The 36th America's Cup has helped reconnect the sport with its grassroots. Michael Donaldson talks to a young sailor who had a closer experience than most.
The photo you see below sums up everything that's both aspirational and egalitarian about our nation's love for sailing and it somehow captured all that's good about the event that's unfolded on the Waitematā Harbour this long, dry summer.
I've been known to play the grumpy old man card when it comes to views on the America's Cup — it's a rich man's sport, the Government's investment is a waste of taxpayer money, Grant Dalton is this or that.
Over the years, the America's Cup has bordered on farcical — as much time spent in court as on the water; more time spent in creating multi-million-dollar designs than racing them. A technological arms-race instead of an old-fashioned boat race.
But in recent years, there's been an attempt to reconnect the event with the people. The intimate nature of the 2013 event in San Francisco is echoed in Auckland.
What I love about the photo is the idea that Peter Burling and his crew are racing past a fleet of dinghies. It's like Formula One cars testing on the same stretch of road as kids riding their bikes. Burling sharing the water with teenagers in Starlings has a certain Kiwiness to it.
Sophie-Jo Hawkins, 14, is like millions of other Kiwis — glued to the racing when it's on and with a view on who will win.
But she also had a close encounter with Team New Zealand when Te Rehutai whizzed by while she was sailing her Starling in the North Island Championships at Kohimarama in January.
"I was aware of them — I saw them go around Rangitoto but I didn't realise they came so close behind me until I saw the photo," Hawkins says.
The teenager is inspired by the boat and the technology.
"It just looks amazing — I'd love to be going out on the water with the foils and going that fast."
Like Burling — and hundreds of thousands of Kiwi kids over the years — she started her sailing experience in a tiny, egalitarian Optimist.
But the need for speed is one of the reasons she quickly ditched the Opti and moved to Starlings.
"The most recent club regatta, I came in third place — and it's only recently I started doing well in races, because before that, I was in an Opti and I didn't really enjoy it, but now I'm in a Starling, I like racing more because I enjoy the boat better.
"The Opti just doesn't make sense to me — why do they need airbags to stay afloat?"
Hawkins got her first taste of sailing with her mother Zoe aboard her Topaz class yacht — "but she sold it and we didn't sail much at all for a while".
But living a short walk from the French Bay Yacht Club in Titirangi, the lure of sailing was always there.
"When I was eight, I did a holiday programme down at French Bay — I learned to sail in an Opti but then I stopped.
"Last year, I started again and I did the learn to sail course all over again and I did it fast because I already knew it."
Now in her first full season racing, she loves the competitive aspect, but just as important is being on the water, mainly in Manukau Harbour.
"I do really love racing — but I also love just being out on the water with my friends. The other weekend, we sailed out to the channel markers and jumped off those — we did get into trouble, but it was worth it."
Her one small gripe with sailing is that there are far more boys than girls and she would love to see that change — at her level and at America's Cup level.
"It's definitely a male-dominant sport — it's not too bad, but you always see boys winning races and not the girls. And I'm one of the only girls in my club as well.
"It would be amazing if women could be in the America's Cup team or if there was a women's team."
Of course she's too young to even know about the Leslie Egnot-helmed Mighty Mary, part of the America³ syndicate that contested the defender series in 1995.
Curiously, Olympic sailing was considered gender-neutral for decades until a separation of the sexes in 1988. And the programme for Tokyo, if it goes ahead this year, features one mixed crew class, the 470.
But that's for another day. Right now, all eyes will be on Burling and his crew as they do battle with Luna Rossa.
"I do think New Zealand will win from what I've seen," says Hawkins. "And I also want New Zealand to win."
Meet the Team NZ crew
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride.
• Don't forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America's Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.