This is Paul Cayard's vision: A quarter of a million people have
their eyes turned toward the huge natural amphitheater that is
San Francisco Bay. It is the summer of 2003. The huge crowd is
watching two sleek, eye-catching yachts begin their elaborate
prestart dance, the tactical opening of an America's Cup race.
Office workers are at the windows of high rises, binoculars in
hand. Silicon Valley nerds are picnicking on Marina Green,
watching the race unfold while charting wind speed, boat speed
and course by laptop computer. Ordinary Californians--these are
not yachties--stand shoulder to shoulder with visitors from
Sydney, Venice, Auckland, Stockholm and Tokyo, watching the race
unfold from the walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge. The famously
gusting winds that drove baseball players to distraction in
Candlestick Park are doing their thing, swirling fiercely and
unpredictably across the bay. It is sailing weather, racing
weather, which lends a festive mood to the air: the same mood a
city gets when its baseball team is in the midst of a pennant
race or its football team is hosting a playoff game.
That's the dream: that somehow the 148-year-old America's Cup,
the oldest trophy in professional sports, dusts itself off and
becomes a "happening event"--Cayard's words--and matters to the
man on the street. Particularly to the man on the streets of San
Francisco, where the ancient sport of sailing and the modern
matrix of technology harmoniously collide, all the better for
the fund-raising requirements of an event that, by the time the
last boat is built and the last sail is purchased, will cost
between $200 million and $300 million to stage. Cayard, the most
formidable sailor in the U.S., may be just the man to pull all
this off. He is a native son of this city, and it is here, to
the St. Francis Yacht Club, that he will bring the Cup if his
$30 million AmericaOne campaign wrests the chalice from the New
Zealanders in Auckland next February.
That's when the fun would begin, when Cayard would put his
master plan into effect. He wants the America's Cup to be run
like other professional sports, with a commissioner, a permanent
staff and an elected board. Their mandate? To expand the
America's Cup franchise and broaden its appeal to nonsailing
sports fans all over the world. "My long-term dream is to have a
permanent set of venues for these boats to race in, like the
Formula One circuit," Cayard says. "But before we get there,
we've got to change the Deed of Gift [the archaic document that
set the rules for the America's Cup more than a century ago] so
the America's Cup is being professionally managed and marketed,
not run by a bunch of amateurs from the winning yacht club." The
40-year-old Cayard, whose head is crowned with curly black hair,
looks the way the young Caesar must have looked. He has a strong
face, a large nose, a black mustache and widely spaced, piercing
brown eyes. It's a face unclouded by doubt. "But we have to win
the Cup first," he says. "And it's winnable."
Cayard has come close before. A six-time world champion, he has
been beaten in the last two America's Cup finals, both held off
San Diego. In 1992, skippering Italy's Il Moro di Venezia, Cayard
lost to Bill Koch and his superior boat, America3, after having
made an improbable comeback against the New Zealanders in the
challengers' series. Three years later Cayard was beaten in the
finals again, this time while sharing the helm with Mr. America's
Cup, Dennis Conner.
October 17, 1999
Conner had brought the Cup to San Diego after winning it back
from the Australians in 1987, and in what amounted to a passing
of the torch, he let Cayard handle most of the sailing and the
starts in '95. Aboard their overmatched, underfunded boat, Stars
& Stripes, they upset two faster U.S. boats for the right to
defend. Then they leased one of the boats they'd beaten, Young
America, for the final round against New Zealand's Black Magic.
The Kiwis beat Cayard and Conner in five straight races, setting
up America's Cup 2000 in Auckland, a site that should literally
breathe fresh air into the tired old Cup. "There wasn't enough
wind in San Diego to hold spectator interest," says Cayard. "I
couldn't watch the races, and I was in them. There'll be wind in
Five U.S. syndicates (plus six from other countries) will race
in New Zealand this month in the first series of round robins to
determine who challenges the Kiwis for the Cup. It's too early
to tell who's got boat speed, but on paper Italy's Prada
campaign looks formidable, if only because of its immense
budget, rumored to be $70 million. International America's Cup
class yachts--high tech, computer designed--cost millions to
design and millions more to build, so the syndicates with the
deepest war chests start at the front.
Which is why, among the U.S. challengers, Cayard's AmericaOne
has emerged as the early favorite. Although he's a rookie at
fund-raising, Cayard has proved to be something of phenom when
going head-to-head against such better-known rivals as Team
Dennis Conner and the New York Yacht Club's Young America. In
the past year Cayard has landed Hewlett-Packard and Ford as
major sponsors, while the other syndicates have been left at the
pier. "The guy walks into a room and people get excited," says
Josh Belsky, who has sailed with Cayard in several races since
1992. "He's got a presence that is Jordanesque."
