Grant Dalton was staring into the abyss.
It was 2015 and after a disastrous 2013 America’s Cup campaign, which saw Emirates Team New Zealand lose the unlosable as the USA come back from 8-1 down to re-claim the Cup 9-8, the 60-year-old was making some of the toughest decisions of his career.
“We had to learn” he said in Dubai yesterday, “We couldn’t go back the same. We had to make a lot of changes in the organization and the organization went through some pretty hard growing re-invention stages through 2014-2015.”
That “re-invention” included a complete clean out of the crew from 2013 including captain Dean Barker.
The split with Barker was messy, nasty, and played out publicly. There were calls for Dalton’s head by prominent NZ commentators, bile on social media, even death threats. Things got so bad Dalton had to leave New Zealand.
“There were some pretty tough decisions which were pretty unpopular at the time in New Zealand” admitted Dalton, “to the point where I had to leave the country for a number of months. Not just a couple of months, I went to the UK for six months.”
All of this came flooding back as he watched Team NZ sail across the line to finally re-claim the world’s oldest sporting trophy. He didn’t relax even at 6-1 up with metres left to sail.
“Until we actually crossed the line, even when we were ten metres from it I still wouldn’t let it go, something could happen” he said. “I just felt this amazing pride in the team – and justification. The win was a lot sweeter simply because of San Francisco. We did things differently this time.”
Did he feel joy at gaining revenge on the people who tried to tear him down?
“Just a sense of closure” he said.
It’s clear that for Dalton the wounds of 2013 are still raw and even in the glow of glory from victory he couldn’t resist a pop at the defeated Team Oracle captain, Australian Jimmy Spithill, who ran a public campaign to get Dalton ousted after the disaster of 2013.
“I don’t care about Spithill” he fired back, “he tried and failed to get rid of me”.
There was a trace of a smile on Dalton’s weathered visage when revealing how Team NZ had snuck up on Spithill and his highly rated USA team.
“Really in the end we caught them by stealth” he said, “We had to arrive with them not knowing what we were like and probably we were better than we expected ourselves frankly. That’s probably the most gratifying thing for me. We learnt from San Francisco and then took them out with stealth.”
Dalton has a reputation as a sharp shooter who fires from the hip, damn the consequences, and he was in fine form as Team NZ stopped over en route from Bermuda to Auckland.
“People because of my media profile expect me to lash out at the opposition and I won’t” he said, “my role now is to show stability to the sport.
“The sport is quite fragmented, it’s a big sport worldwide but it’s very fragmented. The America’s Cup is the free world effectively and we have to, I have to make sure that as quick as possible we put stability around the America’s Cup which in the end helps the whole sport.”
He holds little respect for the way the Golden Gate Yacht Club have run the America’s Cup recent years, confirming there will be some big changes in four year’s time.
“I basically disagreed with a lot of the organisation who ran it before” he said, “They lost a lot of the tradition of the greatest sporting trophy in the world.
“It’s not to say it shouldn’t be innovative, high technology and the boats shouldn’t be fast but I thought it had become crass and it had lost its style and the America’s Cup is about style. So the opportunity now to put our spin with our challenge of record, Luna Rossa, on the future – to me is a dream come true.”
He’s also expecting a massive reception when the team arrives home today.
“I think we’re going to find out more when we reach home” he said, “Because it’s huge.But we’ve been in a bubble, and purposefully in a bubble.”
“We’ll know more on Thursday when probably 150,000 people turn up to the parade in Auckland and then we have to organise parades in the other centres. And we’ll just go about our process of working out how we’re going to defend it over the next month or two.
“ We won’t rush, we’d rather savour this for awhile. It’s been a long four years and we need a bit of a break.”
It’s hard to imagine Dalton taking a break. He’ll no doubt be hard at work straight away to hold on to the Auld Mug in four years time.