He'd just come home, well int' />
Chris Dickson, retired America's Cup and international sailor, was surprised to hear he was going to San Francisco.
He'd just come home, well into the two years since he was replaced as skipper of Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle challenge at the America's Cup regatta at Valencia in 2007, happy and contented as an ex-sailor of the professional racing variety.
"You're going to San Francisco," said his wife, Sue, putting down the telephone she'd been on as Dickson walked in on that night last year.
"No, I'm not," said Dickson.
"Yes, you are," she said. "I've just been talking to Rodney Keenan of Evolution Sails and you're doing the Big Boat Series in San Francisco."
Dickson noticed the conv-ersation had gone a totally different way from the calls he answered. Usually, someone asked him to sail for them. Dickson would say no. The phone would be replaced until the next time it rang with someone seeking an end to Dickson's retirement.
"I can't go to San Francisco," he said.
"Yes, you can," said Sue. "Rodney says it's a good boat, a nice owner and a nice bunch of guys. Anyway, you need to get out of the house. So I told Rodney you'd be there."
"But what's the deal; what's it worth?"
"I don't know. I just told Rodney whatever he thinks will be okay and that you're on board."
So 48-year-old Chris Dickson, one of the foremost names in New Zealand sailing, went to San Francisco last year and was back on the international trail. That, long story short, was how he has ended up among an impressive list of international skippers competing in the Omega match racing championship, which starts in Auckland tomorrow and which is the first event in the Festival of Sailing - followed by the Louis Vuitton Trophy series and the BMW Sailing World Cup final.
Dickson and his crew won everything in sight and, later, Dickson watched the owner of the yacht Vincitore, Jim Mitchell, receive a gold Rolex watch for winning.
"He was beaming, his 80-year-old dad was up there beaming, and I thought; 'Yep, a happy owner, a happy dad - that's what it is all about.'"
However, Dickson's re-appearance among the top ranks does not herald his emergence from retirement and he is not seeking any kind of America's Cup involvement.
"Having retired from the game twice before and ending up going back for various reasons, I suppose I should say never say never," Dickson said. "But I am really not interested in going back to it now. Being a pro sailor on the world tour is hard yakka. You live in hotels and out of a suitcase and you are on the road for long periods of time. That is not for me now.
"I have been doing it for 30 years since I won the world youth championships when I was 16 or 17. I am 48 now and I have plenty of business interests in Auckland and I enjoy living here."
Dickson has concentrated on minding his various business interests, mostly property investments, and on his 8- and 10-year-old daughters.
"The America's Cup is a very intensive game and, at that top level, it is all-consuming. I worked for Larry Ellison [the head of BMW Oracle and the new America's Cup holders after that intriguing giant multi-hulls challenge in Valencia this month] for 10 years and ran his America's Cup programme for five of them.
"At the end of Valencia, I thought that was it. It was time-out time. I'd done my quota of international yacht racing, I'd been in the America's Cup and a professional sailor for 10 years - it was time to hang up my boots."
They stayed hung up other than for Dickson's ongoing work with the Royal New Zealand yacht squadron, for whom he mentors the RNZYS youth team at the national match racing championships every year. He's also sailed in the Kings Cup regatta in Phuket and the China Sea series in Hong Kong before feeling the sailing bug bite again in San Francisco.
He will take on the likes of Dean Barker (Emirates Team NZ); Ben Ainslie (Britain's America's Cup syndicate Team Origin); Francesco Bruni (Italy's Azzurra Sailing Team and the man who beat Barker in the inaugural Louis Vuitton regatta in Nice last year) Sebastian Col (France, formerly of the Areva America's Cup challenge); Karol Jablonski (Poland, former Desafio Espanol); Magnus Holmberg (Sweden, former Victory Challenge); Bertrand Pace (France, also formerly of BMW Oracle); Adam Minoprio (New Zealand's current world match racing champion); plus Australia's Torvar Mirsky.
But Dickson's appearance in the Omega match racing championships - the yachts will be identical Farr-designed MRXs - will likely not lead him back to the intensity and political cauldron of the America's Cup, even though Oracle's victory over previous holders Alinghi seems to have cleared the way for a multi-challenger regatta, which most assume will be in 2013.
Dickson modestly suggests he is only in the Omega regatta to "make up the numbers". Those who know Dickson's competitiveness and intense focus are entitled to doubt that, even though the man himself seems much more relaxed these days than the single-minded and sometimes prickly individual who inhabited the world stage.
"I guess I have slipped down the ladder [of international racing] enough that I can enjoy racing in regattas which aren't America's Cup and the likes but am still far enough up the ladder that I might be able to win things like San Francisco.
"So then, having accepted the invite to race, it was a matter of finding a crew who can drag me round the course. I think we have done that - the crew are world class but their skipper isn't and they are going to have to find a way to drag me round the course now."
There is a strong Emirates Team NZ flavour to Dixon's crew for the regatta. Bowman Richard Meacham is well known and highly regarded internationally as are Chris Ward and Stuart Bettany from the ETNZ crew. The rest include Logan Fraser and tactician Laurie Jury.
"Well, Laurie was the one who kicked our butts at the national match racing champs and I thought what better than to include the man who'd done that," said Dickson."
It's all a far cry from the unhappier days of 2007 when Dickson left Oracle - to be replaced by Sir Russell Coutts - amid reports of a crew and a boat not operating at peak levels, in spite of abundant talent and boat speed. BMW Oracle were knocked out of the America's Cup in Valencia at the 2007 semifinals and fell victim to an embarrassing loss to Team China, a real Cup rookie team.
However, that was then and Dickson is now confident that Ellison and BMW Oracle will bring the Cup back to a proper, multi-challenger regatta.
"I thought the regatta in Valencia [the giant multi-hulls, won by Oracle] was enthralling; fascinating. The right team won and I think Larry Ellison will make it a different event - more affordable, more commercially viable, better for sponsors, media and the fans."
All well and good - but it doesn't sound like Chris Dickson will be lining up for the 34th America's Cup, whenever and wherever that is.
Unless, maybe, Sue answers the phone ....