Kiwi boat builder helping Oracle's America's Cup effort

Boat Build Manager Tim Smyth with the saw blade used by the giant CNC Milling machine  used on America's Cup yacht Oracle.
John Selkirk

Boat Build Manager Tim Smyth with the saw blade used by the giant CNC Milling machine used on America's Cup yacht Oracle.

If Oracle manages to turn it around and beat Team NZ in the America's Cup, it will be thanks in part to a boat builder from Nelson. Tim O'Connell reports.

From a cob cottage in the Nelson suburb of Stoke to supplying game-changing parts to all six America's Cup syndicates in Bermuda, Tim Smyth's boat building journey is riding high on its foils.

Currently based in Warkworth where he runs his Core Builders Composites business with Mark Turner, Smyth's company builds high-performance racing yachts including the super-fast catamarans used by Oracle and Team Japan in this year's America's Cup.

"New Zealanders, with our easy exposure to the coast, produce a lot of skilled people in the sailing industry and we ply our trades all over the world and are consequently over represented in America's Cup teams," he said. 

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Despite his high-flying business, Smyth said his upbringing the top of the south held a special place in his heart. Born in an old cob house on Nayland Rd, Smyth's family has a long association to the Nelson region that stretched back to the 1850s.

Boat Build Manager Tim Smyth with a early version of one of Oracles foils.
John Selkirk

Boat Build Manager Tim Smyth with a early version of one of Oracles foils.

He attended school at Richmond Primary and Henley before heading to Hampden, near Moeraki at age 12 when his dad took a job teaching.

"I remember Nelson as a safe, creative, sun drenched, fertile and bountiful place, hard to get to and to escape travelling by road," he said.

After attending high school in east Otago and then Rotorua, Smyth kicked off his 30-year boating legacy by immersing himself in the yachting fraternities of Auckland, followed by six years England.

Smyth found himself more and more involved in yacht racing, which morphed into race yacht construction.

In 1989 he took his boat buildings skills to Spain with some other Kiwis to help Desafio Espana build their nation's first America's Cup challenge yacht for the 1992 regatta in San Diego.

He then alternated between Whitbread round-the-world and America's Cup campaigns until 2000, when he joined Oracle.

Smyth established CBC in Ventura, California in 2001 to build Oracle owner Larry Ellison's America's Cup yachts for the 2003 regatta in Auckland.

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The company moved to Washington State to build yachts for the 2007 and the 2010 regatta in Valencia before persuading the team to establish a construction facility in New Zealand ahead of the 2013 regatta..

In 2010 and 2011, Smyth and his team built 16 AC45 (45 foot) winged catamarans, before moving into the longer AC72 class. 

For this year's regatta in Bermuda, CBC built the main element wings and boat parts for Swedish entry Artemis and French team Groupama along with the complete boats and wings for Team Japan and Oracle.

It also built the main set of boat tooling for the Emirates Team New Zealand yachts using its advanced CNC machining capacity.

Core Builders Composites was, according to Smyth, an autonomous entity with around 60 NZ employees that worked like any other business, supplying external clients in addition to its "internal client" Oracle.

Several members of CBC's Warkworth team are in Bermuda during the five-day break in the America's Cup competition, and Smyth himself has spent a few weeks in Bermuda to discuss aspects of strategy and timelines with their clients.

Smyth pinpoints the completion of the biggest wing ever built for USA 17 in 2010 (71m tall) - and then winning the cup using it, as his most satisfying career achievement to date.

He believed the best use of wing set-up, daggerboard area and rudder immersion would make the ultimate difference in the final races, which restart on Sunday NZ time.

However, he said there were no conflicting emotions in helping a US-based team beat his home country, given the spread of ex-pats that exists in the world of race yachting.

"Team Oracle has, in the past, had more Kiwis in it than Team NZ [and] the America's Cup has traditionally drawn talent from all over the world. People should read its history before commenting otherwise," he said.

"It's great that New Zealanders get behind a team but they should not confuse any particular advantage in their skill sets as being down to their nationality. 

"In my experience America's Cup teams hire whoever they can, regardless of nationality, to assemble the best team that gels during the tough two to three years that it takes to build a campaign."

Instituting a nationality requirement in the America's Cup would put many hard working New Zealanders out of a job and lower the earning potential of the remaining people who did manage to get hired by an exclusively New Zealand team, he said. 

While he did not predict a future in NZ for production boat building due to cost structure here, Smyth said there was "tremendous potential" to add value in the composites industry in the design of cars, planes, bridges, energy production, and other forms of architecture.

"We already have flying catamarans – flying cars will come sooner than you think," Smyth said.

"I don't think New Zealand fully understands the impact that composite construction will have on their lives going forward."  

Among their current projects, CBC was working on tidal and current-driven underwater turbine blades as well as air borne energy kites.

 - Stuff

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