In the world of sailboat racing, there are the exalted, and then there's everybody else.
Superstar skipper Chris Dickson is an exalted one. The tanned speed god gets stopped in airports, swooned over for his blue eyes and photographed in magazines with champagne spilling over his victorious blond head.
He is courted by Toshiba, which is paying him at least $200,000 to race on a boat bearing the company name, and is flattered by personality polls that say 95 percent of his fellow New Zealanders know him and love him.
Here in Baltimore, George Collins falls into the category of Everybody Else. When this corporate CEO and amateur sailor speeds around the world in the Whitbread race, a grueling international competition starting in September, one of the few things he will have in common with Dickson is the sea on which they are sailing.
Collins is one of the last of the old-style racers, competing purely for the love of it. This self-taught skipper cannot afford to be a prima donna. He won't be begged or paid to race. In fact, Collins is spending $2 million of his own money just for the boat.
He is banging on doors of the richest sailing sponsors. Because he cuts a low profile, he is trying to get somebody big, like Oprah, to do a short trip for extra publicity. Most of all, he is courting some of the best sailors in the world to sail for his team.
"Anytime you race, your crew had better be good," said Collins. "But for the Whitbread, good is not enough. They've got to be damn good."
Over the next three months, potential Chessie Racing crew members will compete in three races off Florida to assemble a 12-member crew. The sailors will train together full time starting in April, when Collins leaves his job as head of the Baltimore mutual fund company T. Rowe Price.
The campaign by Collins tells a larger story in the world of sailboat racing. In a sport where the rise of the elite racer has given sailing new money and a fresh image, little room is left for the amateur.
"When we started this thing, it was an amateur sailing event, and no one was paid, and there were people of really mixed abilities," said Skip Novak, 44, a veteran of five Whitbreads. "Now, it's a very professional sport with a lot of money flying around and people falling overboard just to get on one of these crews."
Around-the-world races are likely to generate even bigger business in the future, as promoters popularize the competitions and give them more commercial gloss.
"Sailing is sort of like tennis 30 years ago," said Heather Dallas, a Whitbread spokeswoman in Southampton, England. "The Whitbread is a professional event -- the top of the tree for sailing. A really good sailor could command quite a bit of money for this race."
Since the Whitbread began in 1973, racers have had to remake their image. Instead of scraggly haired daydreamers in flip-flops with a rope for a belt, many of them spend their time on land looking as though they fill boardrooms at T. Rowe Price.
The full-time sailors make pitches for corporate sponsorship, wearing suits and handing out charts and graphs. They draft contracts and sell stock in their sailing ventures. They carry laptops and draft business letters until their wrists ache.
Ambitious racers are lured to the Whitbread for a chance to rub elbows with the world's elite sailors and add sparkle to their sailing resumes. Collins wants to stock his team with up-and-comers, including several from Maryland.
Among these potential team members are Rick Deppe, 32, who is itching to get back to the Whitbread as a bowman after technical problems forced his boat to drop out of the last race; Grant "Fuzz" Spanhake, 37, who is eager to win a Whitbread after finishing second in every leg of the last around-the-world contest; and David Scott, 37, who dreams of rounding the globe even faster after he finished third in the last Whitbread.
All told, six global races are planned for the next few years, with two already underway. The Whitbread, in particular, is a wise business decision for full-time racers, offering a steady salary for more than a year, including training and nine months of racing.
With money so much a part of this game, among the only people equipped to race the Whitbread in its early history were the wealthy dilettantes whose finances often outweighed their skills. The results were topsy-turvy.
In 1981, Neil Bergt, president of the Alaska air carrier Alaska Eagle was about 2,000 miles from land when technical problems and crew infighting began.
"Have you seen the film 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'? That's a little what it was like," said Roger Nilson, one of Bergt's crew members, who compared the boat to a story of an insane asylum. "A lot of things come out in the Whitbread that you would rather want hidden there."
The boat finished ninth. Without Bergt. He went home early while another skipper took over.