Fresh outlook

Newly appointed Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Commodore Aaron Young instructed his family that no gifts will be required this year – he already has everything he could want in a high-performance Melges 40 race yacht.

Written by Ivor Wilkins

01 December 2020


Who needs new socks or handkerchiefs when you already have a new race yacht? Not Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) Commodore Aaron Young, who joked that, after all, any further excitement might be dangerous to his health.   

Young’s excitement is not just about his acquisition, however. His purchase has inspired other Auckland sailors to buy three more sister ships, injecting new blood into the local racing scene.

As Young takes up the leadership reins at the RNZYS on the eve of its 150-year celebrations, this initiative heralds a dynamic and activist leadership that is focused on stimulating growth and progress well into the future.

“It’s about doing some highly competitive racing, for sure – that’s in my blood – but it’s also about trying to lift local club racing as well.”

Young is concerned that the Auckland club racing scene has become somewhat stale and repetitive – up and down the harbour courses for a couple of hours and back to the marina.


“The sailing skills of everybody involved, from the sailors to the race management teams, don’t really improve,” he says. But it’s something he would like to see change, and hopes the arrival of some new thoroughbred bloodstock will help spark things up.

Designed by Botin Partners, the Melges 40s are one-design all-carbon canting-keel speed machines. They were targeted at semi-professional racing on the European circuits for owners who might have considered TP52 programs but didn’t want to get involved in a design arms race.

With an owner-driver stipulation, the class attracted high-level professional crews and tactical afterguardsmen, including Italian Francesco Bruni and Kiwi Cameron Appleton, a graduate of the RNZYS Youth Training Program.

The migration of four Melges 40s to New Zealand came about almost by accident. “My brother works for Southern Spars/Rigpro in Palma, Majorca,” explains Young.

“He rang me and said some guys were wrapping up a Melges 40 campaign. Would I be interested in buying one? I had always intended on getting back into a race boat – in about a year – but I looked into it and got pretty excited.

Young says, “Within 72 hours, I’d bought one.”

“There were five built in 2017, and then the yard in Dubai went into liquidation. These boats have been lightly used. They raced in 2017 and 2018 but didn’t compete last year.

“I figured maybe we could get more here, so decided to ring past commodore of the RNZYS Steve Mair.

In about 72 hours, he had bought one as well. Then John Cobb and Humphrey Sherratt partnered up and bought another, followed by Howard Spencer.”


Ready to race

It is notoriously difficult to get new grand prix classes off the ground anywhere, but the simultaneous arrival of four, possibly five playmates provides a strong foundation. To ensure the potential for future expansion, Young is already in discussion with Melges about taking over the rule and acquiring the rights to the moulds so that new boats could be built, either in Dubai or in New Zealand. “It’s definitely not a dead-end street.”

The boats race with crews of nine or ten and the plan for New Zealand is to stipulate at least two females in the line-up for serious racing and, ideally, a 50/50 gender split for social racing.

“They are high-performance machines with no home comforts. For long passage races, it will be soggy sandwiches on the rail,” says Young.

“They are quick, technical, challenging to sail, and very wet. I can hardly wait.”

The Melges 40 news will come as a welcome fillip against the backdrop of ongoing COVID-19 upheavals and cancellations.

Pivotal year

Young’s term as RNZYS Commodore was always going to be dominated by the club’s 150th anniversary coinciding with the defence of the America’s Cup, which both occur in 2021. As such, it made sense for him to take a lead role in both of those major events during his tenure as vice commodore.

“From that perspective, not a lot has changed by stepping up to become commodore – ever since Bermuda, those events have been my primary focus.”

What no-one could foresee, however, was the impact COVID-19 would have; it changed everything.

“For the 150th program, we set up a committee under the chairmanship of Colin Carran two years ago, with general committee members Peter Boardman, Mike Malcolm and others. There were big thinkers in the group who had bold visions and ambitious plans. It was a good starting point, but some of it inevitably had to be scaled back to conform with reality.

“The first big blow came with the J-Class. I went over to Europe to sign them up – the owners were excited to be coming to New Zealand, and we were over the moon to have them coming.”

Then, in early March, two of the J-Class yachts – Svea and Topaz – collided during a race in the Mediterranean. “To have one of the owners call me to say they were not going to make it to New Zealand was so disappointing,” Young recalls.

