Disney’s cast for ‘Pearl’ getting star in Cayard

The pirate boat of the Volvo Ocean Race now has a skipper with a swashbuckling image to match.

Paul Cayard, one of America’s most decorated sailors, has agreed to lead The Black Pearl, the Walt Disney Co.-backed syndicate, in the 32,700-mile race around the globe that will begin in November.

The announcement is scheduled for today.

With his thick mustache and deep tan, Cayard is the very model of a modern buccaneer.

The 46-year-old San Francisco native has sailed in five America’s Cup campaigns and is a seven-time sailing world champion. He was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 1998 and was elected to the Sailing World Hall of Fame three years ago.

In 1998, Cayard was the first American skipper to win the global race, then known as the Whitbread, on EF Language.

“I think Cayard is a good choice,” said Gary Jobson, author and sailing commentator for NBC and ESPN. “He won in 1997-98 and that’s invaluable. He’s a strong organizer. I hope this means we’re going to have a majority-U.S. crew.”

Cayard is competing this week in the Copa del Rey regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. He is expected to be on hand when The Black Pearl is launched from the Green Marine shipyard outside London later this month.

Although he considers his 1988 world championship in the Star class to be his greatest achievement, there is no doubt that, in Cayard’s mind, the Volvo race is in its own class.

“The race itself gave me the richest experience I have had from sports,” he wrote in the forward to the book, Fighting Finish, about the Volvo race.

“I had won world championships before, but circumnavigating the planet we live on in the vehicle of my professional career – a sailboat – is a lifetime achievement.”

Disney is banking on the boat to help promote the sequel to its movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, due out next summer. The 70-foot racer is expected to have a black-and-red hull with a skull-and-crossbones motif on its main sail.

The syndicate has deep pockets, with Disney expected to spend about $17 million on the campaign. But Cayard faces an uphill battle to get to the starting line in November.

The other six syndicates are much further along in preparing for the race. All of the other boats have been launched and crew selections have been completed or are in their final stages.

The global regatta, which introduced Cayard to the non-sailing public in 1997-98, might give him a platform for revenge.

Last year, with teammate Phil Trinter, he finished a disappointing fifth in the Summer Olympics in the Star class. The gold medalist, Torben Grael, is the helmsman of Brazil 1, one of the other Volvo boats.

The Volvo intrigue may not be over with the Cayard move.

The winner of the last Volvo race, John Kostecki, the skipper of illbruck, has hinted that he and other top sailors are available for duty this time.

Two weeks ago, Kostecki was removed as tactician and sailing director of BMW Oracle Racing, the San Francisco-based challenge to the 2007 America’s Cup. The news release announcing his dismissal said he will remain with Oracle as a consultant.

But that leaves plenty of time for other pursuits, Kostecki said in a recent interview with California’s Marin Independent Journal.