In 1977 Grant Dalton was studying accountancy and racing motorbikes when he saw the Whitbread boat Heath’s Condor, with Peter Blake on board, hove into view from his grandparents’ house in Auckland. That’s when he had his epiphany moment.
“It came around North Head with this giant yellow spinnaker and I thought, 'holy shit'. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said recently.
He followed the tried and tested route of sailmaking and got his first round the world ticket in the 1981-1982 Whitbread on board the winning Flyer II. In the 1985-86 edition he sailed aboard the Peter Blake skippered Lion New Zealand; in the following race he was skipper of Fisher & Paykel, which came in second, 36 hours behind Blake’s unstoppable Steinlager 2.
Success came in the 1993-1994 race – but it was controversial. This was the year when two classes competed alongside each other; the old maxi class and the new light and fast Whitbread 60s.
Dalton skippered NZ Endeavour to glory in the maxis, finishing 21 hours ahead of his nearest rival (of either class). Afterwards he conceded that it would be better if there was only one class in the race.
His next outing in what was now the Volvo Ocean race was in 1997-1998 as skipper of Merit Cup, which finished second on the podium. He was back again in the following edition finishing third aboard Amer Sports One, but his participation will be remembered for another reason. Its sister boat, Amer Sports Too was crewed by an all-female team and Dalton famously boasted at the start that if he was beaten by the girls he’d walk the streets of Auckland with a pineapple up his backside.
Much amusement followed when the girls came in ahead of Dalton on the final leg from Gothenburg to Kiel. Dalton duly obliged, coming into harbour with a pineapple in his shorts.
Over the last 15 years Dalton’s name has been most closely associated with the America’s Cup. He took over the New Zealand team in 2003 but became a lightning rod for criticism after the team’s infamous defeat to Oracle Team USA in 2013.
Recently, he compared the two races in an interview with the New Zealand Herald: “The round-the-world environment is a pure environment, your best friends are your competitors because they're the ones who are going to haul you out of the Southern Ocean. In the America's Cup your competitors will bury you – legally or any other way they can.”