Collins changes Chessie crew Leader to skipper boat for Leg 3, adds 2 America's Cup vets

December 10, 1997|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a significant crew shake-up aimed at sharpening its performance on the crucial Leg 3 of the Whitbread Round the World Race, Chessie Racing syndicate chairman George Collins announced yesterday that he will take over as skipper and bring with him two of the world's hottest young sailors, tactician John Kostecki and sail trimmer Mike Toppa.

"Right now," said Collins, who is in Fremantle, Australia, for Saturday's restart of the race, "we are in seventh spot in a fleet of nine. That's not where we want to be. We know the boat has tremendous potential and we're learning all the time. It's been a very steep learning curve."

Although Mark Fischer, Chessie's skipper on the first two legs, has returned home to tend to his business interests in Baltimore, Collins suggested that he might rejoin the boat for one or more of the later legs.

"It's very tough out there, very challenging, very competitive," he said. "I wish I had had more help when we started. Then we could have had a two-boat program and we would have been up to speed more. Maybe this rotating crew thing will help. We sure hope so."

Collins said he was far from happy with Chessie's position toward the bottom of the standings.

"The race is nine legs long and obviously we are behind the eight-ball from the standpoint of the overall race," he said. "So we have to do well on the next two legs in order to get back in the game. If we don't, we really are an also-ran. Maybe we can sneak in there and get a place somewhere along the line.

"I want to be competitive, and that means doing the best we can and having a shot at winning."

What did he think it would take to win it?

"We figure the little upgrade we've made to our sail program will help," he said. "We think a little more consistency in the crew's performance will help. We think more familiarity with the boat will help, and that's why we've got John Kostecki and Mike Toppa coming on board for these next legs. Then on Leg 5 we have Dee Smith coming back with his knowledge from Leg 2."

Both Kostecki and Toppa bring to Chessie Racing much racing experience.

Kostecki, a 33-year-old Soling Olympic silver medalist from San Diego, is regarded as one of America's most talented tacticians. He has won eight world championships in various one-design and big-boat classes. A two-time America's Cup veteran (winning on America3 in 1992 and PACT 95 in 1995), he was awarded the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award in 1988.

Toppa, 41, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has sailed in four U.S. America's Cup campaigns, including the winning efforts of Freedom in 1980 and America3 in 1992.

Collins said Chessie had problems early on in getting what he called "a big-name skipper."

"We didn't want to throw a whole bunch of money at some big name and then have it blow up," he said. "And then there's the question of how much money do you throw? Maybe we should have hunted a little harder for a big-name skipper, but, hey, we've seen two of the biggest-name skippers in the race [Chris Dickson on Toshiba, Ross Field on America's Challenge], and they're gone."

Collins said he found that early on a lot of people didn't take Chessie Racing seriously.

"They said, 'You guys are just going to be a delivery boat. You're going to be in last place,' " he said. "Well, I don't think so. We know we have a very good boat and a good crew that's still learning, so don't write us off yet.

"I hope that message gets through to all our supporters in Baltimore and Annapolis. Don't write us off yet. We're still in there, fighting. I just hope we can turn in a creditable performance that gets people cheering us on."

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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