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Graham Dalton completes his journey to Bilbao

by Tim Kelly on 19 Jun 2007
Graham Dalton sailing AGD Southern Man earlier in the Velux 5 Oceans onEdition
Graham Dalton, onboard his Open 50 A SOUTHERN MAN - AGD, today completed his spiritual journey when he arrived at 03:15 local time (02:15 UTC) into Bilbao, Spanish Basque Country.

Following a journey that has captured the imagination of sailing fans and people from all over the world, the determined skipper sailed back to Bilbao to complete his own personal challenge and a monumental solo circumnavigation which is a testament to his character and conviction.

Even this journey was plagued with problems and on June 15 he reported to Race Director, David Adams, that he had lost his port rudder. Yet Dalton was determined to make it to Bilbao when he left Norfolk (Virginia, USA).

'You never give up. I see it as a lack of character. I see it in yachting, I see it in other sports, where someone’s not winning, and because someone’s not winning, they give up. I see it as a heresy; I see it as a lack of backbone. You have to take it on the chin, you have your good days and your bad days.'

'To complete the race is something I’ve wanted to do for 40 years and that I’ve worked towards my entire life. Not just Leg 2, but 40 years. Everything you’ve done in your life has been geared towards this. But these things happen. I’m going to Spain, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, there’ll be snow on the Equator before I give up. I can’t change any administrative decision, that’s a simple fact of life, but what I can change is the way I react to it. The way I react it is we will do what we have to do here, and we will reach Spain.'

Although Dalton is not classed as a finisher in the VELUX 5 OCEANS 2006-07 he decided to complete the epic journey in the honourable memory of his beloved deceased son, Tony whose photograph and spirit have shared this journey with Dalton. His son tragically died of cancer and the boat is called Southern man AGD, his son’s initials.

At 02:57 local time (06:57 GMT) on Wednesday April 25, brave solo skipper Graham Dalton finally arrived in Norfolk, Virginia (USA), 102 days after leaving Fremantle (Western Australia), in was an enormous battle across the planet’s fiercest oceans in The Ultimate Solo Challenge. He completed leg two of the VELUX 5 OCEANS, but was not able to complete leg three within race rules and was therefore classed ‘Did Not Start Leg 3’.

Sailing onboard an Open 50 yacht, Dalton’s race was plagued by onboard problems that have caused him to make no less than six pit stops around the world. Whilst at sea, A SOUTHERN MAN AGD showed great pace but was battered by extreme weather and strong winds that would have tested the nerve of the hardest of competitors.

The race rules stated that a competitor must spend a mandatory 72 hours in Norfolk and start leg three within one week of the start gun firing. The remaining competitors left Norfolk at 12:20 on Wednesday April 18. This meant that in order to respect the 72 hour rule, Dalton needed to arrive in the Virginian city by 12:20 on Sunday April 15. Although he did not officially complete the race, he had in fact already completed a solo circumnavigation of the planet, as his qualification for the VELUX 5 OCEANS was a solo navigation from Norfolk to Bilbao; so his arrival into Norfolk completed the circle he started in September 2005.

Despite all the problems of leg two, Dalton still looked set to reach Norfolk in time until lady luck dealt a final blow as a storm shredded his genoa and damaged the autopilot system, meaning he had to seek port once again in Bermuda. Race rules also mean that competitors must respect a 48 hour time penalty for receiving outside assistance. This left nearly 600 miles for A SOUTHERN MAN AGD to cover in just over 24 hours, from Bermuda to Norfolk, in order for him to continue in the race in accordance with the rules.

Commenting from race HQ, Race Director David Adams concluded, 'This race is called The Ultimate Solo Challenge and it truly is one of the toughest sporting events in the world, that tests us physically, mentally and emotionally. Although the 2006-2007 VELUX 5 OCEANS race itself is finished and Graham no longer has any obligations as a competitor, he is showing tenacity in finishing the course single-handed in memory of his son Tony.'

Marketing Director of race title sponsor VELUX, Michael K. Rasmussen, remarked, 'Graham has had all the bad luck imaginable in the VELUX 5 OCEANS and a bit more. More than anyone he has personified The Ultimate Solo Challenge by completing his mission, even after the race finished. I am full of respect for his perseverance and we are pleased to see him back in Bilbao.'

Dalton’s story in the VELUX 5 OCEANS has been a rollercoaster ride of emotion, drama and plain bad luck. Yet the plucky New Zealander has never conceded defeat throughout the race, despite the incredible storms he has encountered, the damage sustained to A SOUTHERN MAN AGD and the other drama surrounding his campaign.

Graham entered the race with a new boat but no title sponsor. He only just made Bilbao in time before race start as he had an atrocious qualification sail across the Atlantic, during which he contracted septicaemia and destroyed a rudder.

Dalton missed the start of leg one because of a storm that swept through Bilbao three days before race start, damaging the spreaders on his mast, which was off the boat in the dockyard. The delay ultimately meant that Dalton missed the infamous Bay of Biscay storm that ripped through the fleet, forcing over half the fleet back to shore. He finally set off a week after the start and made good progress with the fleet, before a bearing issue with his rudder system forced his first pit stop at Porto Santos, near Madeira.

Racing hard through the Southern Ocean, Dalton’s smaller yacht kept pace with many of the 60 footers, but he was again forced to land, stopping at the remote French colony of the Kerguelen Islands in the Pacific Ocean to repair a torn headsail and re-fuel. As Dalton approached Western Australia at the end of leg one, Christmas Eve alone at sea the worst storm seen in the race, as two areas of low pressure collided and produced winds of 90 miles per hour and huge seas. A seasick and badly hurt Dalton rang home to say goodbye to his family believing he would not survive. However, he made it through and despite two stops, a smaller boat and a mainsail ripped to tiny shreds, the brave skipper arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, in fourth place and one day ahead of Basque skipper Unai Basurko.

However, on arrival Dalton discovered that his partner Robbie had been diagnosed with breast cancer during leg one and had undergone a mastectomy. Luckily, the cancer was successfully removed and Robbie informed Graham on the docks in Fremantle as he arrived, knowing that if she had told him at sea he may have sought land and she did not want to put his dream in jeopardy. Dalton only had a short number of days to prepare his yacht for the gigantic second leg to Norfolk, Virginia, but managed to make the start line in condition.

After another strong start and impressive speeds, a fuel leak onboard ruined his food supplies and Dalton was again forced to land, this time pulling into Bluff in his native New Zealand, at the tip of the Southern Island. He re-joined the race track alongside Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Unai Basurko and entered a drag race all the way across the freezing Southern Ocean to Cape Horn. Performing well, Dalton was forced to visit the Falkland Islands to fix a problem with his headboard car.

Shortly after leaving, disaster struck when his port rudder cassette disintegrated and he limped into Fortaleza in Brazil. Whilst in port, Dalton was struck down by a severe case of food poisoning, during which time his communication computer containing all his navigation and email facilities onboard A SOUTHERN MAN AGD was stolen. Despite all this

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