He has been an America’s Cup sail maker, Team Vodafone Sailing boat captain, a Coastal Classic veteran and has broken a bunch of ocean racing records – but Stu ‘Disco’ MacKinven is stoked to be back in Tauranga.
After almost two decades based in Auckland and sailing professionally all over the world, Stu has moved back to the Bay and is now a crew member on one of the fastest boats in the Southern Hemisphere – the Beau Geste, a MOD70 trimaran which is currently on the hard stand at Tauranga’s Vessel Works.
“My wife and I call Tauranga the Gold Coast of New Zealand. Now that we’re back, we thought we’d use the yard here to lift this boat out and do some maintenance and modifications. It’s getting harder and harder in Auckland for boats like this to find space.”
Over the next month, Beau Geste will be fitted with new T-rudders and new outer hull foils. She is owned by Karl Kwok and is one of only seven in existence. Weighing just 7 tonne, she’s surprisingly light for a 70ft long boat.
“She’s fast and it’s pretty intense at times,” Stu says. “We’ve done 40-odd knots but you quite regularly go over 30 knots. They’re quite hard to manoeuvre. Once you’ve got them in a straight line they’re quite fun but getting them around a short course can be difficult.”
Hit the roof
When at sea, the crew take three hour watches on deck and have two hours lying in small bunks in the hull of the vessel. Stu often has to strap himself in so as not to hit the roof, given the speed and volatility of the boat. “It’s not easy. You don’t really go offshore on these boats thinking you’ll get a good sleep. Often you get woken up early if the wind gets up because you have to change sails, you can’t just wait.” A 3-5 knot increase in breeze can require a big change in sail setup.
For someone who’s achieved so much, Stu has managed to keep a relatively low profile.
He grew up in Papamoa and learnt to sail P-class while he was at Mount Maunganui Intermediate. His dad was a keen fisherman and bought a Raven 26 yacht when Stu was 14. “We used to sail that around a lot. Me and my mates would sail around the harbour. Dad eventually bought a Pacific 38 and we used to go up and down the coast in that. Dad’s mate Ferg, a local Tauranga ocean and race boat sailor, gave me a lot of support in those early years.”
Stu was involved in plenty of school regattas and races around Motiti and Mayor Island. He also sailed many boats out of the Mount Yacht Club and the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club during his teens.
He lined up on the start line of his first Coastal Classic in 1996 when he was just 16 years-old. The owner of a Farrier 32 trimaran handed Stu the helm for the 120 mile race from Auckland to Russell. “Back then there used to be well over 200 boats on the start line and I was on the stick. It was pretty intimidating back in the day,” he admits.
Overall, that initial experience must have been a positive one – this year he’ll line up on the Coastal Classic’s start line for the 21st time.
As well as racing, he is also a professional sail maker and his impressive career has taken him all over the world.
He was part of Oracle’s 2007 America’s Cup campaign in Valencia, Spain, and spent two years sailing the MedCup circuit with Artemis Racing. He also competed in the 2009 Louis Vuitton Pacific Series (“back when Oracle and Team New Zealand were friends”) before embarking on a nine year stint racing an ORMA 60 trimaran for Team Vodafone Sailing – the last seven of those as boat captain. “In 2016 we took the GC32 to Australia and while we struggled in the big breeze and testing conditions at Airlie, we came away from Hammo the following week in perfect foiling conditions with the Australian National Multihull title.
“We did 25,000 miles on the ORMA 60,” Stu recalls. “We set a tonne of records including the Coastal Classic which we broke three or four times. We did a lot of sailing – Auckland to Fiji, Auckland to Nouméa, Sydney to Southport, Airlie Beach Race Week... It was a pretty choice boat to sail on, and very similar to the Beau Geste.”
Stu says he enjoys the speed of multihulls and pushing both the boat and the crew. The teamwork and camaraderie involved is another big drawcard.
“There’s a lot of moving parts on these boats and everyone’s got a job to do. It’s pretty satisfying when you pull off a good manoeuvre or set a good time. ‘Smooth moves’ we like to call it.”
Everyone in the sailing community knows Stu by his nickname – ‘Disco’. “A good mate who is a German boat builder called me that after a big night out in Spain. I don’t remember much to be honest but the name has stuck.”
Asia is one part of the world Stu hasn’t seen much of yet, and maybe he’ll get the chance while part of the Beau Geste crew to race in the region.
You’re in the groove
While he admits he’s had a dream run in terms of his career, ocean racing is not always as glamourous as it sounds.
“Some days you don’t think so when it’s rough and you’re vomiting your guts out. Multihulls get everyone. It’s a very violent motion on these boats, they’re so bouncy. We had two crew on here who have done the Volvo Ocean Race and had never been sick – well they were sick on this boat!
“But once these things are going and you’re in the groove, they’re a lot of fun. It’s a bit scary at times but it’s worth it.”
Stu and his wife moved back to Tauranga last year to fulfil a promise they made to themselves of getting out of Auckland before they turned 40. Now aged 39, Stu is happy to be back on home turf and is looking forward to the next adventure ahead.
“I’ve just slipped into this career really. That’s what happens when you keep saying yes to things.”