Collins sails course to reality Chessie Racing's skipper takes stock after Leg 3's challenges and limitations

The Whitbread Watch


SYDNEY, Australia - George Collins' idea of hell is sitting still for more than two minutes. Which is why, when he came ashore here after skippering Chessie Racing's tough 10-day passage from Fremantle, Australia, in the Whitbread Round the World Race, he checked into his luxurious harbor-front hotel long enough to take a shower before heading out on the water again.

This time he went for a joy ride aboard a high-speed jet-cat whizzing commuters across the harbor to their city jobs.

Anyone who can do a thing like that after 2,250 nautical miles at sea is not likely to be given to philosophical musings on ocean racing. When asked what he had learned about himself out there, Collins, the former CEO of T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, answered with complete candor: "You know, there's not a lot of time for introspection in a race like this."

On the other hand, he did catch an important glimpse of his limitations.

"There came a time," he said, "when I thought, 'George, you're 57 years old. You're not a spring chicken anymore.' These boats are tough. Very brutal, very unforgiving. They're like Ferraris. They have to be finely tuned, 100 percent of the time, or they run wild. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of knowledge to run them at top-notch speed all the time.

"My reaction time just isn't as swift as it once was," Collins said. "I learned that the hard way out there. On one occasion it was blowing 35 [knots] on the nose, and we had three guys on the bow struggling to get a headsail in. They couldn't handle it, so I lumber up there, and I've got to hang on, otherwise I'm going to get kicked all around.

"I found I just didn't have the agility. I had stayed up until that point, but suddenly I've got cold salt water in my boots and I'm sucked into the waves and soaked. I thought to myself, 'What are you doing out here?' Oh, I can chuckle about it now, but back there it was kind of scary."

There was another occasion in which he came face to face with the weight of responsibility he shoulders as Chessie's skipper.

"We had this really awful situation," he said, "where we had the bowman, Rick Deppe, 23 meters up the mast attaching a strop to the head of the spinnaker when he spun loose. It was blowing in the low 30s, and all of a sudden he's flying around up there like a rag doll, back and forth, upside down, hitting everything.

"I thought he was injured big time," Collins said. "It was frightening. Our hearts were in our mouths watching that whole thing unfold. It went on for about five minutes before we could get him down."

All of which begs the question: Why on earth is he doing this?

"Hey," he said, "life's a challenge, right? Sure, I could sit at home in a nice comfy chair and watch it all on TV, but where's the fun in that? I like to sail. It's as simple as that. I've got just one shot at this. I'm out there with a bunch of guys I respect. We're doing something we enjoy. It's a challenge. Why not?"

Collins certainly never planned to spend as much money as he has on Chessie Racing.

"All I had in mind at the outset," he said, "was building a boat in the hope that some corporate sponsors in Baltimore would jump on board. They didn't. So I'm stuck with all the bills. The boat has cost me $2 million and the sails, probably another $800,000. So, there's $3 million right there out of my own pocket."

But without the commitment of a Baltimore boat, there would be no Whitbread stopover in Baltimore-Annapolis. The organizers NTC made it clear this was a make-or-break situation, he said. So he told them, "OK, you've got your boat."

The rest is history.

Has it been worthwhile?

"Oh, sure," Collins said in a more or less convincing tone. "We've got over 500 schools following Chessie through the Living Classrooms program, and my wife and I get a lot of pleasure out of it."

Race update

The Whitbread Watch is a weekly log of the Round the World Race. Look for it every Wednesday in The Sun.

Close Whitbread finishes

Leg 3 of the Whitbread Round the World Race, from Fremantle, Australia, to Sydney, Australia, produced the closest finish for a fleet in the 25-year history of the race. The first seven yachts finished within 26 minutes, and the entire nine-boat fleet finished within 1 hour, 38 minutes. The closest margins of victory for Whitbread leg winners and second-place finishers:

Year, Margin, Competitors and ports

1993-94, 12 seconds, LaPoste beat Galicia '93 into Auckland, New Zealand.

1989-90, 28 seconds, Rothmans beat Merit into Fremantle, Australia.

1993-94, 2 mins., 12 secs., New Zealand Endeavour beat Tokio into Auckland.

1997-98, 5 mins., 8 secs., EF Language beat Swedish Match into Sydney, Australia.

1993-94, 5 mins., 39 secs., New Zealand Endeavour beat Intrum Justitia into Punta del Este, Uruguay.

1989-90, 6 mins., 4 secs., Steinlager 2 beat Fisher & Paykel II into Auckland.

1993-94, 8 mins., 27 secs., Tokio beat Yamaha into Punta del Este.

1993-94, 10 mins., 5 secs., Winston beat Yamaha into Auckland.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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