A who's who of New Zealand's wealthy and corporate world will be hob-nobbing on superyachts during the America's Cup while others will pay thousands for a place on board. Jane Phare finds out who'll be out on the harbour and what it costs for a course-side seat.
It might not be the mega-glam America's Cup we were promised, but the big spenders trapped in New Zealand plan to make the most of a good thing.
Covid-19 pulled the bung on the $1 billion economic impact expected from the arrival of thousands of international guests, boasting credit limits the average punter can only dream of.
Gone too is the $450 million of spending that was tethered to 140 superyachts expected in the harbour. But the show must go on and there are still plenty of superyachts and luxury vessels in Auckland ready to put on a show.
The harbour will be awash with champagne, craft beer and pinot gris to accompany thousands of canapes and poke bowls during this month's Prada Cup final and next month's America's Cup match.
New Zealand businesswoman Charlotte Devereux and her partner, former America's Cup grinder Simon Greenwood, will be entertaining up to 60 paying guests aboard their 31-metre superyacht Sea Breeze III.
The couple bought the multimillion-dollar motor yacht in 2018 and spent millions more on an 18-month refit. For $3500 a head, guests will indulge in unlimited champagne, catering courtesy of Josh Emmett's Oyster Inn, and race commentary throughout the day.
The vessel was once owned by billionaire Graeme Hart and originally called Ulysses. Hart names, or renames, most of his superyachts either Ulysses or Odyssey and is fond of repainting their hulls dark blue.
Hart's current superyacht, the 58.2m Odyssey, is in the Bay of Islands but will undoubtedly be back in the Waitematā Harbour for race days. Hart's daughter and son-in-law Gretchen and Duncan Hawkesby are expected to be guests on board after the Hawkesbys sold their 21.3m launch to an Auckland businessman recently.
Another of Hart's formerly dark-blue superyachts, a 40m Princess also named Odyssey, is currently at Westhaven having a spruce-up before her new owner, an Auckland businessman, takes possession in time for the racing.
The vessel was transported from Europe to Whangārei last month and is now at Orams Marine.
Property investment magnates Simon and Paula Herbert are expected to be out on the water on their fast 42.6m superyacht H. It's listed on charter sites for around $277,000 a week plus expenses when it's not being used by the owners.
A new local superyacht on the scene is Rua Moana, a 26.8m luxury motor catamaran built in Tauranga and launched last year. It can accommodate up to 80 day guests and features seven bathrooms, a spa pool and an elegant "Bentley-inspired" interior.
Built with sustainability in mind, Rua Moana has a sparkling water tap to reduce the need for plastic bottles, and a glass-to-sand bottle crusher on board. It's owned by Kiwi Craig Armstrong of Cruise New Zealand and an American businessman who prefers to stay anonymous.
During the Prada Cup (but not the America's Cup match), the owner is offering 20 tickets a day – at $2000 each – which will include food, drink and commentary.
Once the cup is over, Rua Moana will be available for charter at $152,000 a week, plus between $25,000 and $30,000 a day for catering and expenses.
Former NBR owner, novelist and columnist Barry Colman and his wife Kati have been making the most of the challenger series, entertaining friends on their 30.5m Liberte IV, and they'll be out again for the America's Cup match.
Back in 2006 Colman entertained the then Prime Minister Helen Clark and her counterpart, former British PM Tony Blair, aboard Liberte IV for a harbour cruise during Blair's brief trip to New Zealand.
When the Colmans aren't on board, Liberte IV can be chartered at a weekly rate starting at $48,500, by no means the most expensive on the local market.
The Beast, a 39.2m explorer superyacht built for Sir Michael Hill, jeweller, is still available for charter during the America's Cup for $270,000 a week. The rate includes crew but not catering and expenses, which are likely to be an additional $25,000 to $30,000 a day.
Moored outside Emirates Team New Zealand's headquarters at the Viaduct is Imagine II, a sleek 44m yacht owned by Swiss-Italian businessman Matteo de Nora. On race days, her dark blue hull will be out on the water entertaining ETNZ guests and sponsors
De Nora, now team principal, has supported Team New Zealand and worked with Grant Dalton for 20 years on America's Cup campaigns. At their disposal was his original sloop Imagine and now the newer version built by Alloy Yachts in Auckland.
