High time to head down
As this journalist prepares to leave the South Pacific, the only question is when are you arriving? …
Airports are a great place to write an opinion piece. The capstone to my two months home in New Zealand, I am leaving feeling that I only scratched the surface of the resurgent and dynamic superyacht sector both here, and across the South Pacific. It is heartening to leave just as the major countries for superyachts in the region have now, finally, given a unified border opening roadmap and aligned their charter regulations.
The region is fractal in its detail. The closer you look, the more opportunity and innovation unfold in front of you. In a way typical of the tall poppies that grow here, much of this flies under the radar. Even for a New Zealander working in the industry, my perception while based in Europe was outdated and, like many of us in the traditional hubs, guilty of missing the big picture.
Over the enforced COVID fallow years the local sector has continued to grow, despite the adversity. I can still remember the sinking feeling when, after so many years of anticipation for the America's Cup, I sat glued to Marine Traffic in early 2020. I saw the fleet of dozens of large yachts making their way from Panama and Suez adjust their passage plans away from the South Pacific, as the world was gripped by the early throws of the Pandemic. One could be guilty of assuming that the industry would enter some form of forced hibernation, but almost the opposite has happened.
The refit yards are busy and building bigger. The charter brokers don't have enough stock to fill local demand from a reawakened generation of guests from the burgeoning wealthy class. I thought, naively, that the new build market here still consisted of only a handful of high profile custom yachts from New Zealand's elite, followed by the customary large sport fishers. In reality, there is an appetite here for large yachts that most Northern Hemisphere brokers would envy. Reports from the team at ASMEX earlier this month paint a similar picture across the ditch in Australia, with refit and marina infrastructure reaching out to the largest end of the fleet.
There is still a lingering perspective from yachts and their managers that ‘maybe we'll do a season in the Pacific and that's enough'. The distances must always be put into perspective. The ‘one season in the Pacific’ model does not work. One can do a whole season in Tahiti alone and not see the Marquesas Islands, or in Fiji and not visit half the 333 Islands that make up the broad archipelago. Considering ‘the Pacific’ in too broader terms is counterintuitive. The South Pacific is culturally diverse and big enough that even the subterm ‘South Pacific’ is too much of a generalization. Tahiti to Sydney is longer than Antigua to Gibraltar, this fact is lost in the wider ‘Pacific’ narrative. There is a lifetime of potential here.
A full refit in New Zealand or Australia, for example, is a 3-day steam away from Fiji. Yachts can then enter into a charter season in the early months of the year, before continuing the perpetual season in the southern hemisphere winter. This is an overly simplistic model but the bare facts are there, and I am sure they appeal to the thousands of yachts stuck on the milk run. The industry and infrastructure here have evolved, with a storied history of marine innovation as a foundation. All this is built around, in my biased but well-travelled opinion, the greatest cruising across the most welcoming cultural landscape on earth. All this is to say that, for any yachts sitting on the wrong side of either canal, now is the time to go down. And sometimes don't always have to get back up again.
I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with the delegates at this year's inaugural The Superyacht Forum - Pacific Tour in June and welcome you to join me.
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Image credit: NZ Marine
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