Go back,George, and do it again? Collins considering Chessie, Part II

May 26, 1998|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

SOUTHAMPTON, England -- According to the nautical maps, the Whitbread Round the World Race was over. On the scoreboard, Chessie Racing had finished. But in the mind of George Collins, the boat named for the mythical sea monster was still very much alive.

"There's another leg," Collins said Sunday as he watched his team douse itself with champagne one last time at the finish of the nine-leg race. "We're waiting for Leg 10."

There is no Leg 10, of course, but after watching his team sprint around the globe in one of sailing's elite events -- and living through the boat's repeated rises and falls to finish sixth overall -- Collins said he is having trouble believing it is all over.

In fact, Collins, a millionaire from Gibson Island, is having what many might call an impossible thought:

He is considering doing it all over again.

"I'm open to the idea -- I really am," said Collins, 57, former CEO of Baltimore mutual fund firm T. Rowe Price, who left his job a year ago to create the first Maryland team in the Whitbread.

After failing to find a corporate sponsor, Collins spent $7 million of his money with the thought that he, an amateur sailor, would live a great adventure. Collins concluded just before the race started that he was not up to the task physically -- he sailed just three short legs -- but he still made the race the center of his life.

As he followed his team around the world, everything revolved around Chessie. For nine months, he wore clothes only with the Chessie logo. He even saw Chessie where it wasn't. On a shopping outing with his wife, Maureen, on an island off La Rochelle, France, he marveled over a pair of suede women's shoes with green dragons embroidered on them.

"Chessie shoes," he declared, naming them for the team's dragon-like symbol -- a Chesapeake sea creature. Instantly enamored of the sandals, he told his wife: "You'd be the cat's meow in those."

Some elements of this 31,600-nautical-mile adventure Collins will not miss -- one of them being the time away from home. Even dining at an enchanting seaside restaurant in France, he told Maureen how much he missed the regular stuff: seeing his family, swimming laps, eating at home.

"It's going to be a lobster, chowder and corn summer," he said of the feasts he wants to have at their summer house in Madison, Conn.

Still, his thoughts keep returning to 2001-2002, when the contest is renamed the Volvo Ocean Race for its new sponsor.

Collins is not ready to spend big money again -- indeed, in this race he initially intended to spend $1.2 million -- and if he did another competition, he said, he'd sail only one or zero legs. But he is quietly taking steps that would help him come back as the land-based leader of a sort of Chessie II campaign.

To that end, he is debriefing the crew for future reference.

"For history, I want to know about boat sails and training and what was right and wrong about the boat," Collins said just after Chessie crossed the finish line. "I want to talk to [Annapolis boat designer] Bruce Farr and see what he can tell me in terms of boat development."

If Collins keeps Chessie, the boat could be used as a training vessel for the next race, or, if the rules allow, the boat could be entered again as a competitor. While he is trying to find a buyer for Chessie, Collins seems torn about parting with the boat. If he kept it, he could use it for future races, not counting round-the-worlds.

"What am I going to do?" he said one sparkling, sunny afternoon just before the race ended, stopping cold on a crowded waterfront. "What am I going to do if we sell the boat?"

Collins said he is disappointed that big international investment companies on the scale of Merrill Lynch have not stepped forward to sponsor boats. He said he will try to intrigue companies -- not just in Maryland -- to hand over money for the next race.

"Obviously, I'm not going to spend the money I spent again," Collins said. "I'm not stupid. You need a corporate sponsor."

Television sailing commentator Gary Jobson, an America's Cup veteran from Annapolis, said he is eager for Collins to act as the engine for an entry four years from now and wants him to bring another boat to the Chesapeake.

"If you compare the Whitbread to the America's Cup, the nature of these major syndicate members is that these people generally do it more than one time. They rarely win the first time, and learn so much that they're inspired to do it again," Jobson said. "George has got to be the leader here. We've got to have another entry from the bay."

As for Collins, he cannot help but tease. Again and again, he hints about a comeback. "I want to go back to the start," he said, winking. "I want to start right here and do it all over again."

Pub Date: 5/26/98

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