Skipper of steel, leader of all EF Language's Cayard drives his boat and crew relentlessly toward goal

The Whitbread Watch

January 21, 1998|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Paul Cayard is an exceptionally tough and demanding skipper.

A ruthless, no-holds-barred professional, Cayard pushes himself hard and demands a mirror image of his professionalism in his crew. Although his crew aboard Sweden's EF Language includes not one Whitbread veteran, it does contain a good mix of what Cayard calls "buoy racers."

"What we bring to the table," he said, "is a certain intensity, a work ethic. For example, we are the only team that doesn't party for one day solid after arriving in a port. We tend to get right on with it. That's why we've always been the first boat put back together and out sailing again, looking forward to the next leg while our competitors are onshore nursing their hangovers. That's an advantage."

Cayard hates to waste time.

"I get pretty anxious whenever I identify time being wasted," he said. "To me, the race is on all the time. There's always something we could be doing to improve our chances of winning, whether that's on the land or the water."

EF Language has won two of the four completed legs in the Whitbread Round the World Race and sits atop the overall standings. But simply winning a leg, Cayard says, is no big deal.

"I've seen guys get excited about winning a leg, but that's not where it's at," he said. "We're here to win the whole race. That's why I remain pretty focused, pretty tense."

Cayard admits he can be "a pain" for people around him. "If you're screwing around," he said, "the hammer is going to come down pretty hard. My guys know that."

Cayard says he has been sailing each of the Whitbread legs so far as if they were America's Cup matches.

"I'm used to sailing with everything optimized," he said, "which means I've insisted on always having exactly the right sail up for any given conditions. And that's tended to act to our detriment. . . . When it's snowing on deck and people have three layers of gloves on and they're already dog tired from 10 days at sea [on Leg 2], you can't expect them to handle the boat exactly as they did on Leg 1, when they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in shorts and T-shirts.

"Frankly, I didn't fully appreciate that, and I kept pushing hard . . . . I basically caused us to break a lot of gear, spinnakers and poles. And that got to be a vicious circle, because when you break down, some people have to go to work on that and they're out of the watch system, and they, of course, get more tired.

"That was our downfall on the second leg, simply pushing too hard and not realizing that, at times, 90 percent of full speed is the fastest solution."

Cayard says he has learned from those mistakes and is `f determined not to repeat them.

"We'll have to wait and see how much I've learned when it comes to the fifth leg, around Cape Horn," he said. But Cayard insists on what he calls "look-yourself-in-the-mirror sessions" with each member of his crew after each leg.

"The second leg did not go so well," he said of EF Language's fifth-place finish, "so the very first day we got in I started out on myself and went down the list. I gave some hopefully constructive criticism to the whole team about what we needed to do better."

Cayard said he was toughest on himself.

"Obviously my inexperience led me into pushing the guys way too hard and keeping too big a sail up for too long, especially when it was dark and snowing in the Southern Ocean. I had the greatest effect on the outcome, and I stated that clearly.

"I'm quite capable of criticizing myself, and as a leader you have to be able to do that," he said.

Cayard was asked what he was learning about himself as he sailed around the world.

"At times," he said, "in the middle of the Southern Ocean when it was snowing and dark and blowing 40 knots and the boat is thundering down the waves and slamming around, I found myself thinking about curling up on the rug in my family room in Kentfield, Calif., with my kids. It was an attempt to remove myself from a very scary situation.

"And, believe me, I was scared out there. When we come ashore, all people see is a bunch of macho men. And the fears do become diluted, but anyone who doesn't admit to having those fears is deluding himself. It can be quite an intimidating scene out there. When you get a chance to climb in your bunk, you're basically praying that you're going to wake up there and not to the sound of flooding water or the mast wrapped around the keel.

"Deep inside there's a part of us that's known real terror," he said. "I think we've all caught a glimpse of the awesome magnitude of nature. . . . The truth is that in the teeth of a great gale of wind and big seas, we are barely in control. If the boat goes sideways, it could go sideways in a real hurry.

"It's edgy at times," he said. "Whether or not the other guys would admit it or not, I think we've all been humbled by this experience."

Cayard says he is looking forward to perhaps the greatest FTC challenge for any sailor: rounding Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America.

"Rounding Cape Horn will be one of our most significant moments," he said. "And getting down there is going to take us back into some pretty extreme conditions. Four or five days out of New Zealand, we are going to be down around 50-55 [degrees latitude] south again, so it will be cold and probably quite windy and scary and rough and all that stuff.

"But that's what we've come for," Cayard said. "That's what makes the Whitbread so special."

Race update

The Whitbread Watch is a weekly log of the Round the World Race. Look for it every Wednesday in The Sun.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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