Dalton’s Choice

R.P. Falconer, the coming giant of modern-day literature wrote an interesting line that stuck with me: “A man would rather break his donkey’s back than give it the carrot it requires to progress.” And as Grant Dalton faces down the membership of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron on Tuesday evening, I can’t help but think that caution should be applied in their gentleman’s revolution. Fair enough to call Dalts to account and get it straight from him but holding his feet to the fire and threatening legal consequences is a step way too far in the current global climate and one that no-one, either concerned or otherwise, has an appetite for.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron

The simple fact is that Dalton has done, and continues to do, an incredible job not just for Team New Zealand and the Squadron it represents but also for Kiwi national pride and the country’s standing on the world stage. How that last defence was conducted was a model in excellence right from the get-go. Te Rehutai was a class apart. The Club was represented magnificently – don’t forget that.

My only disappointment was in not seeing the angular muscle-yacht at its absolute full potential due to the light conditions but my God she was a weapon operating on the outer limit of the design envelope with sailors in another postcode with their ability. Shoreside the Kiwis were a no-nonsense, honest unit very much in the mould of Dalts where egos were kept firmly in check. It was a remarkable campaign and the team was exemplary in all departments. At the prize-giving, Grant stood on the podium firmly at the back watching his superstars take the limelight with an all-seeing gaze – never celebrating too much and giving credit where it was due. A better leader in the Cup there isn’t.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Mid-way through the regatta when the Italians got close, the word is that Dalts huddled the team and gave them the rollocking they needed to sort out their roll-tacks and come back with a level of sailing that no-one even thought possible. It was a perfect interjection at absolutely the right time. And they won at a canter thereafter, destroying the Italians like clinical surgeons in charge of a precision bombing campaign. Dalton commands respect and the respect he has is hard won through sheer graft. I would go as far as saying he’s irreplaceable and thoroughly deserves to be knighted.

The fact that he was overlooked again in the recent honours list indicates to me that the Kiwi government isn’t best pleased with what’s happening in the Cup and the threat to take it overseas. And a cabal of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron are equally unimpressed with the notion and on face value they are all right. But…and it’s a big ‘but’…the simple truth is that Team New Zealand is operating on fumes right now with very little in the coffers to mount a defence of any note. Dalton is fighting for the very life of the best team, in my opinion, ever to grace the America’s Cup. It shouldn’t be this way.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

The members are absolutely within their rights to hold a town hall meeting and hear from the horse’s mouth what’s happening but I really don’t know what they expect from it and can see a lot of unintended consequences if they push their man too far. Grant will lay out the position and it will be parlous. Anyone could write the script. It’s not a secret and it’s pretty damned obvious. The club and the team may well have no option other than taking the Cup overseas to stay alive. There is no magic money tree that Team New Zealand can pick from at will. Yes there are wealthy people concerned with the syndicate but none with the trash cash to throw at the team – if there were, we simply wouldn’t be having the debate about taking the Cup to the UK. Team New Zealand is effectively up for grabs and is limping along on government life-support. It could change in an instant but the fairy-tale of an 11th hour benefactor riding to its rescue is just that. Right now, it looks highly unlikely.

The New Zealand government meanwhile is in a corner financially and can only help so much. It’s almost incredible that they are even involved – bring the Cup to the UK or take it to America or Italy and there’s no way that any of those teams would get a single penny, cent or euro out of their governments. It would all be on the largesse of the wealthy owners.

This week, the final final offer will be tabled by the government and Dalton and the Squadron have a big choice to make. They can absolutely see what the future holds with the next Cup looking like the biggest arms race outside of a moon shot. Ineos will be free-spending. Luna Rossa too. The Americans should be there and then there’s the possibility of any number of rumours coming to fruition. Billionaires have had a good crisis. Money is out there but it’s not flowing to the holders.

And that’s the central crux of it all. Money. Sad as that is but the Cup is all about money. As a proud Kiwi, Dalton would hold the Cup in Auckland in a heartbeat. There’s no hidden agenda. He’s doing the best for the team and the Squadron in the most difficult of times. What the membership may have to do is wake up to reality and face the possibility of the Cup going overseas and let Dalton do the best deal he can to bring it back in, say, 2026 by fair means or contractual.