That was the first domino to fall. Hard on the heels of the collision came the pandemic. With borders rapidly closing and huge uncertainty clouding decisions, the J-Class owners reluctantly withdrew.

Similar considerations afflicted the superyacht community.

Although the New Zealand Government initially adopted a hard line against entry, in early September, that attitude softened with a new ruling.

If owners arrived in New Zealand aboard their yachts after an uninterrupted ocean passage of at least 14 days, they would be admitted, subject to a COVID-19 test on arrival and a 48-hour quarantine period while waiting for a negative result.

At least one superyacht already in New Zealand was making arrangements to sail to Tahiti to collect the owners and return to New Zealand. Another eight superyachts currently in the Pacific are expected to take advantage of the new concession.

Young says, “With those yachts, plus the ones already here, we anticipate up to 20 entries for the Mastercard Superyacht Regatta.”

A parallel event for motor yachts is also planned.

Another massive setback happened when the New Zealand Government refused to make border concessions that would enable the Youth America’s Cup to take place. With then-commodore Ian Cook undertaking the design and construction of a foiling prototype for the event, Young was tasked with the commercial and political negotiations. This involved multiple agencies, including the Ministries of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), Immigration, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Tourism, and Auckland City Council.

“Those discussions began 18 months ago and continued to ramp up. I was in almost daily discussions with the lead agency, MBIE. Early indications were positive,” says Young.

International support was massive. Nineteen teams representing 13 countries signed up and paid entry fees, with at least two more willing to pay late entry penalties to join in.


Pushing through

Intense lobbying behind the scenes was continuing to reverse the government’s shutting down of the youth event, the logic of which, Young says, defies understanding.

“On the one hand, they said because the government wasn’t contributing any funding for the youth event, it was not an official part of the America’s Cup regatta, which is a real head-scratcher.

“Their other argument was that there were plenty of good sailors in New Zealand, so there was no need to bring in foreign sailors.”

He shakes his head at this perversion of what an international sporting contest is fundamentally about: “It’s like having the All Blacks play against the All Blacks. It makes no sense.”

A further victim of the turmoil is the Moonen Yachts Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race held in conjunction with the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. Although it’s not cancelled, it has been postponed to January 2022.

The pandemic will impact proceedings profoundly, but there is still much to celebrate. At one end of the scale is the superyacht regatta, while at the other, the Bridge to Bean Dinghy Race is expected to see 400 dinghies and foiling craft representing multiple yacht clubs in a mass sprint down the Waitemata Harbour. They will start at the Auckland Harbour Bridge and finish at the iconic Bean Rock Lighthouse, which also celebrates 150 years of service in 2021.

As the astonishing new generation AC75 foiling monohulls become an increasingly familiar sight on the harbour, they are a reminder that the biggest show in international yachting remains the centrepiece of the summer program.

Naturally, RNZYS loyalties lie firmly with Emirates Team New Zealand, which carries its burgee into battle for the defence, but the club is also opening its doors to all three challenger teams with honorary memberships for the summer.

“The club and its members have so much to be proud of, and excited about, in our 150th program,” Young says. “It will only happen once in our lifetime. There is a strong focus on member events and functions throughout the year – we are all going to embrace it and make the most of it.”

Meanwhile, if the Youth America’s Cup sailors are left stranded by the bureaucrats, they can always jump on the Melges 40s and further Young’s ambition to shake up the domestic racing scene.



Important AC36 dates

17–20 December 2020: America’s Cup World Series, Auckland, NZ

31 December 2020: Auckland to Kawau Race

1–3 January 2021: Kawau to Great Barrier Cruise (four days)

15 January–22 February 2021: Prada Challenger Series

26 January 2021: Bay of Islands Race Week (four days)

1 February 2021: Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta

6 February 2021: RNZYS 150th Squadron Weekend Kawau

15–18 February 2021: NZ Marine Millennium Cup (BOI)

23–27 February 2021: Mastercard Superyacht Regatta

2 March 2021: America’s Cup Members Party

6–21 March 2021: America’s Cup

20 March 2021: 100th Lipton Cup Regatta

9 April 2021: RNZYS 150th Regatta

25 April 2021: Anzac Day

14 May 2021: Trans-Tasman Challenge (three days)



  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement