From the Olympics to the Volvo Ocean Race to the America’s Cup; Paul Cayard is that rare sailor – a skipper who’s as accomplished, whether he’s on a 23ft keelboat or an 86ft wing sail catamaran.
He’s a seven time world champion, a seven time America’s Cup competitor, beginning in 1983, has twice circumnavigated the world and is a two time Olympian – first in 1984 and then 20 years later in Athens, where he placed 5th in the Star class. And he’s a legend in the Volvo Ocean Race.
He was the first American to win what was then the last edition of the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1997-1998. He later skippered Pirates of the Caribbean to second place in the 2005-2006 race.
At the time of his debut Whitbread outing, Cayard was well known in America’s Cup circles but unproven offshore and no one rated him particularly seriously. But he was to have a profound influence on theevolution of race, raising professional standards to levels previously unseen.
The 1997-1998 edition of the race was notable for an interesting new onboard innovation – email – and the Californian made full use of it to captivate fans at home throughout the 32,000 miles of racing. He described the pressure of maintaining a constant 15 knots, for example, as ‘a cross between really scary and really fun’ and later noted how some of his crew had lost almost 10% of their body weight.
It was a hard fought race and bitterly close. At the end of leg 2, from Cape Town to Fremantle, six of the competitors arrived within 11 minutes. “It was the tightest ocean race I have ever been in,” Cayard reported at the time. He eventually won the race with a leg to spare.
What earned him his remarkable win was an attention to detail that most opponents found at best boring, at worse nauseating. But it was a superbly professional effort and few could deny that he thoroughly deserved the title.
Fluent in English, French and Italian, he frequently speaks at conferences around the globe and can be regularly heard commenting on sailing. Cayard’s accolades include induction to the US Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011 and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 1998.