Despite last-day jumble, Numbers adds up

Second-place Chessie takes final GP race

May 03, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

They looked like six telephone poles planted in the water when they first appeared on the horizon. Then, as these 48-foot, identically designed boats came closer, they looked like feathers in a fan, as they sailed one in front of the other in a staggered line.

But finally, as they entered the Severn River and raced madly toward the finish line in Annapolis' cozy harbor, they looked like the regal, swift sailboats they are. Chessie, in the lead and with most of her crew sitting along her right side enjoying the finish, raised a glorious yellow spinnaker as she streaked to victory in the final race of the Chesapeake Grand Prix.

Barely 60 seconds behind, Starlight, chased her to the Annapolis Yacht Club dock, where her co-owner, Jeff Ecklund, said, "This whole group is so competitive, anyone could finish anywhere in the fleet."

It certainly seemed true, because coming in behind Starlight was Numbers, the class of the field all week. With defending America's Cup champion skipper Russell Coutts guiding her, Numbers won the overall Grand Prix title by seven points over Chessie. Numbers took first in seven of the 10 regatta races, but finished third yesterday.

"The key decision in this race was which side of the Chesapeake to sail on," said Coutts. "We initially chose the right side, which was the favorable side, but then we moved to the left, and that was a mistake. Chessie chose the correct side today."

Despite the mistake, Coutts was still happy, enjoying the post-Grand Prix party with his team and taking the time to draw diagrams of where his team went wrong in the only distance race of the competition.

"I wouldn't get carried away about the significance of this regatta," he said of winning the overall title. "Obviously, the biggest event is the America's Cup, but it was a good fleet race. Most of the teams got to sharpen their skills, and I got a few good ideas out of it. Today, I got one about a sail that I'll go back to New Zealand and think about.

"And this was a lot of fun. We sailed in good competition and the wind conditions were good all week. This was my first time sailing here, and I found the Chesapeake an interesting place, with its currents, wind shifts and shoreline."

Going into yesterday's race, Chessie, owned by former Baltimore banker George Collins, and Prime Outlets, skippered by Annapolis native Terry Hutchinson, were the pre-race favorites because of their knowledge of the bay.

But it didn't look as if either would be in the running at the start.

Chessie made what its skipper Ken Read called "a very basic, sailing 101," error, when it was late to the start because of misjudging the time by 10 seconds. And because of it, the boat got caught between Prime Outlets, which would finish fourth, and Windquest, which came in fifth, and all three got off to poor starts.

"We were lucky this race was long enough for us to overcome it. We're thrilled," said Read, who acknowledged the benefit of having Collins and Chris Larson, another local sailor, on board.

Their knowledge of the bay, combined with the fine work of navigator Evan Evans, enabled Chessie to take the lead about halfway through the race and sprint ahead at Bloody Point.

"They were behind us," said Hutchinson. "They'd tack and we tack. The breeze kept going right, going right and they hit it perfectly and shot into the lead."

The winds blew up to 20 knots with 45- to 50-degree shifts, and boat speed soared to about 12 1/2 knots. Hutchinson called it "a perfect day for sailing" but lamented his team wasn't perfect.

"But I'm pleased with our performance. Just look at the results," Hutchinson said. "After nearly 30 miles, the first four boats were all within a minute of each other at the finish. The margin of error is so small in this field, I think we did a great job."

Final results

Chesapeake Grand Prix final results, with boat, sponsor, skipper, scores and total:

1. Numbers, John Risley, Russell Coutts, 1-1-5; 1-1-1; 1-3-1; 3; 21.

2. Chessie Racing, George Collins, Ken Read, 2-2-2; 4-2-3; 2-5-4; 1; 28.

3. Prime Outlets, Peter Gordon, Terry Hutchinson, 4-3-4; 6-5-2; 3-1-3; 4; 39.

4. Starlight, Jay Ecklund, Ed Baird, 5-5-5; 3-4-6; 5-4-2; 2; 43.

5. Windquest, Dick and Doug DeVos, Doug DeVos, 3-6-6; 2-6-4; 6-2-5; 5; 50.

5. Abracadabra, Jim Andrews, John Kolius, 6-4-1; 5-3-5; 4-6-6; 6, 52.

Pub Date: 5/03/99

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