"Though I'm not a professional fund-raiser, there's a sincerity
to our presentations the companies relate to," says Cayard,
who's still $4 million shy of his $30 million budget after
pitching some 150 corporations since 1996. "Americans are
patriotic, and if we start winning, the level of interest will
His first new AmericaOne boat--the marketing-savvy Cayard put
number 49 on its mainsail, in honor of the San Francisco
49ers--was launched in July, and in early testing it has
appeared very fast both upwind and downwind, consistently
beating its trial horse, OneAustralia, which was probably the
second-fastest boat during the 1995 Cup. A second AmericaOne,
number 61, designed for the lighter air that is expected in
Auckland in February and March, is nearing completion and should
arrive in New Zealand by January.
Cayard's fund-raising efforts got a boost in May 1998 when he
became the first U.S. skipper to win the prestigious Whitbread
Round the World Race. Finishers of the eight-month, 32,000-mile
Whitbread must survive months of privation and the dangers of the
Southern Ocean--icebergs, whales, freezing cold, gales and
knockdowns. It is not a race for the faint of heart.
Before the Whitbread, Cayard had never done any ocean racing. He
was what ocean racers disparagingly refer to as a "buoy racer."
When he was approached by the Swedish sponsors of EF Language
about captaining their Whitbread boat--Cayard's wife, Icka, is
Swedish, and his father-in-law, Pelle Peterson, is probably the
most famous sailor in Sweden--he declined, explaining that he
already had a full-time job organizing the AmericaOne challenge.
In truth no one was willing to commit millions of dollars in
early 1997 to a race that would not happen until 2000. "The
AmericaOne board got together and said, Hey, why not do the
Whitbread?" Cayard recalls. "If you do well, it will keep you in
If he failed...well, they'd jump off that bridge when they came
to it. The oddsmakers predicted that Cayard would fail: EF
Language was touted to finish sixth in the 10-boat fleet because
of Cayard's inexperience. Only three members of the 12-man crew
had ever done a Whitbread before, and the two most critical
posts--captain and navigator--were held by rookies. "Most of our
crew was used to Olympic sailing and America's Cup sailing,
where you're fighting for inches around buoys," Cayard says. "In
ocean racing, boats are separated by days."
He tried to use that to his advantage, telling his crew to
approach the Whitbread as if it were an America's Cup race.
Every six hours the relative positions of the boats were beamed
to the fleet by satellite, and Cayard kept careful track. He
treated every six hours as a new race. In the vastness of the
ocean, he was always pushing his crew and boat for every inch.
Cayard's competitiveness nearly led to disaster on the second
leg of the Whitbread, a treacherous 4,600-mile run from Cape
Town to Fremantle, Australia. EF Language had handily won the
first leg, from Southampton, England, to Cape Town, but in the
more extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean, Cayard's
take-no-prisoners approach was close to foolhardy. Trying for 24
hours a day to wring every knot out of a boat battered by high
seas and 25-knot winds and manned by a cold and tired crew was
asking for trouble, and the Southern Ocean supplied it. Sails
tore, spinnaker poles broke, halyards were cut, and at one point
EF Language broached in the dead of night with a man up the mast.
"The guys with ocean-racing experience didn't tell me I was
pushing too hard," Cayard says. "I have a strong personality, and
most people don't tend to tell me what to do. It was a real
EF Language limped into Fremantle in fifth place, and the
pundits began the I-told-you-so's. But Cayard is a quick study,
and he understands how to motivate men. The day after arriving
in Fremantle, he called the 12-man EF Language crew together to
clear the air. "It was a real come-to-Jesus meeting," recalls
Belsky. "Paul went around the room and said, These are your
strengths, these are your weaknesses. He started with himself.
He said we went into that leg ill-prepared, and a lot of
mistakes were made, many of them because he was pushing us too
hard. Not everyone took it well. But the productivity that
followed that meeting was unbelievable. We could have gone
either way after that performance on Leg 2, but we regrouped and
shocked everyone by winning the next leg. That was when we began
to think we had a real chance to win."
"Being at the top of any business is pretty cutthroat," Cayard
admits. "Sometimes putting a stick up your crew members' asses
is the best way to motivate them. But you can't always use the
stick. As I've gotten older, I've learned to temper my intensity
"He mellowed during the Whitbread," says Belsky. "I'd always
seen Paul as this hard-assed, tough competitor, but during the
Whitbread I saw the compassionate side, too. I had a fall one
night and cut my leg, so they had to put 12 staples in it. When
I tried to go serve my watch, Paul was very forceful about not
letting me up on deck. We saw some pretty special sights during
that race: icebergs, whales, going around Cape Horn. He got just
as excited about them as the rest of us. He'd grin so hard, his
cheeks would puff out like golf balls."
