michael the financial commitment of the failed Big Boat challenge and he is not the only Kiwi in the past to put their hand in their pocket. For example Peter Blake (he was not yet Sir Peter), when the time was running out to enter a challenge to San Diego Yacht Club, even mortgaged his own home to raise the entry fees.

In fact, the 2000 & 2003 campaigns were largely privately funded with minimal input of funds from the New Zealand Government.

Coming forward to AC36 The NZ  Government report after AC36 showed  return of just 73 cents on the dollar, or in other words a loss of 27% while the general NZ tourism industry was showing a 90% reduction in business with both these low figures being a direct result of New Zealand’s closed borders due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Similar Government reports after the  America’s Cups of 2000 & 2003 showed a benefit to the New Zealand economy of around NZ$500m on each occasion.  If New Zealand inflation is applied to this you are looking at, in today’s terms, a benefit of around NZ$1.7 Billion to say nothing of likely around NZ$100m in GST (General Sales Tax) each time direct to the government coffers. 

Add to that the events catalyzed the long overdue re-development and refurbishment of the Viaduct Basin in Auckland, a facility which has provided employment and profit (and no doubt even more tax) for the 20 or so intervening years until the COVID restrictions which have caused problems for some of the businesses located there.

I am not critical of the fact that the aim of the government was to protect the general population but to then try and ignore the prime reason for the lack of return on the event itself – the government’s own actions – is sadly typical of many politicians where the long term view doesn’t extend past the next elections.

Did the Squadron, ETNZ, or the regatta organizers do a good job? Sure they did. No less a sailor and personality than Ken Read on New Zealand Breakfast TV on the morning of Race 10 stated “I’m super proud…and New Zealand has done a spectacular job” he went on to say “I know more people who aren’t here than people who are here who are just frothing to be here” followed by, a little later “there’s a lot of jealous people out there” “everybody wanted to come” and make no mistake, as a multiple world champion, President of North Sails and skipper of some of ‘the’ boats on the planet he might just know a thing or two about that.

And is Ken a straight talker? Having been fortunate to guest during a VOR in port (Il Mostro) and interviewed him for Sailing Anarchy during another stopover (Mar Mostro) I believe so.

Then with regard to an ‘offshore defense’, he went on to say  “What if you took the New Zealand brand and it was positioned in the middle of Europe? – That’s still your regatta by the way” “All of a sudden you have the best advertising campaign in the world”. (I believe the video is still on Youtube by the way)

Maybe he knew something we didn’t or maybe it was the NZ Government’s plan all along to have a wonderful advert for New Zealand technology at no cost to them. Of course that is just a silly conspiracy theory. Or is it?

Could you imagine if a successful company had one bad quarter just shut up shop? What if Apple hadn’t brought back Steve Jobs, or Warren Buffet hadn’t backed Microsoft or Amazon actually had been allowed to go to the wall around the millennium. Or more up to date, if investors run for the hills after Rivian’s $1.7Bn loss last quarter. Thankfully the corporate world tends to take a longer-term view.

Those, like Sir Michael Fay and others, forget that the primary responsibility of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron along with their team, Emirates Team New Zealand , is to provide the best possible environment for a successful defense of The Cup in AC37, not to provide a free sporting spectacular on the Huaraki Gulf for those who didn’t offer to put their hands deep enough into their pockets.  

It is not their bat or their ball, it is the RNZYS’s and they have elected for ETNZ to go to the crease on their behalf

AC37, I believe, will be a success, as a sporting event and actually financially for the City of Barcelona as well and I hope it actually does make a ton of money for the economy of the city. In a post-COVID, back to the normal world it is most likely. It might just teach some politicians to not play politics with sport.

Only sad thing is that those successes should have been on New Zealand waters, but that is neither at the door of the RNZYS’ nor ETNZ’s.

Time will tell.

Alistair Skinner aka Shanghai Sailor