Graham Dalton, Grant's elder brother, launches un unusual project with his new Open 60 for Around Alone

New Zealand sailor Graham Dalton officially launched his new Open 60 for the Around Alone with a Maori ceremony in London today. Both the design of his boat, Hexagon, and his partnership arrangement with HSBC (he prefers to say it’s a partnership rather than sponsorship) set it apart from other projects and made this a particularly interesting launch.

Graham Dalton is the less famous elder brother of Grant. Although it has been an ambition since childhood to sail round the world, he is not a professional sailor; he’s been a sailmaker, a market gardener and until this project he wrote, ran and published a New Zealand sports magazine for 13-17 year olds. It was this enthusiasm for young people’s education that led him to the doors of HSBC with a plan very different to so many other sailing sponsorship proposals.

Dalton’s voyage round the world in Around Alone in September fits neatly into a pre-existing HSBC education programme. Dalton’s experiences are being shaped into an online course for 9-12-year-olds, with one module for each week of his voyage.

Dalton’s new boat is also slightly different to the eye. Designed by Merfyn Owen and Allen Clarke of Owen Clarke Design Group, who collaborated with Rob Humphreys in the phenomenally successful Kingfisher, the boat incorporates a number of variations on the theme. Like Kingfisher, this has a so-called ‘classic’ rig rather than a rotating wingmast, but with PBO rigging. The mast is taller and the sail area larger.

Hexagon was built at Southern Ocean Marine in New Zealand and looks beautifully finished. She differs from others of the type in that Dalton has opted for a much larger cockpit, with a trench running from the companionway all the way to the transom. Most 60s have a small cockpit enclosed by a raised afterdeck – often considered to be a safety factor for single-handed sailors. The extra area gives Dalton much more area to work in and makes the boat more versatile for crewed events.

This arrangement also makes it possible to have twin wheels, and Dalton has chosen this instead of two tillers. He prefers to stand while helming and believes that with more inshore racing during the five legs of Around Alone, he will be doing a good deal of handsteering. Part of the price he has paid for the cockpit is a smaller interior. The coachroof is both narrower and lower than others of the type and inside the boat feels smaller.

Hexagon has the usual canting keel and water ballast. Less usual is her single large symmetrical pivoting daggerboard; most of the other 60s (with the exception of Michel Desjoyeaux’s PRB) have two smaller assymetrical daggerboards. Cleverly, this pivots like a self-tacking centreboard on a dinghy, with the difference between water pressure on each side of the foil turning the daggerboard to produce windward lift. A single daggerboard saves some weight and also gives Dalton less work to do when tacking at the start or finish of legs.

Another clever trick is the tacking bowsprit. This can also be pivoted to windward so that Dalton will be able to run more square downwind. The whole bowsprit pivots round the forestay and pulpit base, moved by a steering quadrant type arrangement at the inboard end.

Dalton is a relative newcomer to ocean racing and, at 50, that too is unusual. His project has attracted its critics in New Zealand, where people are wondering just how competitive he will be, but Dalton is undaunted. He completed 2,500 miles of solo sailing from New Zealand to the Kermadec Islands in the Pacific and back earlier this year, intending to qualify for Around Alone before shipping the boat to Europe. He learned some bruising lessons about the boat when he was flung across that big cockpit and broke four ribs.

But Dalton’s biggest setback was when he found that he had not qualified for the race after all. He is accusing race organisers Clipper Ventures of moving the goalposts by later saying that the 2,000 miles have to be a rhumb line distance. Dalton is enraged to find that he will have to undertake another solo voyage before September and is in hot dispute with Clipper Ventures over changes to race regulations. Dalton is furious at what he sees as a last-minute change which is unfairly penalising him, one of the race’s earliest entries and the only skipper with a yacht specially designed for the event.