Local boat will race in '97-98 Whitbread Prominent area sailors head Chessie campaign


Chessie Racing, a syndicate headed by three prominent sailors from the Baltimore-Annapolis area, yesterday announced a multimillion-dollar campaign to "compete in and win" the 1997-1998 Whitbread Round the World Race.

Mark K. Fischer, president of Chessie Racing, said the syndicate will draw heavily on "the tremendous talent pool" of sailors and designers in this area to design, build and crew a Whitbread 60 boat.

It will be designed by Bruce Farr and Associates of Annapolis.

Chessie Racing had been negotiating with a major European sponsor until a few weeks ago, Fischer said, "but in the end, we never could see eye to eye. . . . And we came to the conclusion that we can put together a viable group that can compete to win."

Fischer, chief executive officer of the Blakeslee Group advertising company, estimates the effort will cost $3.5 million to $6 million for a race that has nine legs and covers 32,000 nautical miles, starting and finishing in Southampton, England.

Gary Jobson of Annapolis, sailing commentator for ESPN, and George Collins, head of the T. Rowe Price stock-brokerage firm, are the two other directors. (Collins has announced he will leave his position with T. Rowe Price in April to pursue the Whitbread effort.) A fourth director of the program is expected to be named later.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Whitbread race, which will stop in Baltimore and Annapolis in the spring of 1998, spent the past two days surveying sites and facilities in the area that will be used during the 10-day layover.

"The facilities are fantastic," race manager Michael Woods said yesterday during a boat tour of the Annapolis area and around the Bay Bridge.

"All we really have to add is the pontoons for the boat docks and the structures for the village. It is not a green-field site, but we will easily be able to fit in."

Plans call for the leg of the race from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Baltimore to end off Fort McHenry at the entrance to the Inner Harbor. Probable dates for the finish are April 22-23, 1998.

Race officials are considering a racing parade from Baltimore to Annapolis for a three-day layover before the start of the leg to France from the Bay Bridge. The start would coincide with the annual Bay Bridge walk on May 3, 1998.

Philippa Beresford, event coordinator for the shoreside activities the race, including the Whitbread villages, where onshore activities are focused during layovers around the world, said that, in Baltimore, the village would be built at Rash Field, alongside the Inner Harbor.

"This is a festival of sailing," said Beresford. "At the end of the day, that is what it is all about."

In Auckland, New Zealand, in the last Whitbread, more than 815,000 people passed through the Whitbread Village.

Woods said that he expects the Whitbread field to number 20 or 21 boats by the time racing begins in Southampton on Sept. 21, 1997.

A half-dozen of those, Woods said, will be top-of-the-line groups with healthy budgets and experienced crews. Another half-dozen will be competitive and adequately budgeted and the remainder will be "just trying to do the race with whatever funds they can find."

More than three dozen syndicates from around the world have paid the initial entry fee.

"We have 25 percent of our funding in hand," said Fischer, "and indications of interest that could account for another 10 percent. We are up and running, but there still is a lot to be done."

Jobson said yesterday that his team's boat will be built in Bristol, R.I. He estimated the boat will cost $1.5 million, plus the cost of sails and equipment.

"We have the money for the design of the boat and to build it," said Fischer. "But we do not have a fully funded campaign yet."

Jobson estimated that 40 percent of the group's budget would come from major cash donors, 40 percent would come from grass-roots contributions and the balance would be raised through donations of equipment or services.

"A reasonable budget to go around the world is $5 million to $6 million," said Fischer. "Over $6 million, it gets hard to find, and unless you have to be on the cutting edge of technology, it is hard to spend it practically.

"You can get around on $3.5 million, but it is a little scary."

Chessie Racing, which at Collins' suggestion will sail the race in conjunction with the Living Classrooms Foundation, expects to have its boat in the water on April 15, 1997, and to have about five months of training in the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic before the starting gun in Southampton.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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