$2M deadline nears for would-be Volvo entrant

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For six months, local professional sailor Terry Hutchinson has been working quietly to put together a Chesapeake Bay entrant in next year's Volvo Round the World Race.

The effort has reached a critical stage. He needs $2 million in the next two weeks.

The deadline is as unforgiving as it is imminent. Unless Hutchinson can start the 6-month-long process of building the 60-foot boat by Oct. 1, his chances of making the starting line off Southampton, England, on Sept. 23, 2001, will be all but gone.

Half-a-dozen possible sponsors - two local - are aware that this is crunch time, and Hutchinson is waiting anxiously in his Eastport office these days for the go-ahead.

Let's hope he gets it.

We all remember the pride and excitement when Chessie Racing came up the bay two years ago in an event known as the Whitbread until the British brewer ceded sponsorship of the world's longest, toughest ocean race to the Swedish car-maker.

Chessie Racing, with the flamboyant, fire-breathing, green sea serpent on its white hull, was funded to the tune of more than $6 million by George Collins, retired T. Rowe Price chief executive, local philanthropist and sail-race enthusiast.

Collins shrewdly entered the boat through the Living Classrooms Foundation, ensuring that Chessie's involvement in the race became a tool for teaching everything from geography to math, and from social studies to nutrition programs, in many of the state's schools.

"The great thing was the race went nine months," recalls James Bond, president of the Baltimore-based public-private education partnership. "It was the school year. Teachers just ate this stuff up. They loved it. We get a lot of calls still from teachers, wondering if we are going to be involved in the next one."

Discussions, he said, were already under way with Hutchinson to try to find a way "to bring the world to students" again.

The initial children's interest in Chessie and the Whitbread quickly engaged their parents, and the public fascination was reflected in, and fed by, intense media focus on the first local entrant in such an ambitious enterprise.

By the time the fleet of ocean racers reached the Inner Harbor race village, Baltimore was Chessie's town. The police counted more than 500,000 visitors during the three-day stopover in Baltimore. Another 60,000 turned up during the three days the boats spent in Annapolis.

When the fleet set out for France and England, more than 5,000 spectator boats were floating between the Bay Bridge and Thomas Point Light, with another 1,000 farther south.

"The impact Chessie Racing had on our stopover was huge," recalls Frieda Wildey, of Ocean Race Chesapeake, local host of the 1998 event. "It's really critical that we have a local entrant this time. I feel really optimistic.

"There's a lot of people working desperately to make this thing come together."

Collins, who sailed in several of the nine legs of the 1997-98 race, has thrown his support behind the effort to launch a bay boat in the 2001-2002 Volvo race but is not willing to be chief funder again.

"George has been, and is, a huge supporter of this whole concept and idea," Hutchinson says. "George and I talk about it a lot. We are in agreement that we need to do something together - under the premise that he is not going to fund the whole thing."

That is why the search is on for corporate sponsors - local, national and international.

"We are kind of in our final stages of negotiation with a couple of major international sponsors," says Hutchinson, 32, who was mainsail trimmer on Paul Cayard's AmericaOne in the America's Cup regatta in New Zealand earlier this year.

AmericaOne lost to the Italian Prada syndicate the right to challenge cup-holders New Zealand for yacht racing's most prestigious trophy. The Kiwis retained the cup and will defend it again in 2003.

When Hutchinson was sailing in New Zealand last fall and this spring, he should, by his own account, have been working up the current campaign. The delay has pushed his Volvo ambitions against the looming deadline.

"We have actually, right now, six proposals out to companies that know exactly what the timetable is," he says. "If the boat's not being constructed by the beginning of October, it's not going to happen."

Even if the elusive $2 million can be raised, it will be only the first installment. To complete and equip the boat, hire a world-class crew, and sail the 32,500-mile circumnavigation in nine months will cost a total of around $15 million.

The boat will be designed by Bruce Farr, principle designer of boats for the race and Hutchinson's neighbor in an Eastport office block.

"What we are getting - if we get it - is Bruce's thought of what the boat should be," Hutchinson says. "We are going to buy his most up-to-date, current thinking on the boat, but we are not going above that. If Bruce was to race a boat around the world, it would be this boat."

A former national and world champion in J-24s, one of the most popular racing boats on the bay, Hutchinson says: "I do believe there should be a Chesapeake Bay boat in the race. We are considered one of the best sailing areas in the world. We have an incredible amount of talent in this area, but a lot of it, while local talent, doesn't necessarily travel outside the bay.

"I look at it as a great opportunity to represent an area that is sailing and marine-oriented. When the race comes here, it seems only fitting to have a local boat racing down the bay."

Hutchinson says he has "verbal commitments" from world-class crew members, but eight of the 12 sailors he initially wanted to recruit already have been lured to other Volvo camps. No fewer than 33 syndicates from 12 countries - three from the United States - have registered for the race, but only about 12 are expected to make it to the start line.

The Volvo will have nine legs, which will take the boats from Southampton to Cape Town, South Africa; Sydney, Australia; Auckland, New Zealand; Rio de Janeiro, and Miami, before they are expected to arrive in Baltimore on April 17, 2002.

The race will restart from Annapolis on April 28, for the 3,400-mile Atlantic crossing to La Rochelle, France, followed by the 1,075-mile leg to GM-vteborg, Sweden, Volvo's corporate headquarters, and then a 250-mile sprint to the finish line at Kiel, Germany, where the boats are expected to arrive on June 9.

If you have a boating experience or event - sail or power - you would like to share, Gilbert Lewthwaite can be contacted by phone at 202-416-0262, or by e-mail at gilbertlewthwaite@hotmail.com.

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