Sailing: Dalton fired by 'adventure and danger'

Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

At a café in what used to be America's Cup Alley, Halsey Street, on Auckland's Viaduct Basin, a former winner admitted to being green-eyed with envy at what has been unfolding in the Southern Ocean during the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Melbourne.

Grant Dalton, who is now in charge of New Zealand's America's Cup bid, was bubbling. "The whole Volvo event has been reignited," he said. "It has rediscovered the old excitement, adventure and danger. Everyone is talking about it when they come in in the morning. There is a real pulse and a huge buzz. I would love to be down there again."

On the track, leader Mike Sanderson in ABN Amro 1 was looking anxiously both over his shoulder, as colleagues on ABN 2 closed in, and ahead to light weather in the Great Australian Bight. Paul Cayard's Pirates of the Caribbean was "smoking" despite still leaking and, ahead of him in third, Bouwe Bekking in movistar was topping the speed league.

Dalton, a staunch Kiwi if ever there was one, said he would like to shake the Volvo's Australian chief executive, Glenn Bourke, by the hand, a rare gesture of Trans-Tasman goodwill. He thought the new world record set up by ABN 2 was "just so neat", and insisted on highlighting the decision by ABN's Roy Heiner to give Argentina's Juan Kouyoumdjian the design brief.

He had no time for the doom- mongers dwelling on breakdowns and keel-technology failures, despite the retirements and anxieties. As long as a second generation of the new Open 70 design was allowed to develop, they would be stronger and even faster, he said.

He had a special word for Sanderson, who sailed with him on New Zealand Endeavour. "He was a star in the making when I first met him and he was just 18," he said. "At 33, he's made the best of the opportunity presented to him, and if ever I had the chance to put together another Volvo campaign [which he would dearly like] he is the man I would want as skipper."

More immediately, TNZ are deep into preparations for moving their new boat to the America's Cup base in Valencia. But Dalton was cagey about racing it at regattas in Spain this year. He does not want to show his hand if others do not. Chris Dickson refuses to confirm whether America's BMW-Oracle will race their new boat, the Swiss def-enders, Alinghi, are considered highly unlikely to do so, and that could lead to Italy's Luna Rossa keeping their cards close as well.

The South Africans are unlikely to build a second new boat and there seems to be a mass exercise in denying financial gravity by the Swedes, both French syndicates and Italy's +39, where Britain's Iain Percy is skipper.

Across the Tasman Sea, sports-mad Melbourne, enjoying cricket and tennis and looking forward to the Commonwealth Games, has been acting, ahead of welcoming the Volvo fleet this week, as a test bed for the new Olympic sailing formula. This calls for a double-points final race for the top 10 of any fleet.

Leigh McMillan and Will Howden were Britain's best, taking silver in the Tornado catamaran, with Mark Howard claiming bronze in the Laser. Reports will be flying to the International Sailing Federation headquarters in Southampton - the sailors are enthusiastic.

This week also sees the start of the near 40-boat J24 world championship, with Britain's Ian Southworth, the European title- holder, bidding to be the first Briton to lift the world crown.