The Dalts Factor

27 Jun

The 35th America’s Cup is now history and it ended, as the poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Not with a bang but a whimper.” A whimper from a thoroughly defeated Oracle Team USA who simply could not rise to the occasion. As I have always said, a little bit of extra boat speed can make you look like a tactical genius and Emirates Team New Zealand had boat speed to burn. ETNZ could sail deeper downwind and higher upwind while maintaining the same speed as OTUSA and that, my friends, is how you win boat races. So let’s congratulate Peter Burling and his team. They did a fine job and are deserved winners of the America’s Cup, but just a quick little aside. The next time I hear a commentator refer to Mr Burling as the “young” Peter Burling there will be some blood letting. Ferchristsake Horatio Nelson was just 20 when he took on his first command of the Royal navy.

A much younger Dalton aboard Flyer – ’81
But I digress. Last week I wrote a piece about ETNZ secret potion being an intense National Pride, but I was wrong. Their secret ingredient was the man not at the helm of the boat, but at the helm of the entire operation and I am talking about my old mate Grant Dalton, or Dalts as most people call him. We raced together in the 81/81 Whitbread Round the Race, not on the same boat, but all of us racing back in those days were a merry band of brothers. Dalts was a tousled haired, mustachioed, unassuming person who was quick with a laugh and even quicker with a beer. I had no idea that he would rise to become one of the most powerful people in sailing and I am guessing that he also had no idea how successful his career would be, but maybe I am wrong.

Dalton’s career was for a long time in the shadow of Peter Blake, the Kiwi superstar  who captured the imagination of the New Zealand public by winning the Whitbread and the America’s Cup. Blake was tall and smooth; Dalton not so much and definitely not smooth. Blake was knighted for his contribution to sailing. Let’s see if the Queen nods in the direction of Dalton who surely deserves it, but I think that some of his public comments over the years may disqualify him. Dalton was never politically correct and he certainly had firm opinions on some issues. I am thinking of one comment leveled toward the first ever all-female team to race in the Whitbread. It was the 89/90 Whitbread when Tracy Edwards led her crew aboard Maiden. Dalton famously stated that if an all-female team ever won a leg of the Whitbread he would shove a pineapple up his arse and walk down Queen Street, the main street in Auckland. Edwards won the second leg of that race into Fremantle, Australia and to this day none of us is sure whether Dalton kept his word on that one or not.

At the heart of every successful effort you need strong leadership and Grant Dalton has provided the absolute best kind of leadership. He leads from the front and inspires by example. It took him four attempts, two as crew and two as skipper, before he won the Volvo Ocean Race, but in the 1993/94 race he dominated aboard New Zealand Endeavour winning three of the six legs and taking the overall win. He went on to race in three more Volvo Ocean Races before hanging up his oilies and turning his eye toward the America’s Cup. Dalton led the charge to win the Cup in San Francisco in 2013 and we all know how that ended, but what most don’t know was how close the whole operation came to closing down after that loss. Much of their backing comes from the New Zealand government and with such a dramatic loss the NZ public were rightfully less interested in chucking piles of money their way. 

But Dalton is nothing if not a scrapper. In 2015 he chose to axe helmsman Dean Barker and replace him with Peter Burling, a move that at the time had many calling for Dalton himself to be fired but let’s admit it, in hindsight, it was pure genius. It also didn’t help Team New Zealand when Bermuda was announced as the host of the upcoming AC. New Zealand viewed Bermuda as a commercial wasteland. Through it all Grant Dalton managed to keep it together and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Dalton and Dean Barker in happier times

So I was very happy when Emirates Team New Zealand closed out the Cup yesterday and I was even more pleased to see Dalton on board one of the most sophisticated sailboats in the world wearing a pair of flip flops, or jandals as the Kiwis like to call them. My kind of guy and let’s hope that the Queen can forgive him for a few of his less than noble comments over the years.

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Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. Richard Chassé M.100T-any ocean

    Great blog post. And I must agree that youth had little to do with the NZ win. The Kiwi’s just built a better boat for the race. It’s that simple. No matter what OTUSA did, they would not be able to beat the NZ boat. Bummer for us USA folks, yet it was beautiful to see play out. Yes, NZ did earn the win and the Hooray (no one deserves anything other than a chance).

    I watched the coverage making it like it was a determining factor at Peter’s age and, perhaps, Spithill and the USA boys were over the hill. R.U.B.B.I.S.H. !!

    As “Dalts” said, they thought ‘outside the square’ (love this). And, Nathan, from the Sweden team capped it perfectly, OTUSA was doing the same as everyone else while TNZ was not. There was not much the USA team could do.

    It’s that simple!! Nothing to do with age. :-)

  2. Peter Smith

    It may well be that the New Zealand boat was a tad faster than Oracle, but anyone who has raced knows that speed is not the end all. Tactics have won many races when speed was not enough to rule. Most of the cup races that I watched this year were lost on the starting line and in the tactics that led up to the starts. I’m also a little sick of hearing how great the sailors from “down under” are. Maybe it’s time again to have a great sailor from the United States at the helm of a boat that represents the United States of America.

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