One superyacht agent, Mark Wightman, said he had five clients with 200-foot plus vessels coming for the races. Two or three would have made the trip from nearby Tahiti if they had been allowed, he said.
“From my point of view, it is probably one of the safest ways to enter the country,” said Hayden Porter, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron chief executive. “There are yachts that will be out there for 20 days at sea, with no contact with anyone, and if they can prove that, return a negative test, surely that is what you want.”
Sailing in on a private luxury vessel with its own accommodations, he added, also meant owners would not take up any of the limited space in New Zealand’s quarantine hotels. Many hotels have been booked out months in advance to house returning Kiwis and essential workers, forcing even wealthy guests like Doug DeVos, the New York Yacht Club member who helped lead the American Magic cup team, to spend his two-week quarantine in a modest hotel two hours south of Auckland.
As Porter spoke from the squadron’s seaside deck, the $120 million superyacht Sherpa, owned by the British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, pulled out of its Auckland berth with some bellowing honks from its horn. Ratcliffe is the owner and financial sponsor of the cup’s British entry, which bowed out of the competition one step short of next week’s finals when it lost to an Italian team in the challenger races. (Unlike many wealthy fans, America’s Cup team owners qualified for special entry into the country.)
With the finals tentatively scheduled to start on Wednesday, the window to get superyacht spectators into New Zealand has all but closed. That has its small advantages, Busfield said. Like a child avoiding the seat behind a big-headed adult at a baseball game, the smaller and locally owned boats did not have to jostle with bigger vessels for a view of the racing during the recent Prada Cup, which determined the final challenger to face the cup defender, Team New Zealand.
Also absent was the three-hour wait to dock a boat after racing finished for the day, as there was during the 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland.