Grant Dalton has ended months of speculation by confirming Emirates Team New Zealand will not compete in the next Volvo round the world ocean race, scuppering any chance of Auckland becoming a stopover.
The bluewater race was Dalton's fallback option should the America's Cup remain bogged down in the courts. But in a sign the team's inertia is nearly over, the Volvo race has been ditched for two reasons: it was proving too expensive and was superfluous to the team's needs.
Perhaps it was the bonhomie of a long holiday but Dalton is now, for the first time in months, confident that Team NZ will be back on the water soon.
Yesterday he departed on a fact-finding mission, first stop Valencia for Alinghi's defence of the auld mug against challenger Oracle. The best-of-three series in giant mono-hulls starts tomorrow night (NZ time).
The expectation is the winner will, possibly as soon as this week, announce a Challenger of Record to stave off any hip-pocket challenge, and then outline its intentions for the 34th regatta.
There's a potential spanner in the works – further litigation – and Dalton doesn't discount more delays as a result. But he is so optimistic the end is in sight he is poised to rebuild his syndicate and re-hire many of the staff he was forced to make redundant during the cup hiatus.
"I don't for a minute discount the possibility [of more delays] but there's now, for the first time in a long time, light at the end of the tunnel," he told the Sunday Star-Times. "There's a future for the team beckoning within days really."
Many predicted Team NZ would be financially crippled during the cup hiatus, including Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth, in an interview with the Star-Times in 2008.
Dalton took great pride in exclaiming this week: "we are still here" and "ready to race again" once "there's certainty in the future of the event".
"Above all else that is what we want, certainty. The best result for us is for the winner [of the deed-of-gift match] to announce a Challenger of Record and say the defender will enter into dialogue with the challengers. That's about the best result we can hope for."
The aftermath of any America's Cup is both exciting and hectic. Sailors come off contract, as do design staff. Many are already free agents. Once the broad parameters of the 34th cup are known, Dalton will compete for their services and will brief key staff and sponsors, all of whom will have a major influence on what the syndicate will look like and how it will function during its next campaign.
"My focus needs to now turn to raising money and getting the team back together again. My heart is still in a Volvo but it would have been a massive distraction and the board felt we needed to change course.
"Given what has happened in the past couple of weeks, and remember only two weeks ago I didn't think the cup was going to happen, it looks like we have made a good decision.
"We are not far away from re-starting [an America's Cup campaign]."
Dalton has not the foggiest idea who will win the cup, nor is he that interested in the multi-hull showdown.
"I just want it to be over with. But I will predict that it will probably be a trouncing. I mean there won't be a half-knot difference between these boats. It will be more like a three or four. We could even see a couple of 15-minute trouncings. That would be good because that would sway public opinion and deter any further legal challenges. It's pretty hard to ask for another crack when you have just been trounced."
- Sunday Star Times
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