A Warkworth-based company owned by multi-billionaire IT mogul Larry Ellison and part-funded by Callaghan Innovation is at the centre of a bid to take the wind out of the sails of the next America’s Cup competition in Auckland.

New Zealand won the rights to host the March 2021 cup, after beating Ellison’s Oracle Team USA seven to one in Bermuda last year. But instead of launching another challenge for the America’s Cup, Ellison and his right-hand man, former Team NZ skipper Russell Coutts, have launched a rival competition, Sail GP.

Unusually, Sail GP will use repurposed boats from the previous America’s Cup, with the yachts being rebuilt and rebranded by Warkworth-based Core Builders Composites. The firm, formerly known as Oracle Racing, is 100 percent-owned by Ellison, the 74-year-old founder of software company Oracle Corp and Forbes magazine’s 10th richest billionaire.

Coutts became a director of Core Builders Composites in July, and the company has successfully negotiated a two-year extension to its Callaghan Innovation research and development grant. It received $1.5 million of government funding in 2016 and almost $1 million in 2017.

So far, Coutts and Ellison have announced six teams for the 2019 SailGP race series – from Australia, China, France, Japan, the UK, and the USA. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which will host the 2021 America’s Cup, has only managed to bring three potential competing teams on board – from Italy, the UK and the US.

The estimated US$100 million-plus cost of challenging for the America’s Cup is one reason for low numbers, whereas using reconditioned boats should bring costs down for SailGP contestants.

SailGP tech team operations manager Brad Marsh says the six “supercharged” catamarans have been under construction for the past year and each of the SailGP teams will spend a minimum of two weeks in Northland over the next three months, testing the boats at Northport before the first race in Sydney in mid-February.

“Northland offers easy access to a highly-skilled and specialised marine services sector which will allow us to perform the shake-down and validate the yachts’ upgraded systems and technology,” Marsh says.

Core Composites spokesperson Susan Lake isn’t worried about taking taxpayer money for a company owned by an American worth US$58.5 billion. She says the company employs more than 100 staff, including 60 permanent workers and seven apprentices.

The economic impact for New Zealand from Core Composites’ work has been $17.65 million since July last year, and the company has spent $13 million with other New Zealand businesses over the same period.

Callaghan Innovation’s Melanie Tuala says the benefits for New Zealand include “a growing skilled industry, student jobs, related supplier R&D industries, and tech and skilled workers now moving innovation into aviation, space, construction and the general marine industry.”  

Other New Zealand companies supplying the SailGP project include Warkworth-based MS Engineering, advanced composite company Pure Design, carbon fibre mast/boom company C-Tech, and Auckland-based Doyle Sails.

Nikki Mandow was Newsroom's business editor and the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Business Journalist of the Year @NikkiMandow.

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