AUCKLAND: Team New Zealand sailed out from Auckland harbor yesterday to the sounds of a Maori haka and returned to an almighty roar as they once again clinched the America’s Cup. Even the sound of foghorns blaring from hundreds of boats could not drown out the cheers from tens of thousands of Kiwi fans celebrating their team’s victory in yachting’s most prestigious trophy.
Crowds thronged Auckland’s waterfront Viaduct precinct, with few signs New Zealand’s largest city emerged from COVID-19 lockdown just 11 days ago. Notices urged spectators to scan into contact tracing apps, but that reminder of the virus did little to quell the party atmosphere among the maskless crowds.
With no social distancing needed in a country that has largely contained the virus, open-air bars and fan zones were packed shoulder-to-shoulder as crowds intently watched the race on big screens. A lucky few queued up early to secure spots on charter boats heading out as part of a huge spectator fleet to view racing between team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa live on the water.
“The atmosphere is brilliant, electric,” Irishman Mark Moynahan said, celebrating an America’s Cup-St Patrick’s Day double. “Being out of lockdown is fantastic. It feels like people are breathing again, enjoying themselves, which is what it’s all about.”
‘We pulled it off’
The pandemic did have an impact on the regatta, forcing the cancellation of some warm-up events and preventing overseas sailing enthusiasts from attending. There were only a few super-yachts dotted around Auckland’s docks, rather than the 150-plus organizers had hoped to attract with their big-spending, mega-wealthy owners. “It’s a little disappointing. If borders were open there would have been so many more people here.” long-time sailing fan Garry Allport said. “We’ve got a great atmosphere here today but overall, because of the situation, the event hasn’t got the international visitors it deserves.”
A knot of Italian fans gathered at Luna Rossa’s base to give the day’s events a much-needed international flavor. The Italian crew were up against it, with Team New Zealand needing just one more race victory to reach the seven wins needed to claim the best-of-13 trophy. They remained defiantly upbeat heading out to the racecourse, blowing kisses and playing the national anthem as their supporters yelled “Forza!”
Anna Smyk-Grosso originally hailed from Poland but said she was flying the flag for Europe and her Italian husband. “Luna Rossa haven’t had much support and the Kiwis have had a lot,” she said, with Italy’s tricolore flag draped around her shoulders. “For me, they’ve also been very unlucky at times.” But the day was essentially a victory lap for Team New Zealand, who cruised around the shore to give fans a better view of their hi-tech yacht instead of making their way straight to the racecourse. “It’s amazing, just amazing,” Lois Madgwick said.
“I came along today because I’m 75 and probably won’t be here for the next America’s Cup. “I’m so glad I did and so proud to be a Kiwi today.” Madgwick said New Zealanders had overcome numerous challenges just to stage the regatta, let alone win it. “We’re this little country at the bottom of the world and it’s been really, really hard for everyone,” she said. “But we did it, we kept everything together and we pulled it off.” – AFP