The world’s oldest sporting trophy, dating from 1851, has been won for the third time by New Zealand.

Kiwis are known for their love of rugby but when a New Zealand boat is racing for the America’s Cup, the nation comes to a standstill as millions sit in front of large TV screens to hold their breaths and cross their fingers as the locally built boat, with Kiwi yachtsmen, takes on the other challengers.


New Zealand is an island nation with 15,000 km of coastline. The vast majority of the country’s 4.5 million citizens live only a few kilometers from the sea. Knowing this, it is no surprise that sea based activities have always been popular. Currently, there are 109 yachting clubs around New Zealand with 38 of these in Auckland (No wonder it is called ‘The City of Sails’). I used to live close to one of these clubs and every weekend, I’d gaze past the beach at the fluttering wall of small sails as children negotiated their training yachts against the breeze. In fact, whenever I passed the club, no matter what time of day there were always yachts gliding about as men and women honed their sailing skills or just enjoyed some time on the water.

I grew up in Dunedin, in the cooler part of the country. Despite the harbour’s cold water, there are 6 yachting clubs dotted along its shore. Although activities are somewhat reduced over the winter, the warmer months encourage Dunedin yachtsmen into their boats. Recognized as one of the world’s top yachtsman, Russell Coutts has won the America’s Cup 5 times!  He has also been world champion in match racing on numerous occasions. He won a gold medal in the single handed Finn Class at the 1984 Olympic Games. Amazingly, Russell first took to the water on Dunedin’s harbor when he became a junior member of the Ravensbourne Boating Club. Dunedin’s climate certainly didn’t put him off his interest in yachting!

However, before Russell came into prominence as a yachtsman, there was Peter Blake who is a New Zealand icon and the nation’s favourite sailor. In 1995, Peter was the first Kiwi skipper to win the America’s Cup for New Zealand. He was also involved with the 2000 cup defense when New Zealand kept the prized trophy making it the first time it had been defended outside the USA. When Peter was murdered by pirates on his boat while he was undertaking environmental work on the Amazon River, New Zealand was thrown into a state of shock. Today, a whole section of the Maritime Museum in Auckland is dedicated to his achievements.


Recognized as a world leader in carbon composite manufacturing, Auckland boat builder Southern Spas was already building two of the complex 23.6m wings for Emirates Team New Zealand when they were asked to go one step further and build the most technologically advanced yacht ever constructed. The best technicians in the world spent a total of 19,000 hours to create the groundbreaking yacht. The boat and crew Oracle, the main competitor, came up with proved no match for New Zealand’s state-of-the-art boat and highly honed team. This was despite the vast sums of money Larry Ellison, Oracle’s boss, had thrown into his challenge. Allison is worth $55 billion and is the 7th wealthiest person in the world. His defeat just proved that passion, skill and Kiwi ingenuity is more powerful than super wealth.

New Zealand’s America’s Cup Yacht 2017


Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are today’s yachting heroes. As a duo, they won gold at the last Olympics and are currently considered two of the finest yachtsmen in the world. Peter is a 420, 49er and Moth World champion. At the age of 26, Peter was given the job of helming New Zealand’s boat for this year’s America’s Cup challenge. He was in fact, the youngest man to ever skipper a boat in the 35 year history of the greatest yachting race on earth.

Olympic Gold for Peter Burling (left) and Blair Tuke

 From 2013 to 2016, Peter and Blair won four consecutive 49er class World Championships and were the first sailors to achieve this feat. They also won all 28 of the major 49er regattas between the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics. At just 25, Peter Burling was the youngest ever Olympic gold medal skipper in the 49er class.

Peter was only 6 when he first climbed into a small yacht called Jellytip at the local boating club in Tauranga. Two years later, he became a member of the Tauranga Yacht Club. In 2002, at just 11, he took part in the Optimist World Championships in Texas. The following year, he won the New Zealand Optimist Nationals. Four years later, at just 15 Peter (with Carl Evans) won the 420 Class Worlds in the Canary Islands.  They were the youngest sailors ever to do so. They also won the under-16 and under-18 world championships.


After New Zealand won the America’s Cup for the first time,  part of Auckland’s inner city water front was transformed from a rundown fishing depot into a sophisticated residential precinct. The Viaduct Basin, as it is called, is now one of the city’s prime entertainment areas, filled with waterside bars and restaurants, as well as international hotels. It is a busy summer base for super yachts. Another part of the Viaduct Basin has been more recently developed into the Wynyard Quarter, for extra entertainment, outdoor theatres and eating areas.

Before the win, this waterfront area was just a rundown dock for rusty fishing boats. I used to walk through this area and beside the weather beaten wooden wharf there was a vacant expanse of land that was puddle filled in the winter and dusty in the summer. A large corrugated iron warehouse stood empty and rusting at the roadside. It was an unsightly area needing a lot of money spent on it to make it something the city could be proud of.

Auckland waterfront before the America’s Cup win

The various syndicates who came to Auckland to challenge for the America’s Cup provided this money. When the Americans won the cup back, the bases built for the competing teams from around the world were replaced by attractive apartment complexes and hotels. Now with the cup back in New Zealand, plans are being drawn up for more development to accommodate the team bases that will be needed for the next challenge in 4 years time.

Viaduct ApartmentsPart of Viaduct Harbour

Winning the America’s Cup is more than having a trophy to display. As already discovered, it is also the driver of new land developments and industry. Aucklanders are looking forward to the influx of money and ideas that will result from the next challenge and are already discussing what exciting new developments will take place in the city before America’s Cup races are again held in New Zealand.

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Ceidrik Heward


  1. Angela Stevenson says

    Great story

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