`Pirates,' others seek booty



Icebergs, tropical heat and sleeping quarters the size of coffins hardly sound like selling points for a Disney cruise. But those are some of the elements on the voyage skipper Paul Cayard and his crew will be taking during the next eight months.

The Volvo Ocean Race, a 32,700-mile global circumnavigation, begins today off the coast of Vigo, Spain, with a fleet of seven boats, including the high-profile, Disney-backed entry, Pirates of the Caribbean. The nine-leg race will stop in Baltimore and Annapolis, April 17-May 7.

Disney was a late comer to the race, announcing its involvement in March, hiring Cayard in August and launching the boat in September. But it was a case of better-late-than-never for Volvo organizers, who faced a public relations and marketing nightmare without a U.S. entry.

Cayard, 46, is a San Francisco native who has sailed in five America's Cup campaigns and is a seven-time world sailing champion. He was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 1998, the same year he became the first American skipper to win the global race, then known as the Whitbread, on EF Language. He was elected to the Sailing World Hall of Fame three years ago.

Disney is using the 70-foot-long yacht to promote the sequel to its popular 2003 film due out next summer. With a black-and-red hull and a skull-and-crossbones on the mainsail, the boat, nicknamed The Black Pearl, is expected to draw huge in-port crowds.

But the boat is more than just a head-turner. Made of lightweight materials and stabilized by a keel that pivots 40 degrees from side to side, The Black Pearl and its competitors slice the water with top speeds approaching 40 knots. Volvo officials say the boats could travel the 6,400-mile first leg to Cape Town, South Africa, in as few as 18 days - about two-thirds the time it took 20 years ago.

"They're a handful," says Cayard, one of America's most decorated sailors. "The sails are big, the boats are fast, they power up easily. They're demanding to sail with just 10 people ... and more dangerous."

Cayard acknowledges he was not inclined to participate again in the Volvo, which he has labeled "the richest experience I have had from sport," and turned down an offer in April 2004 to skipper one of the other Volvo syndicates. Then he met with Disney executives and saw the pirate design.

"It's a cool image to have for a race like this," says Cayard. "I think we're aggressive and hopefully rough enough and tough enough to win this race."

CNBC will have a weekly Volvo wrap-up show at 5 p.m., beginning Nov. 19. The race also can be followed on www.volvooceanrace.org.


At a glance

What -- Volvo Ocean Race

Dates -- Today-June 15

Entries -- Seven boats, representing six nations

Prize -- A Waterford crystal trophy, "Fighting Finish"

Stopovers -- Cape Town, South Africa; Melbourne, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Baltimore/Annapolis; New York; Portsmouth, England; Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Gothenburg, Sweden

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