Graham Dalton crossed the finish line of leg one of the Velux 5 Oceans in Fremante this morning 2/1/07

At 1134 local time (0234 UTC), Graham Dalton crossed the finish line in Fremantle (Western Australia) in leg one of the Velux 5 Oceans.

After 71 days, 15 hours and 34 minutes alone at sea, Dalton came to the end of a long and incredibly challenging first leg. Finishing fourth, Dalton has skippered his new Open 50 yacht over 12,000 miles that has pushed both man and boat to the limits. In The Ultimate Solo Challenge, simply finishing a leg is a monumental achievement and Dalton was met by his family and friends on the dock to congratulate the experienced kiwi skipper for his skill, endurance and tenacity.

Having celebrated Christmas and New Year alone at sea, as well as the first anniversary of the death of his son Tony, Dalton looked relieved and happy to step onto land in Western Australia. After the savage storm that blasted A SOUTHERN MAN AGD on Christmas Eve, one of the most torrid storms in Graham’s sailing career in which he questioned whether he would wake up on Christmas Day, the top of the mainsail was in tatters as he pulled into the docks in Fremantle.

Speaking after his arrival, Dalton described the horrendous storm that struck him on Christmas Eve, concluding: “I saw a small depression forming ahead of me. I started to get 40-45 knots from the south, we were fine but I had to drop the main at that stage. But then we got hit. The mainsail was tied onto the boom on the third reef and it rode up the mast and you couldn’t get it down. The wind I saw before my instruments finally gave up was 80 knots and it was still rising! The sea got up very quickly, around 55-60 feet, and was breaking on the boat. There was nothing you could do, to go on deck was really suicide.

“I knew it was going to last around eight hours; I called home and said you might not see me again. I started wondering what it would feel like to have the cold salt water go into my lungs. It needed one thing to break and it was basically all over. I got rolled on the side and got knocked unconscious; I doubt if I was out for that long, might have been ten minutes. Bad enough to have double vision and seeing six waves instead of one made it even worse. But like all things, the boat was built for those conditions. And as always the storm passed and we were able to get here. But I’ve never seen a mainsail like that before, ever. It can be best described as a skeleton. If you went through those conditions three times, you are going to die at least once. Just unbelievable! I got rolled upside down last time at the Horn in 70 knots, and it was nothing like that. Afterwards you had to marvel at the force of nature.”

Commenting on his drive to sail around the world, Dalton continued: “You can’t do this race for someone else. The first person I’m doing it for is me, but I’m doing it in association with my son. I’m sure he is with me on the boat and looks after me. Coming in this morning I have one regret and that is Tony isn’t here to be with me because he tried so hard to stay alive. I would give this all away if I could get him back again but I can’t; hopefully wherever he is he is proud of his Dad.”

Graham is the true Corinthian of the race and built a brand new boat to take on the oceans. This race is not necessarily about winning for Dalton, but it is a personal challenge and commitment to finish. And the first leg of the Velux 5 Oceans certainly challenged Dalton and the other skippers to the depths of their resolve and determination. Although the boat has suffered considerable damage to the mainsail and the rudders, the skipper believes he will be ready to take on the second leg that starts on 14 January.

Dalton was dealt a first blow of bad luck even before the race had started, although it ultimately proved a blessing. Only two days before the start of the race in Bilbao, Dalton’s rigging was damaged by a storm when the mast was out of the boat for repairs. The damage meant that he missed the start with the rest of the fleet. In doing so, he also missed the violent storm that ripped through the fleet off Cape Finisterre and the Bay of Biscay, leaving half the fleet limping for port to make repairs. Dalton finally set off for Fremantle five days later with Unai Basurko, who had returned to Bilbao to attend to his storm-damaged sails.

Once on the track, Dalton’s boat, 10ft shorter than the other competitors, kept pace with the fleet and the larger yachts. However, he was forced to pull into Porto Santo (near Madeira) to make essential repairs to a damaged rudder as he approached the Equator. The pit stop meant that he was subject to the compulsory 48-hour time penalty, leaving Dalton trailing behind the leaders. He headed south into the Southern Ocean and was locked in a battle with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, constantly battered by freezing conditions and powerful storms.

Dalton was forced to make a second pit stop at the remote Kerguelen Islands deep in the Southern Ocean to make repairs to a headsail and re-fuel, leaving Knox-Johnston free to finish third in Fremantle un-challenged. Having been battered by a Christmas storm, Dalton held off the Basque skipper Basurko to finish the leg in fourth, although he is nearly 30 days behind leg leader Bernard Stamm and second placed Kojiro Shiraishi.

Unai Basurko, the last remaining skipper out on the track is expect to arrive in Fremantle in around eight hours, or 22:00 local time (13:00 UTC). More information to follow.