Volvo sailors prepare for Chesapeake

March 29, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

The sailors preparing to race from Brazil to Baltimore for the next leg of the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race are upbeat, but said yesterday they expect the final miles up the Chesapeake Bay will be tricky.

"The Chesapeake always brings close sailing," said John Kostecki, who will be taking over as the skipper for the Ericsson Racing Team boat. "It's going to be a little bit of a challenge."

Kostecki and representatives from the six other boats competing in the race spoke with reporters yesterday via satellite link from Rio de Janeiro. The boats are expected to arrive in Maryland in about three weeks.

The Volvo Ocean Race -- formerly the Whitbread Round-the-World race -- is one of the most extreme, prestigious and costly events in sailing. The race started in November in Vigo, Spain, and the sailors have made stops on three continents since then.

There have been numerous breakdowns along the way -- the most dramatic came this month when the Spanish boat movistar sprang a leak and nearly sank off Cape Horn.

The race to Baltimore begins Sunday and the fleet of six Volvo Open 70 sailboats is expected to appear in the Chesapeake Bay between April 15 and April 19. A seventh boat -- Brunel from Australia -- dropped out of the race last month and is expected to rejoin it in Baltimore.

Race organizers can't know exactly when the boats will show up since they will spread out over the 5,000-mile course.

Paul Cayard, the skipper of Pirates of the Caribbean, the only American boat in the fleet, is familiar with bay racing: "Anything can happen in the Chesapeake, and that is good for the fans. The leader could end up parked [in the bay] for 12 hours."

Four years ago when the boats arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake, the wind died and the boats drifted up to the finish at Fort McHenry.

"Last time they just stalled; that is part of the reason that we moved the [finish] down," said Lee Tawney, a spokesman for Ocean Race Chesapeake, the organization planning events while the boats are here.

The boats will finish the leg at Baltimore Light, just north of the Bay Bridge -- but all of them will dock in the Inner Harbor.

This year the boats being sailed are in a new, untested class. The keels extend 15 feet into the water -- something that could become a problem in the notoriously shallow Chesapeake. Annapolis has dredged portions of its harbor to accommodate the boats, which will sail there after repairs are made in Baltimore.

At yesterday's news conference, skippers brushed off any concerns about crab pots and shoals.

"I don't think it will significantly change the game," Cayard said.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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