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America's Cup: Dalton refutes AC75 cost claims

by Suzanne McFadden, 20 Dec 2017 08:56 NZDT 20 December 2017
Grant Dalton holds the America's Cup for the first time after ETNZ's win in Bermuda © Richard Gladwell

In the wake of an America's Cup victory, Grant Dalton's day begins religiously at 4.15am.

He's hoisting iron in the weight room by 5am, before pounding the streets with his long-time sailing mate Tony Rae.

"I made my Christmas run this morning," the 60-year-old says proudly, from behind the desk of his Auckland waterfront office. "Every year I set end-of-year targets for my bench press, squat and deadlift, and then my running distance. Over the last week I hit all the numbers." He won't reveal what they are: "They're nothing special."

But that is Dalton in a nutshell. Setting goals, hitting the numbers. Not overtly bragging about them. He's been doing it in the sailing realm for near on half a century.

And now he's attempting to put those skills to a new test – organising an event. Arguably the biggest event in world sailing, for the world's oldest sporting trophy. And six months into the process, Dalton – wearing his sunglasses on his head indoors – looks remarkably calm and almost laid-back.

His daily schedule might reveal otherwise. The CEO of Emirates Team New Zealand, Dalton is primarily focused on getting the 2021 America's Cup event up and running. He's negotiating with local and central governments here at home, flying to Europe to work with Italian partners, and drumming up sponsorship deals – his forte. But at the same time, he also has an eye on the rebuilding of his team and the creation of a new boat, the radical AC75.

Since he came on board in 2003, and up until winning the Auld Mug in Bermuda last June, Dalton had been able to concentrate on running a team. But when you take hold of the silverware, it comes with the responsibility of arranging a grand show to contest it. Successfully defending the Cup AND running a world-class regatta requires a nimble balancing act, he's discovering.

"The danger is we have a good event and we lose the Cup. Or we have a great team and we don't have a good Cup. It's a balance, and I guess because we have good people and we've been competing in the Cup for a while, we can share the responsibilities," he says.

"I'm basically the fire fighter now. Lately we've had a few scrub fires to contend with – not so much in the team, but in the event world."

While the spotlight has been on the ongoing arbitration over where to put the America's Cup teams, there's a constant buzz of activity behind the wire fence of the defender's base at 168 Beaumont Street.

Right now, there are at most a dozen people – depending on the day of the week – rattling around in the two-story building on the Site 18 marine precinct, that Team NZ has occupied for the past two years.

Some Cup commentators have criticised the new boat as being too complex and too expensive; legend Dennis Conner reckoned it would hike the cost of a competitive challenge up to $200 million.

"To the people who say it's out of control cost-wise, they are uneducated – they have no idea what's going on here," Dalton fires back. He gives an example of the control system for the boat's foils – which will be an electric motor. "If I got a sponsor to supply that part to you, you wouldn't have to pay for it. You can whittle away the cost of the boat that way."

Sean Regan, the shore crew co-ordinator, is working on where and how Team NZ will construct their initial boat, which Dalton says will be in the water by April 1, 2019. The team's logistics manager, Andy Nottage, is working his way through the 60 shipping containers that were brought home from Bermuda. Some are outside the window of Dalton's office, almost forming their own town.

The event team for the 2021 America's Cup so far comprises of Dalton, and a consultant. A UK-based agency, Influence Sport & Media, has been appointed as the commercial agency to help run the event. Heading the agency is Alistair Watkins, a former marketing director of Cup team Alinghi, and the Honda Formula One team.

As the Cup draws closer, Dalton will appoint someone else to run the Cup event. He hasn't decided who yet, but says it will probably be a Kiwi. "I will always stay involved. But I will move between the two [the event and the team]."

Despite being pulled two ways, Dalton says this isn't the busiest time in his life. He routinely finishes work early, won't take phone calls after 7.30pm, and is in bed before 9pm.

"It's probably playing out as I expected. Sometimes it's a bit frustrating. Having won it you realise it's the only event that New Zealand has had that we haven't bid for. If you want the Rugby World Cup, the Masters Games, or the Commonwealth Games, you actually set up a process so that you're ready for it if it happens. But I don't think they expected us to win," he says.

Bringing home the America's Cup was right up there for career highlights, Dalton admits, but not his "bestest and most fun" campaign. That award goes to his record-breaking non-stop circumnavigation of the globe on the 125ft catamaran, Club Med. "That was the campaign where they said no-one was coming back - we were all going to die," he recalls.

"But, of course, the America's Cup is the pinnacle of the sport, and we achieved it with a really good bunch of people."

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