Whitbread may dock here in '98

May 25, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

The director of the Whitbread Round the World Race said yesterday he intends to bring the prestigious yacht race to Maryland in 1998.

If all goes as planned, the contestants will sail up Chesapeake Bay in April 1998, stop for up to two weeks in Annapolis and Baltimore, then sail the final leg of the race to Southampton, England.

"It's Baltimore or nothing," said Ian Bailey-Willmot, the race director who visited Annapolis and Baltimore earlier this month.

Whitbread officials want to add a race stop in the United States to increase publicity for the event in this country. The only U.S. stop in the race, which is held every three years, is Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Bailey-Willmot said he was impressed by Baltimore's location in a large metropolitan market and its proximity to the Washington news bureaus. In addition, Baltimore offers a deep harbor and good sailing facilities.

Baltimore competed against Fort Lauderdale for the chance to be a host of this year's race.

Local supporters of the race estimate that it could bring as much as $30 million to the area's economy.

"The Whitbread is the Super Bowl of ocean racing," said Annapolis Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat.

Although the area stands to benefit from spectators who will spend money in local hotels and restaurants, the main advantage will be the publicity it will generate for the state, said Lee Tawney, an assistant to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"It is promotion we couldn't pay for to a market of CEOs and corporate leaders," he said.

City leaders in Annapolis have spent more than $3,000 wooing Whitbread officials. Annapolis gave two race officials an aerial tour of the region and sent a city councilman and two city employees to Fort Lauderdale to investigate the economic impact of the race.

Tawney said the only expense Baltimore has incurred in trying to attract the race was the cost of a luncheon.

Although not well known in this country, the Whitbread is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, said Gary Jobson, an Annapolis sailing promoter and ESPN commentator who has been working five years to attract the race to Maryland.

During the grueling nine months of the race, sailors travel 33,000 miles, enduring blistering equatorial sun and icy ocean waves.

Although an official announcement of the 1997-98 course won't be made until September, plans call for the contestants to set sail from Southampton in September 1997.

They would sail to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America before landing in Fort Lauderdale. From Florida, the racers would sail up the East Coast to Baltimore.

After a stop of up to 10 days, they would sail down the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis to begin the last leg of the race.

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