On my recent tour of the South Pacific, wedged in between my departure from Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and arrival in Brisbane, Australia, was a one-day stopover in Auckland, New Zealand. I came away from it with news for all the sailors in the States who, over their mugs of rum on the club patio, debate whether Newport, Rhode Island, or Little Newport (a.k.a. Annapolis, Maryland) can lay rightful claim to the title of Sailing Capital of World.
Neither town, I can now honestly say, comes close to Auckland where even the waitresses and bus boys keep a keen eye on the water.
Yes, the Kiwis are plum crazy for sails. And wings.
In the late morning as I stood by the railing at the Viaduct waiting to meet CW contributing editors Alvah and Diana Simon for lunch, a small crowd gathered to watch across the harbor where a crane was lowering the rig in place on the first of the new AC 45s. Recently launched by Oracle Racing, the winged cat had been tearing up the waters around the bustling harbor for the past several days.
Later that afternoon, in one of the many chandleries that line the streets behind the old Cup compound, a cashier told me knowingly that they were still working out the kinks of how to tame the wing when the speed demon was at rest.
I thanked him for this inside knowledge.
Minutes later, I walked down to view Oracle’s dock space and ran into a couple of North Sails reps who immediately offered me an invitation to go racing that evening. Though they promised a large and lively fleet, I had to decline since I was meeting up with travelmates. That evening, we sat sipping fine New Zealand wine and watched a seeming armada taking turns around the buoys on a course out past the reportedly largest marina in the Southern Hemisphere.
From where we sat, had someone made the claim, I’d have agreed that surely I was sitting in the true citadel of our sport.
Still, for all the talk all along the waterfront, no one could explain the duck. Large and very yellow, I never did find out where it came from and why it was there. It made me wonder, though, how long it would take for Newport and Annapolis to get ducks just like it to call their own.