Chessie Racing talking victory for Leg 6 Kostecki called to skipper 4,750 miles to Florida

March 14, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil -- When Leg 6 of the Whitbread Round the World Race starts today, Chessie Racing, initially an outsider, will be among the victory-hunting leaders.

"The goal, the game plan, the strategy is to win," said tactician John Kostecki, who will skipper the Maryland entry on the next two legs of the 31,600-nautical-mile circumnavigation.

After finishing third in the past three legs, Chessie, sponsored by George Collins, retired CEO of the Baltimore brokerage firm T. Rowe Price, is fourth overall in the nine-month-long race.

The Maryland boat is a contender for a top-three podium place when the race ends in May in Southampton, England, and is enjoying new respect from the other boats with four legs and more than 9,000 miles to go.

"George [Collins] is to be complimented," said Dennis Conner, head of the other U.S. syndicate, Toshiba. "He has made a lot of positive moves, like any good executive."

Grant Dalton, skipper of second-place Merit Cup of Monaco, said: "George has brought it all together. He has treated it like a business, hiring the best people. And the boat is fast."

Collins has appointed Kostecki, who sailed Chessie to two of its third-place finishes in earlier legs, to skipper the boat for Leg 6, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Leg 7, which ends in Baltimore around April 22.

Joining Kostecki for the 4,750 nautical miles to Fort Lauderdale are two talented driver-trimmers, Mike Toppa, a four-time America's Cup competitor, and Tony Rey, an Olympic sailor.

"If you line our crew up with everyone else out here, we have a fantastic group," Kostecki said. "They are world-class sailors."

The nine 60-foot racers have been refitted here, with the all-female crew on EF Education having had just two days to repair and resupply their yacht in a whirlwind of dockside activity.

They arrived in this sweltering, tropical port Wednesday from 39 days at sea, after breaking their mast in the Southern Ocean and suffering a series of other setbacks.

"Lots of hell and high water," said South African navigator Lynnath Beckley.

For the rest of the fleet, preparations have been less frenetic during the past two weeks. The new mast for Britain's Silk Cut, which was also dismasted in the Southern Ocean, cleared customs earlier this week, giving the boat just three days to test its sails.

For EF Language, the stopover has provided two new Whomper sails, the revolutionary spinnaker that the Swedish boat developed for upwind sailing and reaching in light winds.

Yesterday, five boats, including Chessie, complained -- in vain -- to Whitbread sail measurer Nick Nicholson that EF Language's American skipper Paul Cayard had gone beyond the rules by now developing a Whomper with a reinforced luff, or leading edge, which will enable his boat to sail at a closer angle to the wind in light air.

"It measures as a spinnaker, it sets as a spinnaker," Nicholson said. "The angle they sail at is irrelevant."

Chessie's Collins said: "It's not a spinnaker."

He argues that all the Whompers should be banned because, though they are technically spinnakers, they do the job of an upwind foresail.

The other eight boats were surprised by Cayard's success with the Whomper, technically a Code 0 spinnaker, on Leg 1, and have since rushed to acquire their own. But Cayard, on his sixth generation of the sail, is still given the edge.

"Cayard's two steps ahead of us," Collins said after testing Chessie's new Whomper earlier this week. The new sail was immediately recut to improve its configuration.

"We weren't super happy with it out of the box," Kostecki said. "But after we recut it, it seems to be more like we want it to look like."

EF Language, with 507 standings points, leads the fleet with a 96-point margin, but the race for second and third overall is wide open, with fewer than 40 points separating the next four boats -- Merit Cup (411), Swedish Match (404), Chessie Racing (399) and Norway's Innovation Kvaerner (372).

"To have made this a real event, what should have happened is we should have won the last leg and Cayard should have lost his rig," said a frustrated Lawrie Smith, skipper of Silk Cut, which is seventh overall (284 points) after losing its mast and withdrawing from the last leg.

Grant "Fuzz" Spanhake, watch captain on Chessie, said: "After Leg 1 [from Southampton to Cape Town], we thought some boats were good in light air, some in heavy air. I think that's all evened up. The boats' strengths and weaknesses are pretty even."

Pub Date: 3/14/98

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