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Rich Roberts Reports

Cayard: the AC From the Outside

By Rich Roberts

For YachtRacing.com

Paul Cayard (right) calls tactics for John Kilroy (left) on Samba Pa Ti at Key West. Photo by Rich Roberts

The Louis Vuitton Cup challenger trials were over and his employer, Oracle BMW, was eliminated, but the sun was rising bright and clear for Paul Cayard half a world away.

In the dazzling dawn of Key West he said, "Once you're up and out, you're way ahead of the world"---a comment reminiscent of his eloquent e-mails from the Whitbread Round the World Race a few years ago.

Cayard was at Terra Nova Trading Key West 2003 to call tactics on John Kilroy's Samba Pa Ti, which finished second to another California boat, Crocodile Rock, in the tough Farr 40 class. But his mind was sometimes in Auckland.


"This is my anniversary," he noted. "Twenty years ago I was the jib trimmer with Tom Blackaller on a boat called Defender."

He hadn't missed an America's Cup since until Oracle boss Larry Ellison sent him into highly paid limbo late in 2001 for reasons still unexplained.

Now, for the first time feeling free to talk, Cayard said, "There has been no explanation. It's left to supposition. It's better for me not to comment because everybody else pretty much figured it out."

The general consensus: Ellison's ego couldn't co-exist with Cayard's charisma.

"You have to go back even farther than that," Cayard said. "Why did he hire me?"

Obviously, because Cayard came with his AmericaOne assets from 2000, but there was more to it than that.

"Part of the original sale of the boats included my services to consult for him and to hire people," Cayard said. "I did a lot of that in the early days, to convince a lot of the AmericaOne people to continue. But that termed out, and then he---they---offered me a new contract and I re-signed. I'm sure, for the amount of money I was getting paid, he knew full well I was re-hired."

So Ellison could then freeze him in exile and keep him from going to a rival team? We may never know. But while the action went on Down Under, Cayard became the highest-paid Star sailor ever. He finished fourth in the Worlds at Marina del Rey last summer.

The largest upside, though, was "spending time with the family, which was huge."

With Icka and their kids Danny, 14, and Allie, 12, he became a full-time husband and father.

"Their whole lives I've been involved in a campaign of one kind or another and been putting in a lot of hours, with probably half of that time away from them. I can really notice the difference in this last year and a half in our relationships, and I enjoy it. Having a family is a project that requires time just like any other project, work or otherwise.

"The downside is, from a career standpoint, I didn't participate in this America's Cup, and that would have been a real shame if they had won. They got pretty close, so the question is, could I have helped them make a difference? I'd like to think I could have.

"As I told Larry Ellison way back, when he bought the boats from me back in 2000---which was the only time I ever talked to him---he said, 'Well, I just assumed that if you couldn't be the CEO or the skipper you wouldn't want to be part of our program.'

"I said, 'Hey, if there's gonna be a topnotch challenge out of San Francisco with a real chance to bring the Cup to the Bay, which is something I really believe in, I'd be happy to be part of the team.'

"And he said, 'Oh, in that case we'd love to have you.' That's the only time we ever talked."

Q: How was it sitting this one out?

Cayard: "Financially, I have to be honest. It worked out OK. I got paid the whole way and I didn't have to go down there and be away from my family."

Q: And when the racing started, and you were at home watching on OLN?

Cayard: "Once I saw the racing going on, [I thought] that's what I do. That's my career. And, really, it's a shame. I'm probably right at the [ideal balance] of raw talent and experience. Some sports are just talent because you have to be so young, but sailing experience counts, especially when it comes to running a big team and being stable. The dynamics and complexities are huge. It's a political game, it's a psychological game."

Q: Did you go to Auckland at all?

Cayard: "I went in December for a week when there were only four teams left. A few people from other teams wanted to talk to me about next time. At 43 years old, I've been sailing for 35 years and I've done enough of these Cups to where I'm technically able to relate to the design team, and I have enough experience being at the top of these things to do a good job with the people and management side. Next time I'll be 46. It's not that huge a deal, but these are probably my most impactful years."

