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.
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 Auckland."
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 fundraiser, 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 pick up."
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.