Fuente info Times of Malta
Wednesday, 9th February 2011
Kiwi Dalton hails NZ prowess
Sailing correspondent Teddie Borg recently flew to Auckland, New Zealand, where he met Grant Dalton. In this interview, Dalton, boss of Emirates Team New Zealand, speaks about his country and the influence it leaves on world sailing.
What sort of passion do you have for sailing?
I started very young at the age of six years. It’s very much a family sport in this country.
Nowadays, there are better training programmes than my days. Two out of three have access to the water and a boat in New Zealand. In the early 80s, there was no professional sailing and a bunch of us didn’t realise that we were creating a new kind of professional sport.
Peter Blake was probably the pioneer but I was close behind. And it goes on up to this very day. The perfect job in the world is to make a living out of your hobby.
Is it true that New Zealand is a powerhouse of sailing?
It is. We are probably not as strong as other countries in Olympic classes but, on the other hand, we are very strong in the big boats – America’s Cup, Round the World, TP52, keel boat types. Moreover, it tends to sustain the same people – Russell Coutts is a perfect example.
We know that it can’t go on forever, but yes, we are a professional powerhouse of sailing.
The New Zealand era started in 1995 by winning your first America’s Cup. Then, it was defended successfully in the next edition but after that ETNZ had a very unaccustomed lean period. So, what are the real chances now for bringing back to NZ the America’s Cup from San Francisco in 2013?
Probably the new era started even before 1995. The America’s Cup was an accumulation of a series of Round the World races. Remember, we started to understand way back in the 60s, when we began to feel this kind of sport.
True, in 1995 we experienced the golden age but unfortunately it fell apart later. Since then, it’s been quite a long process. We did quite OK in 2007 when we finally got another Cup. Since then we went from strength to strength. We dominated everyone.
Shortly we shall be in the Volvo Ocean Race. Whether we go for the Cup is another big question... financially. We are a small country with few millionaires around and they’re not involved. We need a lot of money. It will take us a while to confirm our participation.
We hope to have the Emirates support but that’s not a done deal. There are other countries as well. It will certainly be a big tragedy if we are not able to make it.
But is funding the real factor for not winning the next AC?
At this stage, it will certainly hinder us from competing professionally.
Our team is too proud, too strong and our country is too tuned with this sport. I want to live the rest of my life in peace. I don’t need the rest of my country chasing me for the next 20 years. So, yes, we really need the cash.
You seem to be satisfied that the next edition will be held in San Francisco in 2013. Why?
It is an avenue that suits sponsorship. It’s a big market there with amphi-theatre environment – big speedy multihulls that, if this was to happen in Valencia, they will disappear there and no one would even see them.
From a Kiwi point of view, I think it’s beneficial because it’s also windy. The Europeans tend to beat us or make our life a lot harder. Well, Kiwis, like their rugby, enjoy muscling up a good punch up in the windy weather. San Francisco is also close to our time zone.
What do you prefer, the 20 years of traditional AC boats or the new multihulls?
Actually, I was having an interesting conversation recently with a traditional sponsor. He was vehemently opposed to the multihulls when they came out. Today, he did a complete ‘360’ as he feels that after all the ‘cats’ could be good for the sport.
Internally, I feel that it’s not such a good idea but subsequently we got into the design process and understood it. So, for me to say that I do prefer the monohulls, would not be fair.
It must be a new challenge because none of you really experienced it well so far...
Until you’ve done it, you won’t really know. We’ve recruited fairly carefully to transfer skills to certain guys, boat to boat. In certain positions, we needed to look elsewhere.
In the multihulls, we had to make redundant a number of people... it’s really tough. In soccer you drop players without reason sometimes but in our case, we certainly have a reason – this is the skills change. We now have new people involved in the trimaran. We have mixed feelings about this but we have to adapt.
In comparision, do you need more funding for the multihulls?
Our real cost has gone up 20%. We are obliged to live by similar budgets. This makes it tough.
Do you feel that the Americans have chosen the multihulls to suit their purposes?
Oracle have never been successful with monohulls in the AC. Now they are using tactical advantage which they developed with the multihulls over recent years. In the same position, probably we would have done the same.
Taken at this point, potentially this is due to new technology.
If ever the AC rules were in your hands, what would you change?
I have no problem with the rules. If I ever have a choice, I will have a nationality rule... the AC is a friendly competition between nations. It doesn’t say between nationals.
True, you can argue that in 1900s US boats were crewed by fishermen from the North Sea. They weren’t necessarily Americans.
A case in particular was “Stars and Stripes vs the Aussies” race.
This was Americans vs Australians. There is a lot of credibility sometimes even though the Deed doesn’t say that. I think that we would gain something by being a race of nationals.
After all, it is the Kiwis who suffered most, with most practically on all decks during AC races...
The cynics would say that if we ever introduced this national rule after we win the AC Cup, it would be to our advantage. And there is some truth in that as we Kiwis are running most of the teams.
The other problem is that the national rule will give more incentive to countries like China and Korea... this argument will go on forever.
Volvo is another challenge. Which would you prefer to win if there was a choice?
One only enters to win them both. That’s the only reason in which we approach this campaign, to get them both. We certainly are not going in for the Volvo to add the numbers and we want to bring back the AC Cup back to Auckland.
Is the Volvo going good for you, now that it is so close?
Yes, one of our sponsors was talking to me lately and he asked me the same question. On a scale of one to ten, ten being perfect, I think we are very close to the big number. If the Volvo boat is slow, you are dead. You are finished. That way you can’t win.
Assuming we have a good boat, I reckon we are on a nine or even 9.5. So far, we did not have one single problem since the programme started. Our sponsors are easy to deal with. Everything is looking pretty good... I’m loving it.
The AC is pretty hard work... always is, always was. My heart is in the Volvo and my head is in the AC.
How many boats do you think will participate in both the Volvo and the AC?
One can be pretty accurate with the Volvo as it is so close. On a good day there will be around seven boats. There is plenty of time for the AC though which also means that there will be those who will fall out.
Do you feel that the last edition is scaring participation?
It’s a bunch of things. I reckon there won’t be more than six boats in all at the AC.
Will Alinghi be on track for the 2013 edition?
Ohhhh... I have no idea (smiling sarcastically)... it’s too far you know.