Sir Robin Knox-Johnston answers back, explaining why the disgruntled Graham Dalton must put in some serious ocean miles to compete in Around Alone

The long-running skirmish between Graham Dalton and Clipper Ventures, the organisers of Around Alone, continues even as he leaves on his Atlantic crossing from the UK to Newport. Now under pressure to make the start in three weeks’ time, and with precious little pressure in the North Atlantic to help speed him there, Dalton has been grousing yet again about having to complete a 2,000-mile transoceanic qualifier.

The history of animosity between the two parties began when Clipper Ventures changed the race rules, which Dalton argued affected the design and build costs of his new Open 60. He was equally vociferous earlier this year when the solo passage he made across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Sydney was ruled by the Around Alone race committee not to have met their 2,000-mile qualification requirement.

After being dismasted three weeks ago on an attempt to cross the Atlantic, Dalton still is not eligible to race. For a project that started relatively early and has the mighty backing of HSBC, these last-minute tribulations are not good, and Dalton has been trying to put pressure on Clipper Ventures by asking for redress, claiming his Tasman Sea crossing should count.

Clipper Ventures are having none of it and after months of dignified silence, have issued a public ‘amplification’. Dalton left on his solo voyage from Auckland before the race committee could respond, says Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. ‘He arrived in Sydney with a damaged boat and injuries to himself and announced to the race chairman on the phone that he had completed his qualification,’ comments Sir Robin.

‘He was advised that Trans Tasman was crossing a sea not an ocean as required by the rules, and this specifically had been turned down in the past.’ He points out that a voyage mostly close to land (the rhumb line distance between Auckland and Sydney is less than 1,500 miles) and within reach of SAR facilities is very different to one ‘across an ocean out of range of assistance’.

‘It was suggested that if Mr Dalton wished his trans-Tasman voyage to be accepted he should present his logs and proof to the race committee for a decision. He stated he could not do this, as his logs had been soaked, as had his calculations for a sight reduction, which is also a part of the qualification.’

Dalton has been happy wilfully to portray this as a petty bureaucratic squabble between a plucky competitor and stonewalling officials – sometimes slanderously so. But Clipper Ventures is right to resist. So far, Graham Dalton has had relatively little single-handed experience in this or any such powerful boat, and his protestations are simply underscoring that.

In the Tasman Sea, Dalton was flung across the cockpit and broke four ribs. On his only other major solo voyage, the attempt to cross the Atlantic three weeks ago, he was dismasted a day out. To any reasonable observer, Dalton still has a glaring paucity of experience for a race that has a 40 per cent drop-out rate and has seen several deaths and numerous skin of the teeth rescues over the years.

Rightly, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is in no mood for compromise. ‘Race organisers and yachtsmen have a responsibility to ensure they are properly prepared. The SAR authorities are there for emergencies and not as a fall back for lack of preparedness,’ he says.

Graham Dalton has since set off again for Newport.