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Q&A: super sailor Paul Cayard

The veteran sailor talks about the new Volvo 70s, being sponsored by Disney, and the America’s Cup

The veteran sailor talks about the new Volvo 70s, being sponsored by Disney, and the America’s Cup

Five-time America’s Cup campaigner Paul Cayard will skipper the Walt Disney Co.-backed Volvo 70 Class racer Black Pearl in the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race, which begins Nov. 5 in Vigo, Spain.

San Franciscan Cayard, 46, is campaigning Black Pearl around the world against six other Volvo 70s: two named ABN Amro from The Netherlands, Ericsson Racing Team of Sweden, the Brazilian boat Brasil 1, Premier Challenge from Australia, and the Spanish Movistar.

The fleet will stop in Cape Town, South Africa; Melbourne, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Baltimore/Annapolis, Md.; New York City; Portsmouth, England; and Rotterdam, Netherlands, before finishing in June 2006 in Gothenburg, Sweden. The winning boat will be scored for its finish in each of the nine legs, as well as its performance in round-the-buoys racing at stopovers.

Black Pearl will promote the Disney movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” due for release in July 2006.

Cayard, who skippered EF Language to a win in 1998 when the Volvo race was known as the Whitbread, spent some time with Soundings to answer a few questions about the race, his campaign, and the shape of racing to come.

You skippered a boat around the world in the 1997-’98 Whitbread Round the World Race — the Volvo’s predecessor — and won it. Why do it again?

I like the race — I like the extreme aspect of it, the cold, the roughness of the Southern Ocean, the big speeds. I like putting together teams and focusing on a goal. I like developing a strategy to win. They are always different because the circumstances are always different. This time our biggest hurdle is that we are late. I like Disney and the Pirate image. I like racing for the USA.

What is the toughest part for you in gearing up again for a marathon, seven-month ocean race, much of it through the Southern Ocean?

For me, personally, it is getting in the kind of physical shape I want to be in with the limitations on my time and my age.

Is this the same race you skippered a boat in eight years ago? Do you have to change the way you prepare for it and race in it?

There will be a lot of similarities to the race eight years ago. The main difference is that the boat will be much more demanding of the crew physically. The other big difference is the speed of these boats. Instead of a steady 26 knots in the Southern Ocean we are talking 32 knots, and rather than 450-mile days we’re talking about 550-mile days.

You are fresh off a jolting experience with the politics of an America’s Cup challenge. Is this a refreshing change from all of that?

The Volvo has always been more about the sailing than the America’s Cup, so that makes it more fun. The Olympics is even more about the sailing.

Does Black Pearl’s melding of sailboat racing with the promotion of a Hollywood film (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”) present any difficulties for you as a racer or skipper? Any opportunities?

I haven’t found any difficulties specifically due to our sponsorship. As far as opportunities, I think the opportunity is for all of sailing. Hopefully we, and the race, will get a lot more exposure to the non-sailing public through Disney’s involvement.

Black Pearl is a late entry. How will you and your crew make up for lost time in learning how to sail one of these new Volvo 70 designs?

We will develop a strategy to catch up to Telefonica and ABN [after presumably trailing in the race’s early stages while they dial in their boat]. It will take some time and require patience and eating some humble pie in the beginning. Hopefully we will make a good plan, execute well, and be in the money at the end.

The 70 is 10 percent bigger than the Volvo 60, yet weighs about the same and carries 60 percent more sail downwind. Is this new design going to be a lot tougher to sail than the 60-footer it replaces?

Much tougher. The only part of the math that you forgot is that we have 20 percent fewer crew.

Roller-furling sails and canting keels are new to the Volvo. Canting keels have gotten some bad press after several failures. Do you have any qualms about the reliability of these systems in a round-the-world race?

I think canting keel technology is the future for sailboats. It is intelligent. There will be some teething problems in the beginning, but that is how we make progress.

Entries will compete in six new in-port around-the-buoys races that will figure into the overall point standings. Does your strong background in round-the-buoys and Olympic racing give you a leg up in these races?

Not much. Each team will have good round-the-buoy sailors on board for the inshore races, even if they don’t have those people onboard for the offshores.

The 70s aren’t luxury yachts, but they are bigger than the Volvo 60s and carry fewer crewmembers (nine versus 11, for an all-male entry). Do you look forward to more comfortable accommodations below?

The accommodation will be a bit bigger, but that doesn’t bring much luxury. It will still be cold inside, the food will still be freeze-dried, the clothes will still be damp when you put them on, the boat will still smell after three weeks at sea. There is an enclosed head now, which is a bit of a farce really.

You were “the great communicator” in 1997-’98, bringing the Whitbread alive to many who followed it from your daily dispatches. Do you plan to slip back into your role as reporter, analyst and color commentator while you skipper Black Pearl around the world?

I will try my best to bring the race to the fans. I will be on a watch this time and have more to do in less time.

Take out your crystal ball: Where do you think the America’s Cup is headed five to 10 years down the road? Oceanracing? Do you see any sea changes in the sport of sailing?

The current America’s Cup holder [Alinghi] is trying to morph the event into an annual circuit in order to give more return to the sponsors through more continuous contact with the public. This is definitely needed in the sport, but I am not sure if the America’s Cup can fill that need. It would be like having the Olympics every year. Ocean racing will always be there, and with the boats getting faster it is less of an ordeal. The big cats are the way to go if we can grow the interest to support the costs. It will take some new formats and creative TV presentation to push sailing toward a broader public appeal. In any case there will always be sailing at the level it is now, which is largely a participation sport rather than a spectator sport.