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Mussel barge built by America's Cup boat designers launched

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A new vessel custom built for New Zealand's largest off shore mussel farm in the Bay of Plenty is launching into the water for the first time today.

The Kukutai was designed by boat builders McMullen and Wing, who designed the 1995 America's Cup boat Black Magic.

It was built for the Opotiki-based company Whakatōhea Mussels and the Whakatōhea Maori Trust Board.

McMullen and Wing chief executive Michael Eaglen spoke to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon about the project.

Mr Eaglen said the vessel's a 24m long x 8m wide mussel barge.

"She's designed for working out in the mussel farm... putting juvenile mussles (seed) out onto the lines, where they grow and mature and it can also be used for harvesting those mussels."

Hamiora Kerr is one of three Opotiki school leavers who received a scholarship to help build Kukutai.

"I was pretty much doing nothing at home and then my uncle showed me the ad in the newspaper and I just thought I'd put my name down."

Mr Kerr said he's enjoyed working at McMullen and Wing and has helped to put together the bones of the boat and worked with welders.

"I've learnt a lot from these guys because there's a lot of experience behind them."

And he's proud of the finished product.

"At the start of the year it was just a big pile of steel and alloy and now it's a complete boat pretty much - so yeah I'm proud - it's a really proud moment for me," he said.

"I'm hoping the mussel farm gets big enough they need a boat builder or a handyman."

The Whakatohea Mussel Farm provides a challenging environment as it is based offshore.

This is in contrast to the rest of New Zealand's mussel farming industry, which is based in sheltered waters like the Coromandel and Marlborough Sounds, Mr Eaglen said.

The Opotiki Harbour is also too shallow for large ships to navigate, so the company operates out of the Whakatane Harbour.

"That provides a limited significance to the days they can operate on the farm."

Mr Eaglen said the New Zealand marine industry has respected training pathways.

And Mr Kerr is keen to start a formal apprenticeship which Mr Eaglen is thrilled about.

"We've set out to set these guys up with skills to do the job piece by piece and give them early wins and make them feel they can make a real contribution - as they have done."

Kukutai was launched today at Mt Wellington in Auckland.
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