In 1977 Grant Dalton was studying accountancy and racing motorbikes when he saw the Whitbread boat, Heath’s Condor, with Peter Blake onboard, heave 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 onboard the winning Flyer II.
In the 1985-86 edition he sailed onboard the Peter Blake-skippered Lion New Zealand; in the following race he was skipper of Fisher & Paykel, which came second, 36 hours behind Blake’s unstoppable Steinlager 2. Success came in the 1993-94 race – but it was controversial. This was the year when two classes competed alongside each other; the 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 1997-98 as skipper of Merit Cup, which finished second.
He was back again in the following edition finishing third onboard Amer Sports One, but his participation will be remembered for another reason. Her sistership, Amer Sports Too was crewed by an all-female team and Dalton famously said at the start that if he was beaten by the girls, he’d walk up Queen Street in 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, when presented with a pineapple by Amer Sports Too skipper, Lisa Charles. Over the last 15 years Dalton’s name has been most closely associated with the America’s Cup.
He took over Team New Zealand in 2003, but became a lightning rod for criticism after the team’s 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.”