Passion for boating runs deep in Auckland

By David Eames
Part one of a three-part series marking Auckland Anniversary weekend.

The boats are getting bigger, the marinas are getting fuller and hectic work schedules are making it harder to find time to take the boat out.

But Aucklanders still love their sailing.

A best-guess is the best you will get when attempting to estimate the number of craft plying the waters around Auckland. The city that has hosted two America's Cups is home to 135,000 "proper" boats, according to the Maritime Industry Association. Add kayaks, jetskis and windsurfers and the number leaps to more than 200,000.

Harbourmaster John Lee-Richards reckons Aucklanders' love of the water is a mixture of history, geography and attitude. Maori canoes and European sailing boats competed in Auckland's early days in regattas that continue to this day.

A particularly beautiful harbour and some favourable geography help make Auckland a boatie's paradise. Its position on the leeward side of the island protects from harsh weather coming in from Australia and islands in the gulf protect from big swells, Mr Lee-Richards says.

"You can always run somewhere in impending rough weather and get a safe anchorage."

At the 1860-berth Westhaven Marina, demand for space is forcing management to rethink constantly its use of space, as many people are moving away from the traditional swing moorings and opting for the convenience of a marina berth.

Westhaven, the largest marina in the Southern Hemisphere, is looking to convert a number of its three-pile moorings to marinas, as busy Aucklanders plump for being able to walk to their crafts.

Marina manager Keith Hogan says marina berths are winning out as boat-mad Aucklanders want to spend as much time on the high seas as possible. They don't want to have to spend time rowing their family members, food and supplies out to a boat waiting at a swing or pole mooring offshore when they can simply walk along a jetty to their vessel.

"They know, at a marina, they can just get on their boat and go."

Westhaven has about 40 swing-mooring sites, which are "100 per cent full all the time", Mr Hogan says.

But whether it's a marina parking space or a mooring offshore, boating remains a pre-eminent pastime.

"In the past couple of years, there has been more and more demand. As population grows, the percentage that gets into boating remains relatively constant. The demand for berthage has, as well."

Like Westhaven, Gulf Harbour Marina is full to the Plimsoll line, with occupancy rates running at about 97 per cent.

Manager Tom Warren says cost-conscious sailors tend to take the swing and pile moorings, leaving the marina berths to the mariners with bigger boats and more money.

Mr Warren, a former professional sailor, believes the craft preference of the average sailor is changing, with more people favouring launches over the traditional sail boat.

"People are getting busier. Whilst you have got your passionate yachties, Ma and Pa want a launch [so] they can get to places."

Bayswater Marina general manager Phil Wardell says his operation has seen "steady growth, year on year" since its opening in 1998. The 430-berth marina is also chocka, with only a few "very large berths" still to fill.

Mr Wardell says Auckland's passion for boating goes back generations.

"I think for many people, their family has always had a boat, and the lifestyle is attractive because there are so many places to go when you are in Auckland."

Unlike many hobbies, the urge to muck around in boats appears to be recession proof, Mr Hogan says.

The Iraq war and the subsequent skyrocketing price of oil has failed to dent the city's passion for boating, even among the larger boat owners.

"If you have $50,000 to $80,000 to buy the launch, you have the $600 to fill the diesel tank."

Any concession to an economic downturn usually comes in the form of postponements to the purchase of new gear, he says.

Both men have also seen the size of boats increasing in recent years.

"The trend at the moment is for bigger and bigger boats," Mr Hogan says.

Vessel sizes have increased over recent years, from 8 to 9m craft, to 16m launches.

But whether it is a launch or a yacht, big boat or small, Aucklanders - like their counterparts around the country - keep heading to the water in droves, Mr Warren says.

"New Zealanders are passionate boaties at the end of the day, and they will do what they can to get out."

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 15 Sep 2014 23:04:44 Processing Time: 991ms