Cayard Interview: Trumpeting the World Sailing League

Russell Coutts and Paul Cayard, and sports promoter Joao Lagos, have joined forces to create a professional fleet-racing circuit in one-design 70-foot catamarans.

Coutts&Cayard
Kurt Arrigo/rolex

Any sailor with their ear to the ground-or is the dock more accurate-over the past few years has heard the rumor that Russell Coutts and Paul Cayard are starting their own professional sailing circuit. Coutts, a famously tight-lipped individual, even confirmed a few rough details in an interview with Sailing World in October of 2005. He declined to say more though, stating that neither he nor Cayard were in the business of promoting anything before the details were ironed out.However, the rumor had gotten stale of late. Had this idea ended up on the scrapheap like so many others before it?Today, in Lisbon, Portugal, Coutts, Cayard, and Portuguese sports promoter Joao Lagos announced the creation of the World Sailing League, a traveling circuit of fleet races sailed in one-design 70-foot catamarans with a $2 million prize going to the series champion. As they promised, this league more than just a vision. Lagos, a former Davis Cup tennis player for Portugal, and his company Lagos Sports will provide both expertise in event management and the necessary funding to build a fleet of 14 catamarans-12 teams are scheduled to compete. With the boats built, getting sponsors for the league, venues, and individual teams-Coutts and Cayard will each enter one-should be significantly easier, though there are obviously plenty of hurdles and crucial decisions left before the first start in 2009.The prototype, designed by French multihull gurus Mark van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prevost, will be launched later this year to allow enough time for testing and refinement. The fleet will be built in 2008 with the circuit kicking the following year.Prior to the official announcement, we spoke with Cayard about this new venture.OK, time for a little sales pitch. We know it's fleet racing in 70-foot catamarans. Can you add a little more color to this picture?I think what excites me about it is big, exciting, high-tech boats-probably the highest tech sailing machines that exist in the world-fleet racing close to shore, close to the public; and having a circuit that goes around the world, eight or 10 different venues, annually repeating those venues and getting a constituency that follows that circuit.The rumors of this joint venture have been floating around for over two years. Has this been a steady development process or full of stops and starts?It's probably been a little bit of stop and go to be very honest and that's really why were making the announcement, finally it's a real go. That's really because the concept that Russell and I have been working on has met with a commercial partner, which is Lagos Sports, who has the knowledge and experience in promoting sporting events as well as the resource to put behind the project. So it's really exciting for Russ and I to have the confidence to go public. A lot of people were giving us a hard time for being a little coy about the whole thing, but that's just who we are, we didn't want to say anything official or public until we really knew we had the ability to go forward with it.How did you decide on a 70-foot catamaran?We wanted something that was fast, for sure. We want to have exciting sailing, Russ and I are looking to have some fun and exciting sailing, but we think [using a catamaran is] important as far as growing the sport and as far as an event that will be attractive to young sailors coming up, sailors coming out of the Olympic Games like Robert Scheidt or the Tornado sailors. And we wanted it to be big and we wanted it to be able to sail close to shore. So we went through the evolutions of monohull, then monohull canting keel, and there were limitations with each of those designs and really there were some costs with some of those concepts.What we have with a catamaran is a very light, fast, powerful boat that can sail very close to shore, doesn't have the depth problems that a canting keel has. The more I think about a catamaran, it's a little bit non-traditional for those of us who have been sailing for 40 years, but my guess is it's where the worlds is going in sailing, a little bit like snowboarding has in some way taken over from skiing.How do you get the exciting boat-on-boat action that is so common with monohulls, but less common with cats where tacking or jibing is so expensive in terms of boatspeed and boatlengths?Well, another feature is we want to have the races pretty short, targeting 30 to 40 minutes, at the most, for a race. So on a given day's sailing, you'll have three or four heats. I think it's great, if the crew screws up on this thing, it's going to cost them the race. There are big speed deltas between a boat that is tacking or jibing or one that's going straight. I think that will lead to some excitement coming down to the finish, if one boat has to make a jibe and the other is shooting straight in, it will be quite exciting. We like all the features of the cat. How many crew do you anticipate for this boat?We're thinking eight. It's quite possible that you won't ever put up or drop a sail because the spinnaker is going to be more like a Code 0-the boat's go so fast that the apparent wind is forward-they just roll those things up when they get to the leeward mark. We think eight people. It's all part of the equation, to try to have this great racing at what we think is a reasonable cost. Cost control is an element of our concept, so the one-design boat works with that and the fewer crew works with that.Why make the leap from event participant to event organizer?Well, Russell and I are the first two guys signed up to skipper boats in this new league. We're going to have our own teams; it's a lot of fun, like last year with the Pirates. To be honest, having a team and being a team leader is as much fun as the sailing. So we're going to have our teams and this racing is going to be exciting. Some sailing I've done is exciting because of the competition, but not exciting in and of itself. We're still going to be competitors and we're looking forward to that.If this event succeeds the way you hope, with 12 teams racing, with numerous stops each year, can it do so without negatively impacting the America's Cup or the Volvo Ocean Race?We have our concept and our vision and I think we see the whole sporting landscape as our competitor. We see ourselves as actually quite different to events that exist. We're not trying to copy anybody or take anybody's place. This is going to be the world championship or grand prix circuit for large-boat fleet racing; that's something that doesn't exist right now. Those other two events you mentioned, one of them is an ocean-racing event, and one of them is a match-racing event. I don't particularly see us as displacing anything.What sort of commitments from corporate sponsorship world to get this thing off the ground?That is really what we're announcing, that it is off the ground. One of the big hurdles in this project, as you can imagine, was to get the boats underwritten. They're the critical path in the timeline, it's really a two- or two and a half-year project to design, build the prototype, test the prototype, and get the fleet built. It's a huge time element. Sponsors of teams, maybe they put the money up a year ahead, but not three years ahead. Having Lagos Sports involved, and their expertise with the commercial side, but also having their support to underwrite the fleet of boats is critical and that's what we announcing tomorrow. As the project goes forward the teams will have their sponsors and the league will have its sponsors, and the venues will have their sponsors. Those are business arrangements that will be made as we move forward. Those are more typical. But the news really is that the project is off and running because of the partnership between Coutts, Cayard, and Lagos Sports.In the press release you mention trying other forms of racing outside of fleet racing, time trials and slalom racing among others. What sort of tricks do you have up your sleeve for this circuit?It is going to be a fleet-racing circuit. There are probably some rumors out there but I'm not going to get into it in this call; but we are looking at some other formats that could be both exciting for the sailors as well as for the public. One of the fundamental ideas of the concept is to bring sailing to the public. That is where the fleet racing, and the shorter courses, and the really exciting boats, and the national flags, all those are elements that you don't have to be a sailing expert to get interested in.For more on the circuit, www.wsl2009.com