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Spring's (eventual) arrival and Olympic sailing news

by David Schmidt 30 Mar 08:00 PDT March 30, 2021
Paul Cayard © Marc Rouiller / SSL

As the sailing world recovers from the fast-foiling frenzy of the 36th America's Cup and begins to take stock of what the AC37 landscape will look like with INEOS Team UK as the Challenger of Record, hope is starting to spring eternal in North America for some good sailing in the months to come.

While spring's arrival has been a bit reluctant in my neck of the woods in Bellingham, Washington (read: 48.75 degrees north...the spring skiing at Mount Baker has been great), other parts of the country are starting to see a return to racing. Granted, the cursed pandemic is still causing headaches large and small, but with vaccination efforts rolling full tilt in the USA, it finally feels as though some new semblance of normality will arrive in time for 2021's sailing season to be a great one.

While not weather related, one of the best pieces of spring renewal that I've heard about in a while came courtesy of US Sailing, which last week named Paul Cayard as their Executive Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing.

Cayard is easily one of America's most decorated sailors, and his career stretches from Olympic class boats (he won the 1988 Star World Champions in Buenos Aires, and finished in fifth place at the 2004 Athens Olympics in this same talent-rife class) to the Whitbread Round the World Race/Volvo Ocean Race (he won the 1997/1988 edition of the Whitbread as skipper of EF Language, and he finished in second place in the 2005/2006 edition of the VOR as skipper of Pirates of the Caribbean) to the America's Cup, where he served as everything from a jib trimmer (1983, aboard Tom Blackaller's Defender) to skipper (several campaigns), to helmsman (1995, aboard Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes), to technical advisor (2007 with Desafio Espanol).

All told, Cayard, 61 and a San Francisco native, has won seven world championship titles, and he was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 1998; additionally, he was inaugurated into the prestigious National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011.

To say that the man knows how to win races and skipper a team under pressure is akin to saying that the Kiwis know a thing or two about foiling.

Cayard's hire comes as great news to the U.S. Olympic sailing team, which - despite its strong history of winning more Olympic medals (60) than any other nation - has fallen on hard times as of late. The team suffered an epic medal ceremony shut out at the London 2012 Olympics (I was there... it wasn't pretty), and they only managed to collect a single bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In fact, the team's most recent gold medal win, which was proudly earned by Anna (Tunnicliffe) Tobias in the Laser Radial class, happened at the 2008 Bejing Olympics (to help put this in context, George W. Bush was still serving as the 43rd POTUS, and a freshman senator from Illinois was still stitching-up the Democratic party's nomination for the upcoming presidential election).

To say that some water has flowed under that bridge is akin to saying that Cayard has logged a few offshore miles.

While the U.S.-flagged Olympic sailing team has had other Olympic champions at its helm (specifically, two-time gold medalist Malcom Paige [AUS], who served from 2016 to 2019), Cayard brings serious depth and a diversity of sailing and leadership experience to the table.

"We are thrilled to be [announcing] that Paul Cayard will be taking the lead of the US Sailing Team and our Olympic Sailing program," said Cory Sertl, President of US Sailing, in an official team communication. "Paul's passion for Olympic Sailing and his drive for excellence has inspired American sailors for decades, both on and off the racecourse. His strong leadership skills and experiences, combined with his energy and enthusiasm, will be a tremendous asset to the program."

Given that the team already has several highly respected and talented coaches on their staff (including Luther Carpenter and Leandro Spina), Cayard can expect the kind of seaboots-on-the-deck support that he needs to serve as the team's skipper.

"My contributions will be in painting the vision, leading the execution of that vision and garnering support for that vision," said Cayard in the same official communication. "I will promote a culture of excellence, commitment, dedication, teamwork, professionalism, and ultimately, satisfaction."

Sail-World wishes Cayard the best of luck in his new position, and we wish the team great luck as they prepare for battle on the waters off of Enoshima, Japan, this summer.

Speaking of the 2021 Games, the 2021 470 World Championships (March 5-13) recently took place off of Volimoura, Portugal. Olympic veterans Stu McNay and Dave Hughes finished in fifth place in the Men's class, while Nikole 'Nikki' Barnes, who serves as a Lieutenant Junior Grade officer in the United States Coast Guard, and Lara Dallman-Weiss finished in sixth place in the Women's class.

Critically, Barnes and Dallman-Weiss' sixth-place finish was strong enough to beat out Carman and Emma Cowles and Atlantic and Nora Brugman to earn a berth to the Tokyo 2021 Games.

"Overall, we would not have gotten to this point, into the top ten and a medal race in a World Championship, without having incredible competitors," said Barnes in an official team release. "The Cowles and Brugmans have challenged us, and it hasn't been easy because they are excellent sailors."

Both McNay and Hughes and Barnes and Dallman-Weiss will represent the USA at the upcoming 470 European Championships (April 30-May 7) before fully turning their minds to this summer's Games.

Finally, and much closer to home, the starting guns are expected to begin sounding at Charleston Race Week (CRW; April 8-11) next week. Not only does this classic regatta always offer top-flight competition and great times for all involved, but it has traditionally served as the first big regatta of the year to unfurl on mainland USA waters north of Florida. Given that so many regattas have been cancelled due to the still-churning pandemic, it's heartening to see that this event, which is celebrating its silver anniversary this year, is moving ahead in a prudent manner.

Be sure to check out my upcoming interview (it will go live on April 6) with Randy Draftz, CRW's event director, to learn more about how this regatta plans to safely host almost 200 teams while also delivering high-level racing.

As for spring in the Pacific Northwest, we're all certainly looking forward to (relatively) warm days afloat with our friends, family and crewmembers...but I personally wouldn't mind a few more powder days first.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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