Hong Kong businessman buys Whitbread yacht

This Just In...

June 09, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

CHESSIE RACING, the Chesapeake region's first ever entry in the grueling 1997-1998 Whitbread Round the World Race, has been sold to a Hong Kong yachtsman for $500,000. You didn't hear this scuttlebutt? Don't feel bad. Neither the Living Classrooms Foundation, owner of the 65-foot racing boat, nor George Collins, the retired T. Rowe Price CEO who invested $7 million in Chessie and its Whitbread effort, announced the sale.

Parker Rockefeller, senior vice president of Living Classrooms, says the sale took place in February, after he, Collins and former Chessie helmsman Gavin Brady met for dinner in Florida with Karl Kwok, an Asian businessman acclaimed as Hong Kong's premier yachtsman. Kwok agreed to buy the boat and wired the money to Living Classrooms the next day. The money will be used to make the educational and job-training programs of Living Classrooms available to poor, at-risk kids in Baltimore through a scholarship fund named after Collins and his wife, Maureen.

Chessie Racing is now called Beau Geste. (Yes, folks, some people defy superstition and rename boats). It has been painted red, refitted with a carbon fiber mast and boom, and it's flying the colors of Hong Kong. Kwok will use the vessel for training for the next big, round-the-world race, renamed the Volvo Ocean Race for its new sponsor.

The way Rockefeller tells it, Living Classrooms was lucky to get Kwok's half-mil. With advances in nautical technology, he says, depreciation of vessels such as Chessie comes hard and fast. The yacht logged more than 32,000 hard miles at sea in two short years. It was Rockefeller's job to sell it, and he wasn't terribly optimistic about getting big bucks.

Then Volvo announced that boats of the same size and class as Chessie would be used for the next globe-spanning race, in 2001-2002. "Volvo could have announced that they would change the boat [requirements], make them smaller or larger," Rockefeller says. "But we were very happy when they announced that they'd require what was known as the Whitbread 60, now known as Volvo 60."

That meant Chessie had value -- at least as a training yacht for Volvo contenders.

That's where Kwok came in. A successful Hong Kong retailer and president of the Honk Kong Yachting Association, Kwok raced a 50-foot boat called Beau Geste. He hired Gavin Brady, a Severna Park resident who's regarded as one of the top helmsmen in the world, to drive it. Beau Geste has won races off Australia and New Zealand, San Francisco's Big Boat Series and the China Sea Race. This winter, after winning their class in Florida's Key West Week, Brady and Kwok sat down for dinner and a deal with Rockefeller and Collins.

This week, Chessie Racing, renamed Beau Geste, is in transit to Hong Kong. "[Kwok] got everything, the boat, the entire sail inventory and two containers of gear," says Rockefeller.

"A lot of people around here had a love affair with Chessie," he says. "And it's a great way to end what has been a wonderful, three-year project due to the generosity of George Collins -- to use the money to fund a scholarship program for kids who couldn't afford, or whose schools couldn't afford, the fees for the Living Classroom programs."

Collins has been racing a 48-foot boat called Chessie since the Whitbread. He won the final race of the Chesapeake Grand Prix with it last month, and starting Saturday he'll sail the biennial Annapolis-Newport race in a 70-footer he renamed Chessie. The original name was Pyewacket. In this case, I think change is good.

Words work

It was supposed to be the perfect way to complete their studies on immigration, but when 320 eighth-graders from Parkville Middle School showed up April 21 at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, they ran into a big problem: Al Gore.

Unbeknown to anyone at Parkville or the tour company that arranged the trip, the vice president had chosen that day to give a major speech on Kosovo.

At Ellis Island.

"There we were, and they wouldn't let us on Ellis Island because the vice president was there," says Lisa Standish, an English teacher. "They wouldn't even let us go up to the top of the statue because the [police] sharpshooters were up there."

So the students, parents and teachers who'd made the day trip to New York ended up spending six hours hanging around Liberty Island with little to do. And they weren't happy about it. Each student had paid more than $40 for the trip.

"Parents were angry, kids were angry, teachers were angry," Standish says.

So next day at Parkville, the English teachers had the pupils write about their experience in letters to Gore. Many suggested the vice president give major speeches away from popular tourist attractions.

About 200 letters went to Gore.

A few weeks later, the school got a call from the White House. The pupils were invited for a tour.

Teachers were skeptical about setting up a Washington visit during the last week of school -- until they learned that President Clinton would be giving a speech on the South Lawn to welcome the president of Hungary.

So yesterday, about 160 eighth-graders -- chosen by lottery -- and a group of teachers and parents made the trip to the sweltering heat of the South Lawn. As they listened to their president, many pupils took off their shoes and sprawled on the grass.

"But it was really great for the kids to get to see the president speak in person, because it's something most of them will never get to see again," Standish says. "A lot of them had never even been to the White House before. ... We try hard to teach the kids that they should use written words instead of resorting to violence or telling someone off, and it was nice to see that it worked."

Pub Date: 06/09/99

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