The Black Pearl – A Pirate Ship by Liesl King.

This week’s book review is of The Black Pearl – A Pirate Ship, written by Captain Paul Cayard and published in June 2006. Not to be confused with Black Pearl that sailed in the 2017 Cape to Rio race, The Black Pearl is a 70 foot Volvo boat with 7,000 square feet of sail and a 100 foot mast. She is capable of speeds of up to 40 knots and can cover as much as 541 nautical miles in a day.

Why was a book written about a Volvo Ocean Race boat, you may ask? Well The Black Pearl wasn’t just any Volvo boat. She was a Pirate Ship from head to toe, even her sails carried the skull and crossbones. She was also the product of a unique collaboration between the movie industry and the world of sailing. As with all good stories it started with a phone call.

Her captain to be and author of the book, Paul Cayard, is a professional American sailor with an impressive CV. He has competed at world championship and Olympic level and can claim victories in races such as The Admirals Cup, The Louis Vuitton Cup, the Whitbread Round the World Race and was even named the Rothmans Yachtsman of the Year. Hence one can understand that he was a bit taken aback when he received a phone call from Grant Palin, a Senior Vice President of The Walt Disney Company.

The Black Pearl arriving in Gothenburg

Simply put, Palin informed him that The Walt Disney Company had decided to enter a boat in the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race with the aim of promoting the upcoming sequel to the very successful film Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl. The boat would be called The Black Pearl, painted with skulls and crossbones. The image of the team would be that of pirates and they wanted Cayard to be its captain.

Promoting a film, with an entry into what is considered one of the elite ocean races in the world, is certainly unusual.  What was more of a concern for Cayard though was the fact that it was already April, the race would start in seven months, and it normally takes eight months just to build this type of boat. On top of that a top level team had to be put together, support staff sourced and training on the new boat had to be done.

Thankfully for Walt Disney, Cayard, like most men and definitely most sailors, had always wanted to be a pirate. He was infatuated with the idea and despite the enormous obstacles and challenges, he agreed to be their Johnny Depp. Two months before the start The Black Pearl in all her pirate glory was christened at Maritime Walk, Ocean Village in Southampton.

Cayard  called her a true pirate ship. “She was black, red and white and bore the skull and crossbones in abundance. She was sleek and silent, able to creep up on her prey, she was just what any pirate ship should be.” She was also a real handful. With just ten crew, the men were divided into two watches of four, with the captain and navigator standing their own watch. As Cayard recalls, “the decks were often awash and with her speed, one misstep could lead to a crew member falling overboard, a place from which there would be no return alive.”

The Black Pearl

The book is a combination of the daily reports generated during the race, giving great insight into what life on a Volvo Ocean racing boat is like and the story of the race from the captain’s perspective written afterwards. Right from the start The Black Pearl was plagued with problems. One day into the race, on the first leg to Cape Town, her instruments shut down and she started taking on water in 35 knots of wind.  Cayard ordered the sails to be dropped and the boat speed slowed to 10 knots, while he sent out an emergency message to the Race Office. Not quite the way one would want to start a round the world race!

Once daylight arrived, an inspection revealed that the sliding plates covering the bottom of the keel box had been torn off, as they could not handle the 35 knot boat speed during the night. Cayard decided to continue and The Black Pearl arrived in Cascais two days after the start. It was decided to spend ten days fixing her in Cascais and then flying her to Cape Town in an Antonov, where further repairs would be undertaken. Thankfully, on the 2nd of January 2006 The Black Pearl departed from Cape Town on Leg 2, heading for Melbourne.

Of course being The Black Pearl there had to be a fairy tale ending to this incredible race and you have to admit that even if they tried, the Hollywood scriptwriters could not have improved on what actually transpired.  After a series of highs and lows, with podium places and mishaps in equal proportions, not only did The Black Pearl sail into Gothenburg harbour, at the end of the final leg in first place, she also finished second overall.

The Black Pearl provides a gripping and extraordinary insight into just what it takes to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race. If you love ocean racing or if you have ever had notions of being a pirate, this is the book for you. I am leaving the last word to The Black Pearl’s captain: “The biggest win in an event like this is simply the experience of having done it.” I think reading the daily reports is a pretty good second best.



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