©Studio Borlenghi

The machinations of delegated authority and the Deed of Gift ramifications and legalese consume the bored and the nit-pickers. Step back and look at what’s ranged against New Zealand and you start to see and understand the problem that Dalton is trying to solve – and I wouldn’t bet against him coming up with a solution that satisfies not only the agitating members but the Squadron as a whole, the Team and the country. This is not the time for a principles-based argument or an examination of the wording. You’ve got the very best at the helm there, and if I may steal and repeat that line – don’t break the donkey’s back but give it the carrot that it needs to progress.

Bet against Dalton at your peril but don’t expect miracles. He’s more than capable of pulling rabbits out of hats but this is on a knife-edge. See the bigger picture, listen to what Dalton says and realise that this isn’t a vanity trip – it’s cold, hard logic by one of the greatest Cup operators of all time and it’s a battle for survival, as well as being a battle to be competitive and show the world once again the marvellous Kiwi spirit of innovation and brilliance in the Cup arena. Every team would kill to have Dalton, my vote would be to give him the break he squarely deserves and back him to the hilt.

Any other decision or action is fraught with peril and will lead ultimately to defeat. That’s not something to be taken lightly. Dangerous times.




12 thoughts on “Dalton’s Choice

  1. Dalts legacy at stake. Peter Blake is fondly remembered as a Kiwi Hero, and including , Sir Edmund Hillary, Colin Meads, Jack Lovelock, Murray Halberg, John Walker, George Nepia, Jonah Lomu, Denny Hulme, Sir Richard Hadlee, the Going Brothers, Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and more. However in the Americas Cup in 2003, Russell Coutts and co was unfortunately called a traitor, a hero-turned foe and simply a traitor to the whole nation of NZ – Kiwis don’t forget, reputation is at stake, Dalts choice.

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  2. The sportsman Russel Coutts did no different than scientists, like myself, who pursued opportunities not available at the time in New Zealand. I have always highly admired that he deviated little from his goal to push his own limits and that of sailing. When this was no longer possible after a time here in Switzerland, he moved to the States, and when with the Cup no longer, he created the most exciting “other” opportunity for professional sailors, with SailGP. The introduction of mixed gender crews to SailGP, an irreversible step and long overdue, further evidence of how he continues to develop as sailor and human being.

    Which brings me to my next point, Lloyd, looking through your list, there don’t appear many women? Shouldn’t this be where we really need to be placing our efforts for change, so that such a list of hero(ins) truly represents the diversity of New Zealand as a whole?

    Henece, to take your last sentence and rephrase it somewhat, “Kiwi’s don’t forget, your reputation is at stake: The reputation of being the first nation in the World to grant women the vote (19.9.1983) and the reputation of an indigenous Maori (women and men) who were arguably one of the greatest sailing folk who ever existed, see newly .. (https://doi.org/10.1080/03036758.2021.1917633).

    Are these not the real goals we should be striving towards, a true “TeamNZ”? I am convinced “Dalt’s choice” will be the right one, regardless of how it goes, and that decisions in the hands of real sailors (World Sailing take note..) is by far and away the best way forward.

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  3. Good points made by both commentators here. I think the fear that 2021 would “turn out like 2000” is probably pretty large in the minds of the TNZ fanbase— that is, that the defense would be successful, only for key personnel to leave the team a few months later. With the provisional rules in place, that can’t happen, but I can see how the possibility of losing hosting rights in a similar timeframe would be similarly shocking.

    As a fan from the US, I’d rather TNZ got to host another defense at home— with, as the prior commentator suggests, a team representative of their country as a whole. The fan enthusiasm for the America’s Cup in New Zealand seems to be on another whole level from anywhere else. While this enthusiasm has a dark side as seen by the harassment of Butterworth, Coutts, et al. (which was completely unwarranted, as they were perfectly in their rights to become free agents), it can also be directed towards constructive ends, as Messrs Tuke and Burling are attempting to do by using their fame to promote ocean conservation. And, as lva7cd85394688a suggests, the team could draw on that enthusiasm by giving female and minority sailors an opportunity to compete for the sport’s most famous prize.

