Collins, Chessie out to find win, wind on Leg 6 Boat stands in fourth, but 'on the right track'

March 13, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil -- For a man who has invested more than $5 million in the off chance of glory, George Collins is in a strikingly relaxed mood.

Chessie Racing, the boat he is sponsoring in the Whitbread Round the World Race, is ready for the start tomorrow of Leg 6 and its 4,750 nautical miles to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He had just spent the day out on the water, testing sails, and he liked what he saw.

Now, he is relaxing on the veranda under the shade trees in the three-house, beachside compound he has rented for the 12-man crew, their shore support and their families during the stopover here.

"We are on the right track," he says. "We still have to go up the learning curve."

After three consecutive third-place leg finishes, Chessie is fourth overall and in contention for a top-three place on the podium when the race ends in May where it began in September, in Southampton, England.

To get to Fort Lauderdale first, Chessie will have to steal a lead in the northerly head winds spawned by the South Atlantic High that wait outside this steam-heat port, then find a way through the light-air doldrums without stalling, before using the easterly and southeasterly trade winds that blow through the Caribbean to carry it across the Gulf Stream into Fort Lauderdale.

"We need a high place [finish] on this leg," says Collins, retired chief executive officer of Baltimore brokerage T. Rowe Price. "We need a win. Anyone can win this next leg by being a little smarter on strategy and finding the wind. It's up for grabs."

It should be Chessie's sort of leg. The boat appears particularly suited to light-air conditions.

"Maybe we didn't do as well in the Southern Ocean with its big breeze. Hopefully, this leg is more to our liking," he says.

Collins' mind is already on the following leg, which will carry the fleet of nine 60-foot yachts from Florida, along the East Coast of the United States and up the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland boat's home waters.

He worries about the shifting shoals, the fish traps, the merchant shipping and the power of the outflow of the rivers that run into the bay, particularly the Potomac. "The Chesapeake Bay is a place you can easily get into trouble," he says.

If the wind is from the north, the boats will have to tack up the bay, a comparatively narrow and shallow body of water.

To minimize the dangers, he will be taking extra steps to ensure that his crew will have clear sailing up the bay.

Jokingly, he says: "Anyone from the Chesapeake Bay area who gives any information to any other boat than Chessie is a traitor, ++ an absolute traitor, and should be hanged, drawn and quartered in the Inner Harbor."

More seriously, Collins says the man to beat is EF Language's Paul Cayard, who has won three of the five legs in the nine-leg race and is the only boat to have been in either first or second overall position since the race started. EF Language has been in first place after all the legs, except the second, when it slipped to second.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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