For Chessie Racing, the Chesapeake Bay's first-ever entry in the grueling Whitbread Round-the-World sailing competition, yesterday's sun-dappled christening was the easy part.
The ultra-sleek boat had little to do but stay afloat in the Inner Harbor while hundreds came to celebrate it.
Its crew sipped beers and pumped handshakes. Its builders dined on raspberries and brie. Its supporters wished it a safe journey.
After this weekend, the hard work begins again. Crew members will return to their exhausting training schedule, preparing for a race in which competitors reach screaming-high speeds as they pitch and toss through some of the worst waters on the planet.
Those who complete the race are revered in the sailing world. Yesterday, with the thwack of a wine bottle and the cheer of a hometown crowd, former Baltimore CEO and amateur sailor George Collins got a taste of that glory.
"How many times do you get an opportunity to do this?" Collins, 56, asked friends as the white boat bobbed in the background. "It's life-defining."
This is hardly the beginning for the Chessie crew, whose members have trained together since fall and will do so until the race begins Sept. 21 in Southampton, England.
They had only a few minutes to un-
wrap their new navy blazers, charcoal gray slacks and tasseled shoes to get ready for the ceremony after another hard day of work on the boat.
The race will reach the Chesapeake next April. The boats will compete in a short leg from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Baltimore, and then leave Annapolis for La Rochelle, France, for the second-to-last leg.
This weekend marks a series of festivities for the Whitbread. A children's sailing race will take place in the Inner Harbor today, and a parade of sails will accompany Chessie Racing from Baltimore to Annapolis tomorrow.
On Monday, the crew will be celebrated again as they leave Annapolis for a training session in Rhode Island.
Collins, who recently stepped down as head of the Baltimore mutual fund company T. Rowe Price, paid $2.5 million for the boat and donated it to the Living Classrooms Foundation. That nonprofit group will track the race as an educational tool in schools around the country.
"Today marks a new beginning for the Living Classrooms Foundation," said foundation President James Bond. "As she sails in the spotlight of the Whitbread Round-the-World race, Chessie will bring the world to students."
The boat, a product of nine months of labor, was delivered by some of the top minds in boat building. Naval architect Bruce Farr drafted the blueprints from the Annapolis shop where he designed winning vessels for the last three Whitbreads, and Eric Goetz constructed it from the Bristol, R.I., hangar where his staff created America's Cup victor America3.
The boat is a 65-foot, 13 1/2 -ton machine meant to break speed records in sailing, a creation of foam and up to 30 layers of Kevlar. The resilient materials were chosen for their strength and light weight. The boat can go so fast that it sometimes takes the whole crew to keep it under control as it powers through the water.
Unlike some other syndicates, Chessie lacks a marquee sailor. So Chessie will bring in big-name skippers as guests, to complete one or two legs of the race.
But if they are underdogs, the crew does not seem to mind.
"We're definitely an outsider entry," said Christian "Blumi" Scherrer, a Swiss sailmaker and member of the crew. "But I've got a good feeling about all these guys, and it's probably better to share the pressure like this than have it all on one person."
All told, the race will cover 31,600 miles in nine legs, with a total of about 125 days at sea. The first leg, a 7,350-mile trek to South Africa, is the longest but not necessarily the hardest.
The second and fifth legs put the crew deep in the Southern Ocean, where icebergs, 50-knot winds and sub-zero windchill make frostbite and hypothermia a constant threat.
The Living Classrooms Foundation will follow each leg of the nine-month race with an educational program, using the boat and its travels as a teaching tool for history, geography, science, math and foreign studies.
The program is meant to reach a national audience, and with a free on-line component, it could extend far beyond that.
The 10-lesson plan, meant mostly for middle-school children, will feature everything from lessons on hypothermia to marine science exercises. Living Classrooms also created an on-line "virtual race," in which students from around the country can compete by completing a series of questions and bonus exercises.
The Living Classrooms web site already is operating, and can be reached at www.livingclassrooms.org.
Pub Date: 5/03/97