Cayard to Skipper Disney’s Black Pearl in Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race added a marquee name yesterday with the announcement that Olympian and America’s Cup veteran Paul Cayard will skipper the U.S. entry Black Pearl. As has been rumored for months, Cayard will steer the Disney-sponsored boat when the fleet of seven boats leaves Spain in November for the quadrennial ’round-the-world event.

The San Francisco sailor was the first American to win the 30,000-mile race when he skippered EF Language to victory in 1998 in what was then the Whitbread ‘Round-the-World Race. Cayard, 46, was the U.S. entry in sailing’s Star Class in the Athens Olympics last year and has five America’s Cup campaigns under his belt.

In a phone interview from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where he was competing in a big-boat regatta, Cayard said he’s assembled a crew of 10 from seven nations and expects to start training around Sept. 1, as soon as boat construction is completed in England. Nine of the crew have been around the world in the Volvo or Whitbread before, he said, and four were on winning boats.

Disney’s sponsorship was late arriving, and Cayard’s team will be one of the last to begin preparations. The team with the most experience is Movistar, a Spanish entry that began sailing last February and completed a trial run from Australia to England via Cape Horn.

“Our campaign has to be catch-up,” said Cayard, “and we may not catch up till we’re three-quarters of the way around the world. The good news is, at that point, only one-third of the points will have been awarded.

“Our idea is to get a good crew, learn and improve as we go and reel the others in. The only thing that matters is having the most points at the end of the last leg.”

Cayard is credited with taking the Whitbread/Volvo to a new level when he captained EF Language in 1998. Previously, it had been largely a race for offshore sailors who put as much emphasis on the adventure as on winning. He brought the intensity of inshore dinghy sailing. When Volvo took over sponsorship in 2001-2002, winner Illbruck was skippered by another American Olympian, fellow San Franciscan John Kostecki.

For the third straight time, the race has a Chesapeake Bay stopover scheduled in Baltimore-Annapolis in April. Chesapeake sailors will get a look at the new race boats, which at 70 feet are 10 feet longer than the last rendition and have movable keels for stability.

“The boats are extremely cool,” said Cayard. “They’re very, very fast — so fast that it may be a liability changing headsails when you’re going 30 knots in the Southern Ocean. There will be a lot of water on deck and keeping everyone on board is going to be a task.”

Cayard made it clear after his Whitbread victory in 1998 that he didn’t plan to do another ’round-the-world race but said he found the chance to partner with Disney and the challenge of assembling a new team attractive.

“Long-term, if it’s good for Disney, it could be good for the sport if we get other media companies interested in sponsoring sailing.”

Disney will use the sponsorship to promote its upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie sequel. Cayard says he’ll work with a budget of 12 million euros ($14.6 million), “which is probably a little less than the others.”

Other race entries come from Spain, Holland, Brazil, Australia and Sweden.