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America's One
E.M. Swift
October 18, 1999
The best sailor in the U.S., Paul Cayard, may have mellowed some, but he's applying his trademark intensity to bringing home the America's Cup
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October 18, 1999

America's One

The best sailor in the U.S., Paul Cayard, may have mellowed some, but he's applying his trademark intensity to bringing home the America's Cup

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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 the limelight."

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," Ca-yard says. "I have a strong personality, and most people don't tend to tell me what to do. It was a real learning experience."

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 with patience."

"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."

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