Made of muscle
More than just a newly-launched mussel barge, Kukutai represents a successful collaboration between a designer, a builder and a community. Lawrence Schaffler has the story.
Auckland-based McMullen & Wing, acclaimed for its 50-year history spanning commercial vessels and award-winning yachts, including the victorious 1995 America’s Cup boat NZL32 (Black Magic), joined forces with a Bay of Plenty iwi and a local mussel farming company to build Kukutai.
Commissioned by Whakatōhea Mussels, New Zealand’s largest offshore mussel farm, Kukutai was constructed with help from local Opotiki youth.
The mussel farm is part of the Whakatōhea Maori Trust Board’s long-term vision to create prosperity and sustainable employment for the region and its people. As part of its partnership with Whakatōhea Mussels and the Whakatōhea Maori Trust Board, McMullen & Wing developed a trainee programme to give Opotiki school leavers a pathway into a life-long career.
With a build-time of just over nine months, Kukutai’s standout features include a high-stability platform designed for the exposed open ocean location of the Opotiki mussel farm, comfortable interior conditions for farm workers, and a range of eco-focused features to minimise environmental impact and maximise end product quality.
McMullen & Wing CEO Michael Eaglen says he wanted to help Whakatōhea Mussels’ investment to deliver for the Opotiki community beyond simply building a great farming vessel.
“We wanted to play our part in maximising the social return of this project. We felt the best and most lasting way that we could contribute was to establish an employment programme that provides young people from Opotiki with skills that would set them up for life.
“Our trainee programme gives these young people a career pathway in a growing industry where demand for skilled workers is strong. I admire these young employees for their courage and dedication: leaving school and home, entering the workforce in a new city, learning new skills and working hard every day. I’m very proud of all of them and see a bright future here for them.”
The three young workers, all between the ages of 17 and 18, received training in metal work and construction skills which they were able to apply directly to the building of the vessel, which itself will directly benefit their own community.
Whakatōhea Mussels chief executive Peter Vitasovich says employment options for young people are limited in Opotiki.
“We’re working hard in the region to grow opportunities for our people and we are thrilled McMullen and Wing have this vision to use our project to help us expand the options even more broadly.”