Grant Dalton may be forced out of his favourite leg in the Volvo Ocean Race - coming home to Auckland - after discovering he was more of a broken man than first thought.
X-rays in Auckland yesterday revealed that Dalton has three fractured vertebrae in his spine. He already knew he had broken two ribs from a fall on board Amer Sports One on the last day of the Cape Town-Sydney leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. But doctors at a hospital in Sydney last week failed to diagnose the more serious back injuries, which could now sideline the skipper from the leg to Auckland, starting on Boxing Day.
However Dalton, one of the tough guys of world sailing, is determined to race on - broken bones or not.
"The future of me sailing in the next leg is in the balance," he said at home in Auckland yesterday, "but of all the legs to miss, this would be the biggest tragedy for me."
There are two reasons Dalton wants to battle the pain and sail into his home port early in the New Year. For one, he has been first to the finish in Auckland for the last two round-the-world races. And then he wants to do it for his old friend, crewmate and sailing rival Sir Peter Blake, who was tragically murdered in South America last week. Dalton's wife, Nicki, would rather he stayed on land to allow the breaks to heal.
But, says the veteran of six circumnavigations, "it's not that simple. This is what I do for a living. I sailed a leg and a half with a broken collarbone in the last Whitbread."
In the "slim chance" he will not be on board, he has already contacted a replacement helmsman for the Sydney-Auckland leg. He would not say who the stand-in was.
The accident happened when Dalton was below deck cooking a meal for his tired crewmates - a job he would not normally do - as the boat was tossed about in 45-knot gales in Bass Strait. He was carried off the boat on a stretcher when it arrived in Sydney, taken to Mater Hospital and discharged with a diagnosis of bruising.
"The next day they rang and said they had missed two cracked ribs. But when I flew home on Sunday, I had sharp pains in my lower back."
Dalton went to Ascot Hospital, where x-rays revealed three breaks to his lumbar vertebrae.
"I've gone from nothing to five broken bones. But there's nothing that can be done for it," Dalton said.
"Now we've got to see just how many painkillers can my body handle. I can't afford to lie in bed all day, because my muscles will waste away."
Dalton will return to Sydney in a week and there will make his final decision. In the meantime, Swedish world champion dinghy sailor Freddie Loof has been called into the Amer Sports crew to replace Keith Kilpatrick, who was transferred off the boat at Eclipse Island in the last leg with an intestinal blockage.