Collins may switch rigs in Fla. 'Wear and tear' on mast because of Whomper sail concerns Chessie's leader

The Whitbread Watch

March 25, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil - George Collins, leader of Chessie Racing, Maryland's entry in the Whitbread Round the World Race, is concerned about the boat's mast and is considering swapping it for the boat's reserve rig when it completes Leg 6 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"The rig's got a lot of wear and tear on it," said Collins, the former CEO of Baltimore brokerage T. Rowe Price, who will be aboard Chessie for Leg 7, from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore.

One reason for the wear is Chessie's use of its Whomper sail, a huge spinnaker used in upwind conditions that all boats in the fleet have acquired since EF Language introduced it on Leg 1. Chessie's rig was not designed for the sail and the pressures it exerts.

Collins appealed to the Whitbread race committee during the Auckland, New Zealand, stopover to be allowed to change the rig for safety reasons, but he was rejected.

Collins said American Paul Cayard, skipper of EF Language, has an "unfair" advantage because he developed the Whomper sail before the race and adapted his rig to exploit it. The rest of the fleet has been trying to catch up in sail technology, but Cayard, on his sixth generation of the sail, is still able to sail closer to the wind with the sail than any other boat.

The rig on Chessie is one of three things Collins said he would change if he could start the race again.

Currently, the Maryland boat has a cathedral rig, with the top spreader wider than the one below it. This is an impediment to using the newly developed Whomper sail, which has proven to be so powerful upwind. Because of the rig design, the shape of Chessie's Whomper sail is compromised, because the sail can't be trimmed, or adjusted, close enough to the rig. That limits Chessie's ability to sail closer to the direction of the wind. Collins said he would choose a rig suited to the new sail.

Collins' second change would be not to rotate skippers. Chessie has had a new skipper on almost every leg, including the current one, Leg 6, from Sao Sebastiao to Fort Lauderdale, on which John Kostecki is skippering.

"It's always an outsider coming in," Collins said, saying he would have preferred more continuity. He has appointed Kostecki to skipper Leg 7 as well, and he is hoping to keep him for the final two legs.

Collins' third change would be to have a two-boat development program. The first two boats overall in the race - EF Language and Merit Cup - had two boats to practice and compare against each other before the race began in September. Chessie's crew used a Corel 45 for training.

"I should have bought a used Whitbread 60," Collins said. "It would have been far smarter. It would have been more expensive, but not a heck of a lot more.

"There is nothing like a Whitbread 60. They are expensive, and they are tricky. The boats are so different, their power, and the water-ballast system [with which up to 600 gallons of water can be pumped inside of a minute in or out of tanks on either side of the boat to stabilize it]. At the margin, it would have made much more sense to have an older Whitbread 60."

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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