Q: Were you rooting for Oracle?

Cayard: "The obvious knee-jerk thing was that the last thing I want to see is Larry succeed. He was wrong. But the truth is, there would have been nothing better than to have the Cup in my backyard. I could live at home and go to work. I know I wouldn't have worked for Oracle, but I could have worked for someone else."

Q: Your assessment of the Oracle campaign?

Cayard: "Instability in the management and therefore a lack of leadership. There wasn't one person that everybody respected who on a daily basis was making the decisions, setting the tone, setting the pace, creating the right environment to foster everybody's best effort.

"People need to be motivated beyond a paycheck. When you melted it all down, people were there for the paycheck. There was no person who grabbed at their hearts and took 'em beyond, and that's what you have to do to win. You have to go way beyond the paycheck."

Q: Were you surprised when Ellison brought Dickson back?

Cayard: "Yeah. Letting Dickson go the first time wasn't a surprise because it occurred over a long period of time and it was the crew that didn't want him there. Everybody was aware of the pressures to get rid of him the first time."

Q: Did you have problems with Dickson?

Cayard: "I didn't really, but I never sailed with him. They always kept me and him opposite."

Q: In the America's Cup Match, how do you rate the leadership qualities of the skippers, Russell Coutts and Dean Barker?

Cayard: "Coutts is a great leader, and he has his own style. He's kind of a quiet guy, low profile, but he's a good guy, personable and cares about his people. They respect him and go the extra mile for him.

"In the Coutts formula, it's like the Dennis Conner of old. It's definitely him. He's the leader, the skipper, the whole thing. Maybe that was my case with AmericaOne or Il Moro [in 1992].

"Team New Zealand probably has a slightly different formula. In the Barker case, it's a little more team oriented, and with Schnack [Tom Schnackenberg] being the senior citizen and the guru of design there is more of the sharing of that leadership role. In my opinion, that's a slightly more difficult model to make work because the people aren't quite sure whose beat they're marching to."

Q: Your pick?

Cayard: "If you had to boil it down to one thing, once you pay your entry fee---which was $80 million this time---you're gonna get talent. The top 500 guys in the game went to those top four [semifinalists]. What it boils down to after that is leadership.

"Coutts has it, and you could see it from the get-go. You knew that if Coutts's boat was gonna be even just a 'B' boat, he was going to be very hard to get rid of. But the big surprise was that Coutts and [Rolf] Vrolijk, the designer, and [Grant] Simmer, the coordinator, came up with an 'A' boat. That just ruined it for everybody.

"Now you have the best team with the best leader with maybe the best boat. Now you're totally screwed."

Q: What is your life after the America's Cup?

Cayard: "I'm pretty interested in doing the Star this year. Phil Trinter is gonna sail with me. Honestly, I'm not in a panic to . . ."

At this point, with the interview winding down, we are walking out to Samba Pa Ti as a sailor approaches from the other direction. He spots Cayard, does an about-face and falls into step with us.

"Excuse me, Paul," he says, "I just wanted to say hi. A couple of days ago I saw you and it was 'oh, my God!' I'm just a geek from Chicago."

He turns to me and says, "I have one favor to ask. Would you take our picture together?' "

He hands me a throwaway camera and stands next to Cayard, beaming. I click and he gushes his thanks. Cayard has made his day.

Q: What would it take to make yours?

Cayard: "The America's Cup is going go either to Europe or stay in New Zealand which, for me, if I want to do that game, means living away from the family again."

Q: Which would be best?

Cayard: "Europe. Mind you, it's gonna be way more expensive to do an America's Cup in Europe, but the commercial aspects will more than make up for that.

"But what could get my interest is those big multihulls. It's a new game.

They're really fast. Maybe I'd do The Race, or I don't know what [type of boat] Volvo is gonna announce on Feb. 10. But to go lugging around the world on a 65-foot monohull again, I've done that."

 

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