The first race of the America's Cup featured a couple of politicians, of the same party no less. The prize: Who gets to decide where the syndicate bases will be built.

It's Mayor Phil Goff v Economic Development Minister David Parker, and they're going right down to the wire.

Goff, coached by Team New Zealand (TNZ), won the start with a slick manoeuvre. Not only was his favoured option - a 75m extension to Halsey and Hobson wharves - preferred, but he managed to ensure three other entries, including Captain Cook Wharf, crashed and sank in the starting blocks. TNZ had advised they weren't suitable.

But Goff was also generous, insisting that Parker's option - essentially, putting all the infrastructure on Wynyard Point - be allowed to stay in the race. Parker repaid him by edging into the lead as they rounded the first mark.

Advertisement

Both politicians need to win this race, not least because they want to impress Auckland's overlapping business and sailing communities. At stake are the bragging rights to fiscal responsibility and environmental guardianship, but there are also complicating cross-winds from a clash of short-term and long-term goals for the waterfront.

Goff and his council want to control Auckland affairs and they want the Cup campaign to fit with their plans for the future. Parker and the Government have not trusted the council to deliver. They appear to believe, just as the previous Government believed in Canterbury, that they can do better.

By the second mark, Parker was further in front.

Goff's "Wynyard Basin" option, according to the council's development agency, Panuku, is about $90 million cheaper than the alternative. But Parker disputed those figures.

He said the environmental clean-up required for his "Wynyard Point" (Tank Farm) option would probably incur "a very small fraction" of the costs cited by Panuku. He appeared to have that advice directly from Stolthaven, the principal leaseholder of the Tank Farm land.

Parker then observed that the clean-up will have to be done regardless of the Cup, which is true. Why, he wondered, should it even be counted as a Cup expense? Goff incurred a penalty and had to go round the mark again.

Parker's analysis is surprising, because it implies Panuku was misled. But who by? Was it TNZ, which prefers Wynyard Basin?

Mayor Phil Goff must have been furious. Some of his crew had been knocked clean out of the boat.

Advertisement

By the third mark, Parker was way in front. Panuku had told the council last year that new moorings on the outer west edge of Wynyard, required for the Point option, might not be safe enough in poor weather.

But that didn't seem to make sense: if the Point didn't work, why had it not sunk at the start-line, along with the Captain Cook option?

Down to the fourth mark and the race was all but over. Parker, who is also Environment Minister, had the environmental advantage.

That's because Goff's plan includes 14m-high buildings along the 75m extension to the wharves, which will stay for as long as TNZ holds the Cup, and a permanent 14m-high base for TNZ on the end of Hobson Wharf.

That all contradicts his own position during the election campaign in 2016, that not one more inch of the harbour should be encroached on.

It's a significant structural and visual change to the waterfront, and it isn't even contemplated in the council's new City Centre and Waterfront Masterplan, the draft of which was tabled last year.

Parker's plan involved no wharf extension and the buildings would largely replace existing industrial structures. Far less environmental disruption.

On the last leg, it seemed Parker was so convinced of victory he handed his boat to officials and left the country on other business.

And that's when the wind changed.

Goff revealed to this paper yesterday that Parker now supports a modified version of his own Wynyard Basin proposal. Parker's own Point option was utterly becalmed.

Goff said some of the bases on Halsey Wharf will be smaller, but the Halsey and Hobson extensions will go ahead. If he's right, Parker might still sail home a winner, but he'll be in Goff's boat. Perhaps having gifted Goff some superior foils.

This comp is not really about where to put some boatsheds. It's about the long-term future of the waterfront and especially of Wynyard Point.

That new masterplan dreams big for Wynyard Point, with a proposed open park on the east side and apartment buildings on the west. Parker's desire to put all the Cup infrastructure there seriously threatened the whole thing.

The Halsey extension doesn't undermine the masterplan at all, although it's not part of it. Ironically, the old 2012 plan does allow for a Halsey extension, but they took it out for the 2017 version. Surplus to requirements, they thought, just a year ago.

It's the apartments that are strategically vital. They'll be super-expensive, so they generate revenue to help pay for the new parkland and – fingers crossed – a major museum on the headland.

And yet there's a complication. The masterplan has no status - it's a draft that hasn't been debated or put out for public consultation yet, let alone adopted as policy. Stand by for all that, this year.

Auckland wants the America's Cup. That's not in dispute. Parker's rigour on the costs and environmental impacts has shown Goff and the council, especially Panuku, that they cannot allow Team New Zealand to dictate terms.

That's a good lesson. Goff, meanwhile, has been determined not to be sidelined, to show the Government and Panuku and Team New Zealand he really is in charge. That's fair enough too. He is the mayor.

The boatshed race is nearly over. My bet is that they'll contrive happy smiles all round and declare everyone a winner.

Unless, of course, the wind changes again.