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Storms Ahead Rick Dodson: America’s Cup champion to Paralympian by Rebecca Hayter

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

I guess the title gives away the game, but it still comes as a shock to the reader that a man so seemingly invincible eventually succumbs to a devastating illness, except, I suppose, if that man is Rick Dodson.

From the beginning of her book about the former America’s Cup strategist, Rebecca Hayter paints a picture of a boy who developed his winning strategy at an early age. Sometimes, it’s not a pretty picture, and that all-consuming desire to win can present to a reader outside of the frame as an unlikeable arrogance of character. It was at these times that I was glad the title had given the game away early, and I remained reading until the end, perhaps in a quest to find some redemption for the central subject.

I am not a win-at-all-costs person, and I lived for much of Rick Dodson’s epic sailing career outside of New Zealand, so I didn’t know a great deal about him. However, I understand the world of the international competitive sailor, courtesy of some time spent living with three Round the World sailors who were taking some time from the yachting circuit to help build a boat in Tasmania for an ex-pat multi-millionaire. It is fair to say that we partied and drank a great deal while in their company. Eventually, though, they (Kevin, Shag and Butcher) sailed away; as did we – to New Zealand. Shag joined the crew of Lion, skippered by the late Sir Peter Blake, which was entered in the 1985/86 Whitbread Round the World race shortly after; but by then, we were well away from “Margaritaville”- the soundtrack to that time in our lives. The takeaway from that time spent with these extreme sailors was their work hard/play hard ethic. They were lovely guys, but boy did they like to party. And this is a theme which also runs through the book.

That said, Hayter, who is herself a sailor of note, the former editor of Boating New Zealand and author of five books, including the excellent Wild Seas to Greenland; who has lived in this world and understands it and the characters that inhabit it, well. Who better to write this book? Her knowledge of the yachting industry and her background as a journalist contributes greatly to the success of this book. I cannot imagine anyone better to help a reader outside of the story to complete the passage, as it were. Without her skill, I would have jumped ship earlier. This would have been a shame because Rick Dodson’s stated goal for writing the book was to get the message out to as many people as possible that there is life after a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Choosing Hayter as his writer, therefore was a great strategy for the master strategist, Rick Dodson.

I did complete the book, and I learnt a great deal about some of the more colourful and controversial personalities of the New Zealand yachting scene as well. Sir Russell Coutts, for example. And Brad Butterworth, too. Both of these men have often been reviled for what has been seen as their defection from New Zealand’s America’s Cup Team. I also learnt a great deal about people who have been taught a devastating blow by life after an accident or illness robbed them of their expected paths. I learnt that it takes guts and determination and a host of loyal people who have never - and will never - forget your worth, to help such a person to go on.

So there, you go, Rick Dodson. For what it’s worth, for this reader, at least, you’ve just completed another successful campaign.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Oceanspirit Publishing


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