Week in Review

What will Dalton’s America’s Cup legacy be?

As Team NZ counts down the hours to launch the world's first AC75 yacht, Grant Dalton ponders what he's most proud of in this immense America's Cup mission.

If Grant Dalton has had any sleepless nights lately, they’re not showing.

The Emirates Team New Zealand impresario looks happy and relaxed, nibbling at a cupcake, next to a life-sized chocolate replica of the America’s Cup, at the top of the Sky Tower.  

This is a time in his life which could easily be fraught with worry and angst – and little sleep.

At 62, he’s just become a dad again. His son, Luke, with partner, Tonia, was born four weeks ago. “It’s no extra pressure. It’s fantastic. He’s great and easy, and we’re just loving it,” the father of four says.  

Dalton’s other new-born will be delivered to the world on Friday morning - a flying, foiling monohull, likely to be christened Aotearoa New Zealand after its forebears.

But there’s no argument this one will be different. An America’s Cup boat like no other, and the first of its kind to be revealed to the world (Dalton is genuinely surprised that none of the four challengers around the globe have launched their version of the AC75 yet).

Dalton will admit that, if he has one dread before he goes to bed at night, it’s that this boat may not live up to the hype.

“I’m worried about proving the concept,” the five-time America’s Cup veteran says. “And launching it down the harbour and ending up washed up on the Devonport Naval Base, with the tide going out. It really could happen.

“I just want it to go right.”

Dalton won’t give away much about this boat that’s been DIY-built by the team for the first time in Team NZ’s Cup history.

It will be a mix of the old – returning to the classic monohull shape (to the delight of some Cup fans, and the chagrin of others) – and the very new. If all goes to plan, it's a monohull that can fly. 

“When I look at it, it’s bigger than I envisaged in my head,” he says.

The boat is 20.7m long with a 2m bowsprit, with a 26.5m tall mast.  

“But it’s no more complex than I imagined. In fact, it’s exactly what we thought.

“It looks right, in terms of it being a monohull, and it has foils - assuming they work. The look is what we wanted. I think with the performance, we just have to wait and check that it is what it’s supposed to be. The numbers say it is, but until it happens out on the water, you’re never quite sure.

“But at this stage, I’m happy.”

Grant Dalton eyes the sweet prize, a chocolate replica of the Auld Mug, with SkyCity COO Michael Ahearne. Photo: Suzanne McFadden

The sailing fraternity expected to see the first AC75s of Luna Rossa, INEOS Team UK and American Magic splash down before the America’s Cup defender boat wet its foils.

Their launch dates may have been delayed by the late arrival of the foil arms – which support the boat when it’s flying. The carbon arms are identical parts supplied directly to the teams from the Persico boatyard in Italy, and proved to be a huge design challenge to handle the massive loads.

“I think some of the other teams are… not struggling… but it’s taken them a bit longer than expected - otherwise we wouldn’t be the first in the water,” Dalton says. “And we were the last to get the foil arms.”

It’s unlikely Friday morning’s launch will reveal much of what lies beneath the surface. The boat will sit in the water with its foil arms out of view.

And it may not go sailing immediately after its christening. The weather forecast isn’t favourable, not even for a quick blast down the Waitemata Harbour.

But the boat is ready to sail, when the conditions are right.

“We very much think we’re in a mode where we will be able to sail straight away,” Dalton says. “It will be completely dependent on the weather forecasts from here on in, which is a change for us. The forecast hasn’t affected us for two years.”

That’s where the expertise of Roger “Clouds” Badham will come in; the Australian-born marine meteorologist has been with Team NZ since 2000.

“Whenever we can, forecast agreeable, depending where we are in our scheduling, we’ll sail,” Dalton says. “It’s on.”

Dalton isn’t nervous about revealing this boat to the sailing world.

“Because there are no skirts on the boats like they had in the past, it just feels like part of the process of the campaign,” he says.

“It doesn’t feel strange, because I see it all, every day.”

But surely Dalton feels some pride in delivering this obviously innovative, radical new boat, which has been in conception and creation for the best part of two years?

“I’ll tell you what makes me most proud,” he says, pointing down from Level 60 of the Sky Tower. “It’s when I look around and see all the development around us. The tanks disappearing, the bases appearing. That to me is our legacy; as the Viaduct was for Pete [Sir Peter Blake] back in that [2000] era.

“And also our base [in the Viaduct Event Centre] with our last boat now attached to the side of it. Every single thing we do has a start-point. Nothing happens without it being thought through and processed.

“One day we said ‘let’s put a huge screen on the side of the base and play old footage on it?’ Well how the hell could we do that, we couldn’t afford a huge screen? So off we went to Panasonic.

“I enjoy that process of taking the idea, sitting around a table, and saying ‘why don’t we do this, do that?’, and then bringing it to a finish.

“You know, this boat literally started with the designers going ‘There are six ideas here, what the hell are we going to do?’ and now it’s going in the water. That’s the bit that I feel proud of – building something from nothing.”

Looking down on the America's Cup village from Level 60 of the Sky Tower. Photo: Suzanne McFadden. 

Considering all the initial ruckus with local and central governments over where the 2021 America’s Cup would be housed – and the threat that it might not be held in New Zealand – Dalton has so far smoothly delivered much of what he’s promised.

Doing what he does best, he’s pulled together a team of eight major sponsors – Omega, Toyota, Spark, Genesis, Steinlager, HP, TVNZ and the latest to sign up, SkyCity (hence the celebratory confectionery Auld Mug). There’s a growing list of official suppliers too.

The Cup village is taking shape – breakwaters, pontoons, wharf extensions and base foundations are nearly complete.

A new boat building yard has sprung up in Albany – “it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it would now be the best boatyard in New Zealand, for carbon and high-tech building”, Dalton says.

The yard is run by Sean Regan, who gained fame as Team NZ's shore crew co-ordinator overseeing repairs to Aotearoa after it pitch-poled in Bermuda. The team have their own apprentice scheme for young boatbuilders, and are still looking for more.

There won’t be a lull in business with a second race boat still to be built, and launched after February 1 next year.

Over the last two years, Dalton has established a strong working relationship with the Italian Challenger of Record, Circolo Della Vela Sicilia. “We don’t have so much to do with the Challenger of Record now - they’re doing their thing; we’re doing ours,” he says.

He still speaks regularly to Luna Rossa skipper, Max Sirena – they became close mates during the last America’s Cup, when Sirena was on loan to Team NZ. Dalton doesn’t expect the Italians to launch their first AC75 until the end of the month.

“But Max says he’s very much looking forward to seeing where we’re at,” says Dalton, who’s expecting more than a few long lenses to be paying close attention to their base soon after dawn on Friday.

Dalton isn’t fazed there are just four challengers on their way to Auckland for the Prada Cup. It’s quality over quantity, he says, and three of the four are well-endowed and experienced.

(There were 11 challengers for the Cup in 2000, and nine in 2003. San Francisco’s 2013 Cup attracted just three challengers, but then the drawn-out agony of the America’s Cup itself completely overshadowed that fact.)

Next year, Dalton plans to take the Auld Mug on another nationwide tour, to bring Kiwis closer to the Cup. It's also his goal to set up fan zones throughout the country for the main event in the summer of 2021.

So I ask Dalton one last time - what could really throw him 18 months out from the next America’s Cup?

“Nothing really. There’s always something each day we have to deal with, but we all do in life,” he says, dropping cupcake icing on my sleeve. “I just hope the boat works correctly. That’s about it really. We’re in pretty good shape.”

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