Disney Enters Black Pearl in Sailing Race
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2005 Oct 30, 11:05 PM EST
Be ye warned! There's a pirate ship headed for the high seas. When the Volvo Ocean Race starts Nov. 12 from Vigo, Spain, the sloop with the skull and crossed cutlasses on the sails will stand out from the rest of the fleet. The Black Pearl.
Although this Black Pearl won't slip mysteriously out of fog banks, and Johnny Depp won't be at the wheel as Capt. Jack Sparrow, The Walt Disney Co. has found a high-tech, floating billboard to promote "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," the first of two sequels to its surprise 2003 blockbuster, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
Disney is backing the only U.S. entry in the 31,250-mile, nine-leg, around-the-world race that attracts only the hardiest of scabrous dogs, who must dodge icebergs in the Southern Ocean and navigate the Doldrums and even the Bermuda Triangle.
In "The Curse of the Black Pearl," Depp's rascally buccaneer carries a compass that doesn't point north.
In this eight-month race, "Our compass is going to point in the direction of the finish line," said Donald Evans, vice president of marketing and promotions for Buena Vista International, Disney's international film distribution arm.
"With the first 'Pirates,' we believe we elevated pirates to pirate chic," Evans said. "It's not about the pirates you knew about 10 years ago. It just seemed these things were meant to be together, these movies and this race."
The combination of Disney's marketing muscle and as much pirate imagery as possible in a competitive race — plus port stops in Baltimore and New York — could draw plenty of attention to a sport that doesn't always know how to market itself.
"This is a quantum leap forward for the sport," said Glenn Bourke, chief executive officer of the Volvo Ocean Race. "I think it has the potential to take it to a completely different audience.
"Our audience primarily is sailing aficionados. Then you add in sports lovers in general, and now I think it takes it to movie goers, to kids, to just about anyone the movie captured the imagination of the last time. It broadens it massively."
A Hollywood ending, of course, would have the Black Pearl at the front of the fleet of seven 70-foot, high-performance sloops heading into the finish line at Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 17.
That's not beyond the realm of reality. Although the Black Pearl got a later start than the other teams while the sponsorship was being finalized, Disney hired one of sailing's top swashbucklers, Paul Cayard, as skipper.
"I like the pirate theme," said Cayard, who lives near San Francisco and in 1998 became the first American skipper to win this race, then called the Whitbread Round the World Race. "I think it will be huge with the non-sailing public.
"I haven't gotten into the corny aspects of it, but even my wife and people I know think I should get a Black Pearl earring."
Disney and the 10-man Black Pearl crew realize there needs to be a balance between having fun and trying to win a race that leaves the sailors wet, cold, tired and living on freeze-dried food for weeks on end.
The Black Pearl has "Dead Man's Chest" graphics on the sails and the hull is painted to give a hint of a monster that will be revealed in the movie. "Dead Man's Chest" is scheduled to be released July 7, so the sail number is 7706.
In some cases, common sense won out over publicity. Original plans called for black sails, but the crew pointed out that if they hoisted a black spinnaker in the middle of the night in the Southern Ocean, they wouldn't be able to see if it was set properly.
"We're definitely fully into it, but we're not changing who we are. We're still professional sailors," Cayard said.
Cayard has always had a swagger. He's sailed in the America's Cup five times and reached the finals twice, as Italy's skipper in 1992 and as Dennis Conner's helmsman in 1995, losing both times.
He's even been exiled — but not to a desert isle. After his AmericaOne syndicate was bought by software tycoon Larry Ellison following the 2000 Cup, Cayard remained on the payroll but mysteriously was banished from the syndicate. With all that free time, he qualified for the Athens Olympics, where he finished fifth in the Star class.
Sailing around the world "is the most exceptional experience I've had in sailing," Cayard said. "The Olympics are close, but round-the-world racing is exceptional in that you're doing it 24/7 for three weeks at a time. It's full immersion."
During the 1997-98 Whitbread, Cayard attracted attention for his daily e-mails describing the rigors of sailing around the world. This time, 10 cameras on each boat will feed video to the Internet.
At 46, Cayard's eager to put out to sea again.
"You can either live life or spectate," Cayard said. "I think that having been given the opportunity, it's much better to participate."
This is anything but a Mickey Mouse project. It's been estimated that sponsoring a Volvo campaign costs between $15 million and $18 million.
The Volvo Ocean Race will have seven in-port races, the first of which will be Saturday in Sanxenxo, Spain, a week before the sloops begin the first leg, from Vigo to Cape Town, South Africa.
The fleet is expected to arrive in Baltimore on April 17, with an in-port race there on April 29. Leg six begins May 7 from Annapolis, Md., with the boats reaching New York the next day.
On the Net:
Volvo Ocean Race site: www.volvooceanrace.com
Black Pearl team site: www.blackpearlracing.com
Paul Cayard site: www.cayardsailing.com including daily emails posted from the "pirate" entry
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