"I loved that race," says Cayard. "It's a very simple existence:
no phones, no faxes, no Monica, no stock market. You focus on the
weather, the boat, the crew, and for nine months you just race.
It's so pure."
The purity of sailing is what attracted Cayard to the sport.
When he was eight, one of his friends took him sailing with his
family, and Paul loved it. He was an only child, and sailing
gave him a measure of freedom. His father, Pierre, a carpenter
who built sets for the San Francisco Opera, had been born in
France and was strict in the old-fashioned European sense.
Sailing became Paul's escape. When Pierre saw his son's growing
interest, he borrowed a boat from a friend for Paul to use and
later built him an eight-foot pram from scratch. "It was made of
this fancy, beautiful wood," Cayard recalls. "But it worked."
By the time he was 14, he'd won the North American sailing
championship in the El Toro class. "I was always very, very
determined to win," says Cayard. "I don't know where I got that
from. My dad wasn't an athlete. But I never wanted to give up. To
me, that was a sign of weakness."
When he got to college--San Francisco State--he decided to
switch from fleet racing to match racing, the head-to-head style
used in the America's Cup. The top match racer in San Francisco
at the time was Tom Blackhaller, who would die of a heart attack
in 1989 at age 49. The 18-year-old Cayard knocked on
Blackhaller's North Sails office door in 1977 and asked
Blackhaller to teach him to match race. "He told me he'd teach
me during his lunch hours," Cayard recalls, "but I had to do all
the preparations--get the boats on the water, rig them--and put
them away afterward."
Cayard so impressed Blackhaller that Blackhaller asked him to
crew for him in some Star class regattas. In 1983 Blackhaller, a
flamboyant man who delighted in being a thorn in Dennis Conner's
side, invited Cayard to be a sail trimmer on Defender during the
America's Cup trials in Newport; Conner's Liberty won there
before going on to lose to Australia II. Cayard teamed up with
Blackhaller again in 1987 in Fremantle, this time serving as his
tactician. But the team from San Francisco was again beaten by
Conner, and Cayard earned a reputation as a hotheaded adversary,
particularly when things weren't going his boat's way. "I've
always been very intense and focused," he says. "When I was
younger, it was close to out of control."
In 1988 Cayard, who speaks French and Italian, teamed with
Italian industrialist Raul Gardini to win the Maxi-boat world
championship, which led to Gardini's entry in the '92 America's
Cup. Gardini put Cayard in charge of the challenge by Il Moro de
Venezia--a four-year, five-boat campaign that cost more than $50
million. "Raul became something of a father figure to me," Cayard
says. "He took me in as if I were his son."
Il Moro had a fine run, staging a stirring comeback after Cayard
fell behind New Zealand in the best-of-nine challengers' series,
four races to one. Or so it appeared. After losing the fifth
race Cayard protested, saying the Kiwis had violated an obscure
America's Cup rule in the way they had rigged one of their sails
to the bowsprit. An international jury reluctantly agreed with
Cayard and, while admitting that the rigging had not affected
the outcome of the race, threw out the result and ordered a
resail. It was the first time in 141 years that an America's Cup
race had been annulled. The distracted Kiwis went into
self-destruct mode and lost the next four races to Cayard, who
proved again that he knew how to rally a team.
Shortly after Il Moro was beaten by Koch's America3, Gardini's
life came down around him. In an anticorruption crackdown,
Italian authorities began investigating Gardini and his chemical
company, Montedison, for alleged bribery of public officials.
Rather than face a criminal trial, Gardini committed suicide in
1993. Cayard had seen him a few days earlier. "I knew he was
stressed out, but [his death] was still a shock," Cayard says.
"I had a special relationship with him, just as I did with Tom
Blackhaller. Now neither of my two greatest sailing influences
are here to see what a good job they did. I think about that a
Just as he thinks about how perfect the timing would be if next
year he fulfills the dream that Gardini chased, that Blackhaller
chased and that Cayard himself has chased since 1983: bringing
home the America's Cup. Cayard says he wants to spend more time
with his kids--son Danny, 10, and daughter Allie, 9. Between the
Whitbread and the end of the forthcoming America's Cup, Cayard
will have spent 24 of the past 30 months on the road. Rather, on
the sea. "I've been on a five-year tear," he says, "and during
that time my kids have gone from being toddlers to young people
with their own personalities. I don't want to miss the next five
years. So I've got more invested personally and emotionally in
this America's Cup than in any of the other four."
It is an investment he clearly does not regret as he stands on
the deck of AmericaOne, his 49er. It is new and fast and
eye-catching, with many races to win before this sailor can come
home from the sea.
It is Cayard's dream to turn the 148-year-old America's Cup into
a "happening event."
"I've always been intense," says Cayard. "When I was younger it
was close to out of control."