In Grant Dalton's mind, Team New Zealand were finished.

The Kiwi syndicate was dangerously close to operating while insolvent. He didn't know how he was going to pay the staff, let alone meet the supplier and construction costs of getting a test boat on the water.

While Dalton and the team's committed board members were desperately scratching about to find ways to pay the bills, meeting on average twice a day, their rivals were already whizzing about in test boats. Some were on their second or third.

So in October 2015, as he sat on a plane back to England after a tense board meeting, Dalton drafted a press release telling the public Team NZ would be closing its doors. He had accepted his 14-year quest to return the Auld Mug to New Zealand was over.


It was only a last-minute bailout from an overseas donor that prevented Dalton hitting the send button on that press release.

"We managed to come up with some money by daybreak, and here we are," Dalton explains, shrugging his shoulders as if he still can't believe Team NZ have won the Cup back.

There are many remarkable elements of Team NZ's stunning win in Bermuda: the nerveless performances of helmsman Peter Burling in his first America's Cup; their recovery from the dramatic capsize during the challenger semifinals; the great redemption story after the horrors of San Francisco four years ago.

But perhaps most remarkable of all is how a team that was on the brink of financial ruin, and launched their first proper test platform 18 months after key rivals, came to be so far ahead of the development curve.

There was an unnerving calm in the Team NZ camp during the agonising five-day break between racing in the 35th America's Cup match.

Helmsman Peter Burling and skipper Glenn Ashby (right) celebrate Team NZ's win. Photo / AP
Helmsman Peter Burling and skipper Glenn Ashby (right) celebrate Team NZ's win. Photo / AP

The Kiwi team had rattled off four straight race wins over Oracle to lead the first-to-seven series 3-0, having gone into the match one point down. But as a humbled, yet defiant, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill reminded us, "we've been here before" and his team would be working 24-hour shifts to address the speed differential with the New Zealand boat.

For five days those words picked away at the seams of the national psyche as we all thought back to San Francisco and the gut-wrenching turn of events in the last Cup.

Despite the past, Team NZ weren't rattled. There was an unwavering confidence in the boat and the crew that this time, on the turquoise waters of Bermuda's Great Sound, they would be able to get the job done.

Once you removed the emotion and the anxiety of past campaigns from the equation, it was clear they had the better "package".

"I just think we have some inherent advantages in the way we sail our boat, and that's not going to change over this week," said Murray Jones, the team's wily performance coach, who has now been involved with a record six America's Cup-winning campaigns. Jones was right. But for a hiccup in the sixth race, Team NZ's marine marvels (both boat and crew) powered on to win the Cup match 7-1.

Team NZ skipper Glenn Ashby says those inherent advantages were born out of a daring design philosophy that was implemented from the outset. Their catch-cry was "let's throw the ball out as far as we possibly can, and run after it really hard".

A brutal review process after the failed San Francisco campaign identified, among 19 other factors, the need to invest in technology.

The traumatic day the Kiwi boat capsized. Photo / AP
The traumatic day the Kiwi boat capsized. Photo / AP

Though the sailing team had to wait a long time until the syndicate had any money to build test boats, Ashby says the design team did not stop after the 2013 event, immediately getting to work on where the development race would go next.

Once they had a clear idea, Dan Bernasconi, Team NZ's technical director, trawled through Linkedin to find experts in specialist areas such as hydraulics, systems programming and aerodynamics. He wasn't interested in yachting experience, he wanted people with specialist knowledge and a record of innovation.

Bringing in new talent with a different way of thinking helped promote an open-minded, nimble approach, with no idea considered too out there - even, say, bikes on boats.

But it wasn't just about the bikes, which delivered three key advantages - more power, reduced windage, and a better division of labour among the six-strong crew. It was about the complex control systems, from the buttons that allowed Blair Tuke to trim the foils from his bike station, to Ashby's "Xbox console" from which he adjusted the twist and camber in the wing. "The foresight we had as a team to be aggressive and bold in our design, ultimately has provided us with the victory," says Ashby.

"We knew where the bar was going to be set with these boats and we worked away down in New Zealand - just heads down by ourselves - working away at what we could possibly achieve."

The winning factor was not just in the breakthroughs, but in keeping them a secret. Although they were committed to going down the path of pedal power, their test boat featured traditional grinding pedestals.

Emirates Team New Zealand leads Oracle Team USA, left, during the race of America's Cup. Photo / AP
Emirates Team New Zealand leads Oracle Team USA, left, during the race of America's Cup. Photo / AP

"Oracle were in Auckland watching us sail every day. Every time we sailed they were out on the water filming and documenting and working out what we were doing down there," says Ashby.

The stakes demanded the sailors even had to keep the move to a cycle-grinding set-up from their family and friends. It got to the point that Tuke couldn't look his mother in the eye.

"I just couldn't understand why he was suddenly so into cycling. The boys were all doing bike rides to the Coromandel, I thought, 'Oh, how dangerous.' Even on Christmas Day he had to go for a 30km bike ride, so we were all grilling him," Karen Tuke recalls.

"I said to him, 'What is all this?'" she says, slapping her thighs, '"shouldn't you be building your arm muscles?'"

