Let's get one thing out of the way at the start: just like in royal families, sports have their lineages. Fathers and sons have passed on the torch in basketball, football, and baseball. Ken Griffey, Jr. anyone? And there are also the unofficial lines, the torches that are passed from Montana to Young, or Will Clark to J.T. Snow (actually Snow is a two-sport lineage, with his dad playing wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams).
And the same goes for sailing. The America's Cup has been a particular breeding ground for those unofficial relationships, despite the vagabond, traveling carnival aspect to international sailing. For instance Gary Jobson, the leading statesmen of American sailing, made his bones in the floating madhouse at the back of Ted Turner's boat in the 1977 America's Cup campaign. Not for nothing was Turner dubbed at the time "Captain Outrageous," and his crew was a wondrous combination of sailors considered either too old or too young. They were also known as much for their activities on land as they were out on the racecourse, capped off by quite likely the most drunken victory celebration on record.
Paul Cayard is a lineage too, and the most direct line to the America's Cup that the Bay Area has. He's not just a sailor, he's a local born and bred hero, and he learned how to race the Cup at the side of another great local sailor, Tom Blackaller (who himself learned how to battle at the side of [Bay Area native] Russell Long). Tom Blackaller looked like his silver hair was being blown by a gale even when he was standing still, but he was never standing still. One night, during the 1987 Golden Gate Challenge, he threw down a map on the bar and showed how one could crowbar the America's Cup course into San Francisco Bay. And then with that glint in his eyes, he said those fateful words: "If the America's Cup comes here, it will never leave."
It didn't come that year, the team losing to arch enemy Dennis Conner as Blackaller and Paul Cayard spent races hanging on for dear life on a radical boat with a front rudder that had a mean streak and a tendency to lose its way when least expected. Blackaller would joke that it was a good thing he liked racecars because he had the only boat that wanted to spin out. It was a joke that turned black when Blackaller died of a heart attack at the wheel of a racecar blasting through The Carousel at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma two years later.
But everyone saw a glimpse of the future that night, a future that was reinforced when Blackaller starting racing catamarans the year after that 1987 Golden Gate Challenge. So we all waited for the Cup to come here, and we knew that Paul Cayard would be the one who would keep it here just as his mentor had predicted. But Paul Cayard is not racing on Team Oracle, the American team. Instead he is racing for Artemis, the Swedish Challenger.
First off, you have to understand Cayard, who is one of the most unassuming, self-effacing rock star athletes you will ever meet. When the precious youngster Nathan Outteridge displaced Paul as the skipper, this is how he described the backstabbing process. "The truth is that when I did my first Cup in 1983, I was a sail trimmer and twenty-three, and I was the youngest person on the boat and it was quite an honor to be on the middle of the boat. Now this young kid (Outteridge) is 26, and he gets to steer the boat. He knows nothing about the America's Cup... he can barely spell it, and he gets to steer the boat. That's how fast it has moved in this America's Cup."
That's Paul, making it sound like changing the helmsmen on a ten million dollar rocket is as boring as changing a coffee filter. This really makes me like the guy even more, but then a little voice in my head yells out, "hey dummy, he's the enemy -- sailing for the Swedes!" And not only that, he is one of us for crying out loud, a Bay Area native. I of course I asked Cayard about this and here's his response:
"Here I am after all the times I have tried to bring the America's Cup to San Francisco, sailing with Blackaller and then with the America True team, and if we are successful, ultimately I find myself in a situation where I could be possibly be taking the Cup away from what I think is the best place in the world for it to be, and where my heart wants it to be. But I am a professional athlete and a professional sportsman and I am playing this game within the rules the best I can."
When Paul's own team lost a sailor last month, for a moment he was one of us again. The local sailing community knows how Cayard cares for his fellow sailors, and how much it hurt. Maybe in today's international, professional America's Cup, this is how the informal lineage runs. From the days of Long and Blackaller, to a young Cayard learning the ropes, to a new generation of sailors from around the world on the Swedish boat learning from Cayard. That's the thing about lines; you don't pick them, they pick you. But I can't think of a better person to carry the torch, and in the end, Cayard may not be on the American boat, but he will always belong to San Francisco.