Below decks with the Cup’s new keeper

Published on August 1st, 2017

Suzanne McFadden details for the behind-the-scene story for what occurs when a club becomes the new America’s Cup’s keeper.

Steve Mair, the young commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, never got to see the final race of the 2017 America’s Cup live. He was locked in a boat on Bermuda’s Great Sound, deep in a James Bond-style covert mission.

Mair was concealed within a gleaming superyacht, while boat staff stood guard around the deck, instructed to kick into the ocean any packages or envelopes that might be suddenly hurled on board.

Even accepting peanuts from a yacht stewardess, Mair knew, could be a risk he couldn’t afford.

Back in Auckland, the Squadron’s servers were switched off half an hour before the estimated finish of what was shaping up to be the final America’s Cup race between Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle. Phones were taken off the hook; mobile ignored. Every member of staff was instructed not to accept any documents delivered to the Squadron’s headquarters at Westhaven during or immediately after the race.

“It was true cloak and dagger stuff, and it was fascinating,” Mair, 42, reveals of the behind-the-scenes drama that played out the day Team NZ won back the Auld Mug.

Mair was in lock-down on board Imagine, the superyacht of Team New Zealand principal Matteo di Nora. With him was Agostino Randazzo, the president of Cicolo della Vela Sicilia, the Italian yacht club preparing to become the Challenger of Record for the 36th America’s Cup, should Emirates Team New Zealand take out their eighth and decisive win of the match.

In one of those intriguing America’s Cup traditions, the first yacht club to hand over a legitimate challenge – literally within seconds of the Cup match concluding – becomes the official Challenger of Record for the next Cup regatta. It gives that challenger the right to negotiate the rules and format of the event with the defender.

It was a poorly kept secret that Team NZ wanted the Challenger of Record to be Luna Rossa, Patrizio Bertelli’s Italian team with whom they’d built a long friendship stemming back to the 2000 Cup in Auckland. But Team NZ’s home yacht club went to extreme lengths to make it near-on impossible for another challenge to be slipped into their hands.

So Mair, Randazzo and their respective lawyers watched on a TV screen, while outside, Peter Burling drove the black and red catamaran across the finish-line to victory. Within two seconds, Mair had Luna Rossa’s challenge documents in his hand. Two photographers and a videographer (Mair’s wife Anna) captured the acceptance for perpetuity. – Full report

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