For New Zealand, San Francisco America's Cup looks make or break
By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Fifty-six-year-old Grant Dalton's daily routine includes strapping on a helmet, a wetsuit and a belt full of emergency gear to work as a lowly "grinder" on the New Zealand catamaran competing in this year's America's Cup sailing regatta.
Cranking the big winches is an intensely physical job normally left to brawny men at least two decades his junior. The wiry, tart-tongued Dalton is also the managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand. Through these positions he imparts a blue-collar streak to a blue-blooded sport, making him a fitting symbol for the only Cup challenger that isn't bankrolled by a billionaire.
With competitive sailing in the 34th America's Cup getting under way on San Francisco Bay, New Zealand already stands out as the most polished of the three teams that hope to pry the trophy away from software mogul Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA. The "Kiwis" routed Prada fashion tycoon Patrizio Bertelli's Luna Rossa Challenge in their first race by more than five minutes, a lead so large that the Italian boat was officially deemed not to have completed the race even though it crossed the finish line.
For Dalton, and for New Zealand's fervent sailing fans, there's a lot riding on the team's performance.
In an international competition where money buys top talent from around the world, New Zealand's is the only boat crewed almost entirely by nationals.
Only New Zealand has a home-grown grown industry devoted to designing and building advanced carbon-fiber boats of the type being used in the Cup.
And only New Zealand, whose winning Cup campaign two decades ago touched off a national celebration, is backed by its government and risks losing that support if it fails this year.
"I don't think the team will survive if we don't win," said New Zealand tactician Ray Davies. "It's fantastic that the government puts the money in, but they're expecting us to win and they're not going to back a team that doesn't win." Continued...