Veteran skipper Kostecki signs on with Volvo team as in-port races tactician

Winner with `illbruck' joins `Ericsson's' effort

Sailing

September 08, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Like a hired gunslinger brought in to tame the town, the winner of the previous Volvo Ocean Race will be back for this year's competition to handle the newest challenge in the around-the-world race.

John Kostecki, who skippered illbruck Challenge to victory in 2001-02, will be tactician aboard Ericsson Racing Team for the seven in-port races, which count toward each boat's total score.

In-port races require sailors to take muscular sloops built to plow through the heavy seas of the Southern Ocean and turn them into highly maneuverable racing machines able to negotiate such narrow, shallow waters as the Chesapeake Bay.

"It's a pretty big difference," Kostecki said of the addition of in-port races. "We can't treat them lightly because they are 20 percent of the race. My job is to keep the heat on other teams and take the pressure off our team."

In addition to his experience on illbruck, Kostecki also can draw on his time at the helm of Chessie Racing, the Maryland entry in the 1997-98 race when it was called Whitbread.

His job, at least on paper, doesn't extend to sailing any of the off-shore legs, although that could change.

"I'll be on standby to help out any way I can," he said. "If I get to sail one or two legs, I'll be thrilled."

Kostecki is a veteran of two America's Cup campaigns, won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in the Soling class and has captured 10 world titles in various classes of boats, including the 1997 Mum 36 championship with Chris Larson of Annapolis.

The Volvo veteran is facing a steep learning curve. The 32,700-mile race begins on Nov. 5 in Vigo, Spain. Kostecki has not seen the boat that will be raced in this campaign: a 70-foot-long vessel - 10 feet longer than in the last race - with a keel that cants port and starboard as much as 40 degrees.

The Volvo boats will stop over in Baltimore and Annapolis from April 17 to May 7 next year.

The arrangement reunites the San Francisco Bay native with the management team that guided illbruck and with the skipper of the Ericsson boat, Neal McDonald, who finished second to Kostecki in the previous Volvo race.

"We're trying to play catch-up with some of the other teams that have [experience] under their belts," McDonald said. "He is a huge bonus to our campaign."

Kostecki became available for Volvo duty in July after he was removed as tactician and sailing director of BMW Oracle Racing, the San Francisco-based challenge to the 2007 America's Cup. The news release announcing his dismissal said Kostecki would remain with Oracle as a consultant, but he hinted at that time that he was looking for an invitation to rejoin the Volvo regatta.

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