Her cream interior is immaculate yet she's a working boat, having entertained hundreds of guests and supporters, and has been used to transport ETNZ gear.
Before the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia, ETNZ's two masts were stuck in Sicily due to a trucking strike. De Nora's crew lashed the two giant masts to Imagine's deck and sailed them to Valencia.
Imagine will compete with seven other sailing superyachts to compete in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's superyacht regatta from February 24 to 27.
Numbers will be Covid-19 light this year, but the yacht squadron hopes another eight motor superyachts will also enter the regatta.
Missing in action are some of the 140 mega-superyachts, those more than 30m in length and stretching up to more than 100m, that were expected in Auckland pre-Covid. Some may still make it, depending on whether their crews receive immigration clearance to enter the country.
Currently off the coast of Papua New Guinea is the $139m explorer superyacht Bold. The owner Guido Krass, a German industrialist, entrepreneur and keen sailor, and his crew are still waiting for immigration approval to come to Auckland and quarantine on board. If that comes through, the 85m vessel will head to New Zealand this month for refit and repair.
From the outside, Bold resembles a naval frigate but inside she's all luxury – a dance floor, jacuzzi, marble ensuites, accommodation for 16 guests including a massive owner's suite that features his and hers bathrooms (there's a large bath in hers), multiple entertaining spaces, a teppanyaki barbecue and an outdoor bar.
On board toys include a helicopter, three fast tenders (smaller boats) two double jet skis, a sailing yacht, kite surfer, kayaks and paddleboards which can be accessed from an inflatable floating dock at the stern.
Bold has been on a promotional tour of the world pretty much since her launch in Australia in 2019. She is the current pride of Fremantle superyacht specialists SilverYachts, founded by Krass in 2005.
When the owner's not on board, Bold is available for charter for a cool $1.4m a week, plus expenses.
RNZYS Commodore Aaron Young is among those who have been trying to persuade the Government to let superyachts and their owners into the country, not only for the America's Cup but as a boost to the economy.
Boatyards and shipbuilders have faced a desperate struggle to survive after wealthy boat owners stopped arriving in New Zealand.
Young says the owners of a British superyacht intend to spend $20m on a rebuild and a new tender in New Zealand but are yet to be granted immigration approval.
"They're not essential to the America's Cup or the superyacht regatta. It's a shame."
Young says some crews and superyacht captains have been allowed in, others not or permission is pending. The process is "perplexing", he says.
"It doesn't appear to be 100 per cent clear given the money that some of these people would potentially spend is significant. We don't really have a black-and-white rule as to who and why."
In some cases, visiting yachts will be granted an immigration exemption provided they spend at least $50,000 being refitted or repaired in a New Zealand boatyard.
A 55m yacht that arrived in New Zealand in July last year is having a $7m refit at Orams Marine Services in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter.
RNZYS CEO Hayden Porter says money spent by the owners of superyachts has a trickle-down effect on the local economy. Larger vessels would spend $500,000 to refill with fuel and another $500,000 replacing mooring lines.
The crews of those superyachts are allowed to count any days at sea as part of their 14 days required quarantine before they step on to New Zealand soil.
The billionaire owners of America's Cup teams were granted an exemption to bring in their superyachts under an essential service worker exemption.
Hampshire, the 66m superyacht of Ineos director Andrew Currie, has already quarantined in a fenced-off area at Auckland's Queens Wharf after arriving late last year.
Pre-Covid-19, high-end charter companies could expect overseas visitors to pay anywhere from $100,000 a week up to $1 million, according to Fleur Tomlinson, director of 37South Yacht Charter.
"It's unlimited how far you can go. The boats that had planned on coming were pretty massive."
The lack of visiting superyachts available for charter has meant a huge loss in income, she says, but there has been strong interest from New Zealanders wanting to get out on the water. As a result, one-person tickets for a day on a superyacht have nearly sold out and charter companies are running out of vessels to offer clients.
The difference is in dollar terms. The available boats are smaller and cheaper, and Kiwi clients usually just want a day charter. Tomlinson says pre-Covid, families from overseas would charter a large vessel for a week or more to explore the New Zealand coastline.
Kyria Warren, the director of Luxury LAS (Land, Air and Sea) says local demand has been so strong her company "ran out of boats".
She prowled Auckland marinas, photographing large boats and tracking down the owners to ask if they would put their vessels up for charter.