A place to bury differences

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    The America’s Cup is a strange beast.

    As ghastly as the egos of some of the millionaire and billionaire syndicate bosses are as they wave their metaphorical wedges of cash at each other, and as tone deaf as some of the off-water lawsuits and mud-slinging tend to be, it almost never fails to throw up on-water moments of real humanity.

    Last weekend, the images of Team New Zealand’s Peter Burling throwing a line to the stricken American Magic sailors aboard the prone Patriot and then straining with his teammates to help rescue their rivals’ giant mainsail, conjured memories of San Diego back in 1995 when Australia One cracked in half and their race opponents – again Team NZ – helped fish the crew out of the water.

    As the sun set last Sunday, the Hauraki Gulf provided the stage for a dramatic race to keep Dean Barker and Terry Hutchinson’s Patriot afloat as all the contesting syndicates for this year’s Auld Mug toiled to salvage the holed hull, lending floatation bags and man-power to the task at hand and then back at the wharf, offering materials and expertise – in Grant Dalton’s words, “whatever it takes” – to ensure the New York Yacht Club stayed in the competition.

    Because all those teams, all those egos, all those top competition-class athletes know that there’s only one thing more important than winning the America’s Cup – and that’s to ensure that the America’s Cup has a future. Pitching in to save one of only four teams left in this year’s Covid-ravaged contest demonstrated both compassion for fellow competitors but also the strength of the sailing community’s devotion to keeping the contest as vital as possible.

    Such magnanimity by those competing so hard above the waterline of the Hauraki Gulf would be well studied by those seeking for control of the waters below the surface.

    Throughout the latter part of 2020, these pages of Gulf News saw more than a little animosity play out between groups who seemingly all have one goal – namely the future survival and health of the gulf – but who seem intent on shouting the odds over the methods by which the long, slow decline of fish stocks, diversity and water quality can be arrested and reversed.

    As 2021 gathers a full head of steam there are already cogs and flywheels cranking into action to drive the numerous groups working via judicial process, activism, politicking, community buy-in and education to put the plight of the gulf front and centre in this year’s agenda.

    There have already been hiccups (the social media announcement of a meeting about a rāhui for the waters around Waiheke caused a bit of a stir for about 24 hours on Monday and Tuesday before quietly disappearing) and genuine progress (the creation of pan-Aotearoa, Māori-led movement Mauri o te Moana has led to the announcement of a wānanga in the week preceding and the weekend of Waitangi Day at Kāretu Marae, Te Tai Tokerau).

    And there’s a chance to grab hold of this momentum on Waiheke, too. Those behind the Waiheke Marine Project’s Future Search say they have been encouraged by an increase in community conversations and initiatives around marine protection.

    At their public meeting at Morra Hall in late November, the project presented nine commitments agreed by Future Search participants. On display throughout the afternoon and evening were the actual work sheets from the Future Search which were then added to by the community.

    Many who attended agreed to be personally more involved in 2021 to help bring other new skills and experience to the existing teams. Organisers say, “this new energy has been warmly received and adds to the sense of collaboration whilst acknowledging the achievements of the project to date” and have set up a public “reconnection meeting” next Wednesday at Waiheke Adult Learning’s rooms next to the gallery in Oneroa to “shape a new structure for the year and to view progress on the report to Government”.

    For the next couple of months, there’s an opportunity to leverage some of the global interest in the America’s Cup racing to pitch our joint efforts to safeguard the Hauraki Gulf for future generations. And, just as the highly competitive (and, at times, horribly confrontational and combative) teams have shown they can come together for the good of that competition and their own sailing community, it should perhaps be at the forefront of our minds that our own shared focus on the ecosystem around us is best served by collaboration and cooperation. As strange as it may seem to quote Grant Dalton pertaining to environmentalism, surely this is also a case of “whatever it takes”, too. • James Belfield

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