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Saturday, February 20, 1999

February 21, 1999-Auckland Backwater

Wings, at West Park

We stumbled onto a true backwater, and it has been delightful.

It started when we went looking for an inexpensive boatyard where we could do our annual haul out. Someone recommended West Park. Where is West Park?

A quick look at the map (the one which came with the van called "Lucky Lucy", thanks to Jim and Kathy who sold, donated, or left the van for us, depending on how you look at it) told us it was was up Waitemata Harbor, about 5 miles past the Auckland Harbor Bridge. We drove there in Lucky Lucy and found this nice quiet little boatyard next to a nice quiet little marina. The guy who runs the boatyard is Kevin Lidgard. I only talked to him for a couple of minutes before Doug Christy's name came up and we were talking IOR boats. He said he had five of them. Now that I think about it I remember Doug mentioning sailing on Kevin Lidgard's 50 ft IOR boat once or twice. I guess now we have completed a circle of some sort.

We hauled out on Friday and got right to work sanding the bottom, which is a hard, dirty job, but that is not the story here. It's the West Park backwater that caught us.

First we met John and Sara Peacock. They are Brit cruisers who have a cafe here at Westpark Marina. They are earning money for their next cruise while their kids finish school. They are the ones who called this place a "nice little backwater". They make good lattes and scones. We ate at their cafe each morning while we read the New Zealand Herald. They invited us to a meeting where another cruising couple were going to give a talk on cruising in Turkey.

In the laundry room there is a note from someone looking for charts of New Caledonia and Eastern Australia, and another advertising a used battery charger (trade for a solar panel or wind generator.)

Then we found our way into the Clearwater Yacht Club. It looked to us like it was really a restaurant, but they have a race schedule and some social events. We saw a news letter which mentioned that they were reducing the annual membership dues by about 50% which they thought will still give them enough to hold all the events which the club members were used to, since they had scaled down on a bunch of other stuff. Sounded good to us.

Sitting in the Clearwater Yacht Club bar tonight we overheard conversations around the room. At one table the owner of a race boat buying drinks for his new crew members after the first day together on the water. It was reminded me of some of our crew when they were younger and more naive then they might be nowadays to see these young, fresh faced, kids asking the owner if they owed him anything for the day's sailing.

Then Kevin Lidgard arrived and sat down with his wife and son, (I assume that is who they were, based on the family resemblance) and I could hear the younger Lidgard telling his dad about the dingy race he'd been in earlier. "...I caught my foot in the vang...It was awesome to be in the water but when I got back up it was nothin'. But I lost a couple of places and I couldn't get them back." I couldn't hear what dad said but I could see him demonstrate with his arms something which looked like a dingy sailor taking two hands full of main sheet and leaning back at the same time to get a little bit more with his upper body.

On the other side of us a couple were telling a third person about how their boat was for sale and they were going to get and outfit a big bus and go land touring.

Sitting there I enjoyed the ambiance of the Clearwater Yacht Club and watched the twilight fade while across the bay the lights of Auckland came one and the Sky Tower became a lighted needle. Judy went next door and took shower I had a few more beers, New Zealand Lion Red, and felt pretty good by the time we left.

On the way out we stopped by the bulletin board and read the race results and the letter from the Commodore, whose name is John Lidgard. So it's a family thing. While we were standing there reading it, someone must have seen us because the track lighting which illuminates it when on. I looked around but I couldn't see who was watching out for us.

It is a nice backwater at that.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Auckland

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Sunday, February 14, 1999

February 15, 1999-A Week on the Waterfront

Italians figure big in Auckland

Living in Auckland we like to keep up with the sailing events in the area. This week there were several:

Last Saturday the Around Alone solo racers departed Auckland on the third leg of their single handed race around the world.

With 6000 miles of southern ocean ahead of these couragous sailors, including rounding of Cape Horn, they had reason to be nervous. In fact, watching them depart, we were nervous for them. It turned out to be a bizarre day, an Italian bizarre day. The racers were towed one by one out to the starting area, with their shore crews still aboard, with each of their national anthems playing loudly from the speakers on shore and the citizens of Auckland giving them a big send off.

The spectator fleet, and the New Zealand Navy ships with the race committee aboard awaited their arrival at the starting line. Sails were hoisted, the shore crews departed, the starting cannon boomed, and 11 brave racers headed out Rangitoto channel on a close reach towards the Pacific Ocean. The spectator fleet rushed off in pursuit amid a boil of wakes and churning engines. There were a number of the crack Kiwi marine police boats hearding the spectators away. The man who lead the fleet into Auckand one month earlier, Italian Giovani Soldini, quickly sailed to the front.

Fred had scrambled aboard a power catamaran to watch the start, stowed away it turned out, since the boat was actually a privately charted chase boat for the Italian team, and was populated entirely by Giovini's Italian fans and family members. They thought he was part of the crew and the crew thought he was one of the charter party, although how they mistook an old Ballard swede for an Italian is beyond any of us.

While Giovini sailed Fila into the lead, the ecstatic Italians maneuvered their chase boat into the leading position among the spectator fleet. In fact they soon had themselves directly infront of Fila and matching their speed with his and with a giant Italian flag flying, they cheered him along yards away. The shutter on Fred's old Nikon got a work out as the photo opps from there were terrific.

So Fred rode the Italian spectator boat watching the Italian single hander head out to cross the ocean. The bizarre and tragic twist occured later in the day after the spectator fleet had peeled off and returned to Auckland. A private aircraft circled the fleet, and then in view of the leading racers, plunged into the water killing it's two occupants, who were two prominent Italians, Luciano and Giuliani Nustrini, living in Auckand. The plane they were flying was a classic high performance Falco which they had flown and air raced for 25 years. Most recently, the week before, Luciano had taken Giovani Soldini himself on a flight in the plane. It must have been horrifying to Giovani to witness his new friend's spectacular crash into the ocean.

The crash occured right in front of another competitor, American Brad Van Liew, who sailed over the crash site and found nothing on the surface but an aviation fuel slick. Within minutes however a volunteer Coast Guard member had found the bodies of the two flyers. The sailors went on. Sailing alone in the southern ocean is a tough enough thing to do without the added horror of seeing your friends killed before your very eyes as you are starting. We wondered how Giovani would be coping with this.

America’s Cup:
On the America's Cup front, we watched TV interviews of the Nippon Challenge crew member who said that while he was driving his team's inflatable on the Huaraki Gulf near the New Zealand team's AC boat, a New Zealand crew member, in one of their inflatables, repeatedly rammed him in an attempt to keep him away from their boats. We knew this secrecy issue was a big deal, but this seemed a little extreme. Then one of a US team's crew reported that he too had been rammed by the Kiwi's when he apparently violated their waterspace.

The local TV News team tried to smuggle a hidden camera into the New Zealand compound in a shopping bag. They got close, but were barred from viewing the boats.

So, a year before the Cup the intrigue is already getting into full gear.

Meanwhile the city of Auckland is going full speed preparing for this big event, one they have been waiting for since 1987, the year of their first America's Cup challenge. Every where in Auckland building is going on. The water front is a solid building site. In the Downtown area several new high rise towers are going up. Every where there are smaller projects.

The marinas too are starting to make changes for the expected cup madness. The main Westhaven marina just about doubled their prices for visitors, while other downtown berthing rates have skyrocketed out of sight in anticipation to the demand next year.

Everyone who has room for it is building docks for superyachts who will readily pay monthly rates in excess of $4000 for their 110-150 footers. Charter operators are getting their vessels ready and the police just ordered 18 new high speed patrol boats. The aviation authority has issued flight patterns to control the expected numbers of planes and helicopters over the race course, and the airport is trying to find places to park corporate jets. The have even reserved space in Sydney, Australia for overflow jet parking.

On Wings we are just enjoying the hubbub from the relative calm of Bayswater Marina, across the bay from Auckland. We take the ferry into the city to visit the shops and go to the YMCA for a workout, and Fred has been there nearly every day still working on his job search, but a lot of the time we keep out of everyone's way.

We are wondering what this place will be like in February 2000, when the Cup races actually are being sailed. One way of the other, we'll be here and we'll be able to tell you about it.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Auckland

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