It was a case of Auckland's loss being Whangārei's gain after a submersible vessel carrying luxury yachts from around the globe bypassed its usual dock and arrived at Northport this week.
The sighting of the 209m long vessel arriving on Tuesday caused much speculation on the Parua Bay/Whangārei Heads Community Facebook Page with some dubbing it the "ship-shipping ship" and another commenter suggesting it was bringing a replacement for Team USA.
Northport spokesman Peter Heath confirmed the heavy load carrier Yacht Express had arrived as part of an annual routine global circuit which arrives in Auckland every January.
"The Yacht Express principals decided on Monday this week that Yacht Express would call at Northport instead of at Auckland, where shipping congestion would have created challenges for the offloading operation."
He added: "This time last year, local agents McKay Shipping were expecting twice as many vessels to be delivered to New Zealand on this call, in time for the America's Cup. But Covid-19 has had an impact, resulting in just seven being delivered."
The first seven luxury vessels were floated off the carrier on Thursday and were believed to comprise several superyachts with two up to 40m long with four hailing from the Mediterranean which typically charter out for six-figure sums. Another is understood to belong to a Kiwi woman who had been living in the Mediterranean and flown into New Zealand before isolating and reuniting with her vessel.
A further 14 vessels were due to begin the loading process at 9am today ready for the Yacht Express's departure tomorrow.
The Yacht Express is described as a "floating dry dock". The loading process involves taking on seawater ballast and submerging the deck. The yachts are floated aboard and positioned on supports. After the vessels are secured, the ballast tanks are drained, the ship rises, and the stern drains.
To discharge vessels, the process is more or less repeated in reverse; The stern is flooded before 10 divers will go in to release the sea fastenings, and the yachts float free of their supports. The loading process is expected to be complete by midday today.
It is believed today's cargo involves yachts belonging to international sailors who had been in the country pre-lockdown and were returning their boats to their home countries while flying out themselves.
Based in Florida, Yacht Express' delivery is a global exercise. On this voyage, she started in Genoa (Italy) and then called at Palma (Majorca), Martinique (Caribbean), Port Everglades (Florida), then travelled through the Panama Canal to Golfito (Costa Rica) and Tahiti before arriving in New Zealand. From Northport she will go to Brisbane, Ensenada (Mexico), then back to Golfito, through the Panama Canal and on to her home port of Port Everglades and then on to Palma.
Said Heath: "Northport is delighted to host Yacht Express and believes that her call demonstrates the flexibility of its multi-purpose facility and the 'can-do' approach of its team."
Along with better water clarity for the divers, local representatives of Yacht Express owners DYT said that the wharf, facilities and piloting service at Northport are "very good" and the company will consider Yacht Express calling at Northport in the future.