Collins concedes Chessie's best shot is for 3rd place Owner calls for uniformity of equipment for fleet

Whitbread

January 10, 1998|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- George Collins is a hard-headed realist. And that is why he is prepared to acknowledge, even with the Whitbread Round the World Race barely half over, that Maryland's Chessie Racing has no serious prospect of winning.

"Simple mathematics tells us the best we can hope for is third," the leader of Chessie said philosophically. "I'd be happy with the third-place trophy."

But Collins, the only individual to have paid for a Whitbread boat out of his own pocket (around $3.8 million and counting), is far from happy about the glaring disparities emerging among the Whitbread competitors.

Although it will, no doubt, sound to some like sour grapes, Collins is severely critical of the way in which the Whitbread favorite, Paul Cayard's EF Language, has been allowed to develop and fly a sail that gives the Swedish boat what he calls "an unassailable edge."

That sail, a so-called "whomper," is the controversial spinnaker-genoa, a weird but extremely effective masthead reaching sail that is tacked to the bow and controlled by furler reefing.

"I feel very strongly that the Whitbread boats should be one design," Collins said. "One-design hulls, one-design masts, one-design rigs and one-design sails, so that everyone starts out the same and the race becomes a test of men. Right now the disadvantage is too great.

"[Chessie tactician] John Kostecki took one look at Cayard's whomper and said that sail's worth a knot," Collins said. "I say it's a knot and a half faster. Cayard has a sail like no other in the fleet. It enables him to climb higher [closer to the wind direction], sail faster. The rest of us are history. He has an advantage that allows him to put miles on us like that," and he snaps his fingers.

"I'm saying that Cayard has an unfair advantage," Collins said. "He should not have that advantage. It just makes a mockery of this race. It's too late for this particular race, but for future Whitbread events they should redraft the rules to make these boats as similar as possible. If they can make them identical, even better."

Collins said he commissioned North Sails to build Chessie an identical sail.

"The sail came out nowhere near the whomper Cayard flies," he said. "It's just not the same shape at all. I've patronized North Sails for 25 years, and I figure they ought to have pulled out all stops to help me. I'm so mad I'm going to write a little note to [North Sails president] Tom Whidden, saying: 'I want the best. You're not delivering. Why not?'

"We are not going to need that sail on the next leg [across the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn]," Collins said, "but we will need it on legs six and seven and eight. I said to our shore manager, Bryan Fishback, 'Go back and look at the photos of the start and see if we can quickly build a sail just like that.'

"But, of course, now we're playing catch-up," Collins said. "Meanwhile, Cayard is no doubt moving onto the next step, further refining his shape."

Collins may be upset by Cayard, but at the same time he acknowledges, without hesitation, that Cayard is "probably the best and most professional sailor out there."

"This guy is in a class of his own," he said. "He's a great sailor. There's no question about that."

Pub Date: 1/10/98

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