    I hope that the RNZYS are able to host their next defense in Auckland to the enjoyment of their fanbase and that they can use New Zealand’s love of the America’s Cup to work for positive, not negative, ends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree. To my mind female athlete inclusion is absolutely non-negotiable in this next edition. We cannot have our pinnacle event being so under-represented and non-reflective of the times. It must change or it will die.

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  4. I have known Dalton since his Fisher & Paykel RTW challenge. I have watched him work miracles to raise the money for his campaigns, working phones through the night, desperately seeking a few more dollars to hold it together, while waiting for the next sponsor to decide whether it is worth their company investing. Meanwhile his Billionaire opponents interrupt their daily routines for a second or two to write a few more million dollar cheques, all done so easily sometimes, it has seemed, with little more than a shrug!

    As others have noted above, winning the Cup is not only about designing the best, building the best and performing the best on the water. It is a cut throat business where some of the billionaires and most cut throat businessmen see every aspect of it as a fight. Dalton has fought them off the water, too, snd won!

    When TVNZ found a way of sponsoring, (at no cost to us, I was CEO at this time ) his ‘Endeavour’ RTW campaign, Dalton called me regularly from his yacht as it battled through storms or passed famous land marks like ‘The Horn’. He didn’t have to. But he has always believed in giving real value to sponsors and ‘giving back’. In contrast I have known Skippers and team bosses who simply take the money and run, tarnishing the reputation of those at the top of the sport and leaving sponsors feeling ‘once bitten, once shy’. His honour in dealing with sponsors has done great credit to NZ.

    Dalton faces a massive mountain to climb this time. Covid has crippled the airline and many other industries that have, over decades, sponsored sailing. To defend in NZ, sadly is extra difficult because attracting entrants to come that far is really hard. Without big entry numbers, sponsorship is extra hard to find.

    The entire history of the Cup has been of billionaires funding winning boats. For a country’s tax payers to fight billionaires, some of whom have company turnovers that rival the GDP of smaller countries, seems to me something which is too political for most governments to contemplate. I don’t know the details of deals offered and would not presume to suggest any solutions, as an outsider. But it does seem to me that if the only way to keep the awesome TNZ winning is to go to a country or a place that can fund the next Cup, then it would be better to win offshore than break up a team of the most brilliant designers , scientists’ administrators, event organisers and, yes, yachtsman that exists. If it has to happen, let them win again overseas and show the world another victory parade down Queen Street when they hold on to that ugly Cup!

    No one asked me to write this, but as a massive fan of NZ, NZ sailing, Grant and the boys and girls, I want to see them win again!
    Julian Mounter.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Benjamin Franklin

    Men of character face challenges and stare them down,

    Kia tu kaha.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Better to defend offshore than suffer the ignominy of a lame duck defense at home.

    I never could understand the small minded objection to Coutts’ offshore move. Sailing was his career and his life. How could anyone deny him the right to drive it as far and high as he could reach?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Here’s a very controversial take— did Coutts and Butterworth ultimately win TNZ more funding and fan support as adversaries than they could have as crewmembers? If we’re seeing that it’s so hard for the team to get funding when everything seems to be going well and they can be “taken for granted”, maybe having a consistent pair of adversaries to rally people against for a decade-and-a-bit was useful. (Not that I would suggest it was all some master plan a-la “The Producers”…)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Indeed dollars doesn’t make cents anymore. It isn’t about the extra zeroes you have in your passbook. This isn’t about Dalts wallets anymore, this is about Five Million souls that defended it, the pride of a Nation, our journey and the history created by our pioneers with KZ7 and Black Magic. A little Nation in the Pacific Ocean far away from the rest of the world, managed to beat the best. The balance of power has long shifted away from Dalts and he knows it. Your times up, move aside and let the new generation lead, Pete and Blair, they are capable.

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