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.
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.
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.
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.
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.