Josh Junior nearly gave the game after he broke his arm in a training ride. It wasn't the accident that led to suspicions, but when he boasted he had the best results in training.

"How are you doing that? You've got a broken arm," his dad responded.

Junior's newfound dedication in the gym was already baffling those who knew him. Junior had never been much of a trainer - the team joke is he got the biggest numbers, but also complained the most.

Helmsman Peter Burling of Emirates Team New Zealand sprays champange after they win the America's Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Helmsman Peter Burling of Emirates Team New Zealand sprays champange after they win the America's Cup. Photo / Getty Images

But the Olympic Finn representative's painful transformation to cycling machine was worth it, just to get the chance to be on board in an America's Cup match.

Team NZ board member Tina Symmans says the team's ability to keep their cycling innovation a secret up until the launch date proved the organisation had turned a corner from the troubled times in the aftermath of San Francisco.

"Sick organisations leak like sieves, but we were able to keep that a secret for two years. That is incredible to me. It showed we had buy-in from all the team on day one."

Ensuring they got that buy-in from the entire team came down to leadership. Team NZ's management structure was overhauled after San Francisco, with Dalton taking a backward step from the day-to-day operations to concentrate on fundraising in Europe.

Chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge kept the team ticking over in Auckland while Ashby, who led the sailing programme, was a quiet driving force behind the scenes.

"We were looking at pedalling and I was concerned we hadn't employed any grinders. But Glenn wouldn't let us. I remember him saying, 'If we do that now, we will set up a pattern that will influence the final decision,'" says Dalton.

Let's throw the ball out as far as we possibly can, and run after it really hard.

The team's combative boss continued to keep a low profile for much of the Bermuda regatta, in what was a deliberate strategy to limit distractions for the crew, who, with the exception of Ashby, were all experiencing their first America's Cup. They didn't want the bitterness of three years of backroom politics and feuding with America's Cup bosses to be projected on the crew.

Without Dalton biting back at every barb coming from Jimmy Spithill, it defused the impact of the Oracle skipper's words.

Dalton proved he could remain silent only up to a point, however. Once the Cup was in his grasp, he couldn't resist the chance to take a few pot-shots at Spithill.

The aggressive design approach may have been the winning of the Cup, but it also nearly ended their campaign.

The decision to pitch the Emirates Team New Zealand boat more towards the lighter air and to push for speed over stability is what made the sleek catamaran so unwieldy in a heavier breeze, leading to the team's dramatic capsize during the challenger semifinals.

Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling and trimmer Blair Tuke and shore crew manager Sean Regan with the America's Cup. Photo / Photosport
Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling and trimmer Blair Tuke and shore crew manager Sean Regan with the America's Cup. Photo / Photosport

"In the appendage design it was clear even in the last America's Cup that there was a tradeoff between a foil that was stable and one that is fast," said Bernasconi.

"We decided right at the beginning we'd aim for really high-performance, but difficult to sail, and then work out how to sail it. That's the philosophy we've had all the way along, just push, push, push for performance and then work out how to get it around the track later. "

Quite how they managed to recover from the shocking setback midway through the regatta still beggars belief, but no one could begrudge Sean Regan, who leads the shore team operations, being the first man to drink from the Auld Mug.

Once the America's Cup was won, shoulders relaxed and lips loosened and the tales of what the team had been through over the past six weeks flowed. Most of them related to the trauma of that day when Team NZ cartwheeled across the Great Sound.

Tuke admitted it was the 'scariest moment' of his life.

Andy Maloney's leg was stitched up by Heather Burling, mother of helmsman Peter, Simon van Velthooven's helmet caved in from the impact of his head hitting the front of the boat, while Tuke came precariously close to being seriously injured when he flew past the daggerboards.

Tuke admitted it was the "scariest moment" of his life.

There were stories of exhausted shore crew members returning home at 3am in tears, before getting an hour of kip and heading back to the base to keep chipping away at the lengthy jobs list. Others slept on the floor of the wing room.

Dalton, meanwhile, casually mentioned the team were sailing on damaged daggerboards for the Cup match, after getting their foil configuration wrong on the second day of the challenger final against Artemis.

"As a result of that day, we found some pretty serious structural issues with the daggerboards, because they had been taken so far out of range that they were basically letting go," he says. "So every time we do a tack or a gybe or whatever, I've just been going 'hold on, hold on' and they have."

The shore team were vigilant, doing ultrasounds on the boards each night to check their fitness. Others sought spiritual assistance.

Ahead of race one of the Cup match, Symmans, who christened the boat in Auckland when it was launched, felt compelled to do another blessing for the boat. She quietly asked Tangaroa, god of the sea, to look after Aotearoa and its precious daggerboards.

"I asked Grant if it was okay if I did another blessing. I expected Grant to say, 'Oh, for God's sake, what do you want to do that for?' But he said, 'Yeah, okay, just do it quietly.'"

The stressed daggerboards that carried Team NZ to victory are a fitting metaphor for the entire campaign. For four years the team were stretched almost to breaking point, walking a fine line between triumph and disaster. Through vigilance, innovative thinking and courage they were able to hold on. And now they hold the Cup.