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  Inside Team New Zealand

Earlier in the year I blocked off a week to travel to San Francisco for the start of the America’s Cup. With only three challengers, then two after the Artemis accident I questioned briefly whether the trip was still a good idea. Of course it was, I quickly decided, and besides I hadn’t been to San Francisco in over 30 years!

Regardless of a general lack of real racing the trip was one of the highlights of all my travels. San Francisco is a fabulous city, very different to most in the USA. Maybe it’s the harbour, maybe the hills, or maybe the wooden Victorian houses – many made of NZ Kauri. It is a city so familiar to us from all the TV shows and movies. It seemed quite unchanged over the last 30 years.

There are some numerous galleries, museums and parks. Great shopping and sightseeing with cable cars, The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz topping the list. And to complete the list for any great city it has many fabulous restaurants.  But for me that was all a side show – I was here to do my bit as a Kiwi and show my support for our sailors!

We were extremely lucky. With contacts we were able to get past the security fence and right into the Team NZ base and spend quite a bit of time on the inside. What a highlight! From the moment you arrive you can see this place is no number eight wire, she’ll be right place. The base entry is via red carpeted steps – these are vacuumed several times daily. Nothing here is out of place, everything highly organised. But it is still very Kiwi – the Plastic Waka dominates the pier on one side and the shipping container hangars, one decorated like downtown Otorohanga, on the other. 

Check out Images from Inside Team NZ's base

When the hangars are opened and our boat Aotearoa is hauled out dominance takes on a whole new meaning. The platform (the two hulls) are big enough, then the wing sail – bigger than an Airbus A380 wing – is wheeled out and hauled skyward by the crane. To stand at ground level close to this machine is truly awe-inspiring. The whole launch process is remarkable with 40+ team members, many ropes and one large crane involved!

Inside the team area you are confronted by a portrait of Sir Peter Blake. His influence still runs deep here. The portrait softens as you walk towards it and you see it is made of tulle – a fragile medium for such a hardened man! The offices and team mess are a well orgainsed jumble of shipping containers – stark grey and white, apart from the giant buzzy bee overhead!

Guests on the hospitality list are greeted on Race Day One with a resounding Maori Welcome and short concert before being shown inside the Waka which has been re-fitted, lined in pine to become a maritime Koru lounge. Sponsors Nespresso serve coffees at one end and Skyy Vodka cocktails (post racing) at the other.

Being the first day Grant Dalton the CEO has stayed shoreside for now – he’ll catch up with the boat further down the harbour.  He wants to see how the ho
spitality system is working. This guy is a detail man – everything has to work just right. As you would expect he has a firm handshake but what struck me was the sheer determination on his face and in his eyes – eyes that are all over the entire operation. 

We are treated to a pre-race briefing from Grant himself. He explains a bit about the ‘shenanigans’ of the rudder debates, protests and the fact that Luna Rossa have decided to do a no-show for today’s race! He re-assures us that Team New Zealand will still be racing hard - taking every opportunity to push themselves, test and retest – and hopefully put on a show for us. And yes he is confident of victory today and tells us that the team is totally committed to bringing the cup home in September.

Out on the water we park close Alcatraz and wait. The boat is easily visible even though it is several kms away near the Golden Gate Bridge – they are big boats! You don’t need to hear the starting gun. You can see when the race has started – these things just take off literally. I will never forget the sight of this huge cat coming straight towards us right up out of the water on its foils. It is just so fast, so spectacular and so photogenic against the San Francisco skyline.

To me it did not matter a bit that it was a race of one. The whole day was truly inspirational. So far we are winning on the water and on shore, winning in technology and most of all in teamwork and the spirit of sportsmanship. This has not gone unnoticed in San Francisco and our support base has been swelled by thousands many of them locals who just love this kiwi challenge vs Oracle’s big business ‘just buy it’ defence!

Lean with us!