Cook Islander in on Cup action

Tuesday September 24, 2013 Written by Published in Raro on my mind

If you were watching televised America’s Cup races at Sails, with a glass of white wine in your hand and the turquoise Rarotonga lagoon in your peripheral vision, you had an undeniably good seat.

But probably not better than Josh Mangakahia’s – at the finish line, on the deck of Athena, one of the largest super-yachts in the world and his office for more than two years. Mangakahia works as a deckhand aboard the three-masted, 90-metre schooner, reportedly worth $114.7 million.

“From where I’m sitting,” said Mangakahia, a Muri-bred Cook Islander, “we have the finish line right on our port bow and we’re just spectating, really, sitting here watching the races.

“The boss and his wife and their friends just come on board and they have little parties and watch the races and [socialise] all day and we just cruise around and make sure the boat’s up to standard and we get to watch the races. It’s a pretty crazy atmosphere.”

Mangakahia’s millionaire boss, Internet tycoon Jim Clark, owns Athena. When Clark wants to holiday aboard Athena in a faraway place, Mangakahia and the crew are responsible for making sure she gets there in good shape. This month Clark wanted to be in San Francisco Bay, moored alongside other multimillion-dollar yachts, to watch New Zealand and America battle for the oldest trophy in international sporting history.

Clark was Mangakahia’s ticket into Emirates Team New Zealand’s private party after the Louis Vuitton Cup – a regatta that determined which sailing team would challenge America, the reigning champion.

“We were with the Team New Zealand crew, Dean Barker and all the boys just standing right there next to us drinking beer, it was a bit of an honour to be there, you know? Not many people get in there,” Mangakahia said.

Clark earned entry for his crew because he staunchly supports Team New Zealand, though he is American.

“We got in because Jim’s been really supporting Team New Zealand, he’s all for it,” Mangakahia said. “We’ve been flying the New Zealand flag and the team’s flag every day. It’s pretty funny because Larry Ellison, the guy who runs Oracle [Team USA], had his big motor yacht sitting next to us and it took off because Jim was supporting Team New Zealand. They asked us to take the flags down but Jim [Clark] refused.”

Mangakahia said that while the San Francisco waterfront beckons – its grandstands, private tents, temporary restaurants, lawns filled with beanbag chairs, and hundreds of people – his seat is still the best in the house.

Mangakahia, whose Polynesian bloodlines are Atiuan and New Zealand Maori, loved boats and sailing even as a kid.

It was in his blood. His maternal grandfather, an Englishman, built a 42-foot ketch in the West Indies and sailed via Canada to the Cook Islands, where he ended up settling. Mangakahia’s father, Paul, crewed aboard Marumaru Atua. Both his parents are oe vaka athletes, and his mum Michele paddled in the renowned Moloka’i Channel race.

When Mangakahia finished school at Nukutere College, he chose to study for his STCW (Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping) at Mahurangi Technical Institute in North Auckland.

In May of 2011, he was hired as a deckhand aboard Athena, a job that has since introduced him to the world. From the time Mangakahia was hired, the boss has summoned Athena to three continents and scores of countries.

After joining Athena in Auckland, Mangakahia traveled east through Tahiti and north to the Galapagos, through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean.

Five months Athena spent in the islands of the Caribbean – Mangakahia had time to get his yacht master’s certificate in Antigua – and then she went to the Mediterranean and up both U.S. coastlines.

Mangakahia has lost track of how many countries he’s visited in the past 24 months.

“The boss just says, ‘I want Athena to be in a certain place around a certain time so we get the boat there and make sure we have a couple of days to prep the boat and once we’ve done the sea passage and dock the boat we wash the salt off and get it looking good and it’s straight into charter mode,” he said.

Just before the America’s Cup races, Athena traveled through Alaska, a place Mangakahia called “pretty spectacular”. Now she’s in San Francisco, among action that people around the world have been watching ardently on television.

Following a trip home to Rarotonga in November, Mangakahia will leave with Athena for the Caribbean. There, he will await his boss’ next hankering for a holiday.

Josh Mangakahia wants to thank the Sailing Club for helping him to get his start and for supporting his sailing career from the get-go.

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