Whitbread may be economic boon to Md.

On the Outdoors

June 09, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

How much is the Whitbread Round the World Race worth to Baltimore-Annapolis area? That is a question a dozen or so non-sailing outdoorsmen have asked since the two cities landed the April 1998 layover of the sailing race.

The attitude of non-sailors always has been, "Who cares? Just keep them out of my fishing lines and away from the hot spots."

The value of the Whitbread layover has yet to be determined by city and state officials, but they speculate that the sailing race has the potential to pay off big for the city and the state.

Lee Tawney, director of international economic development for Baltimore, said last week that the Whitbread gets tremendous TC exposure through computer networks as well as television coverage around the world -- in addition to hundreds of thousands of people who travel to layover ports.

In Auckland, New Zealand, in the last Whitbread, for example, more than 815,000 people passed through the Whitbread Village. The Whitbread Village in Baltimore will be set up at Rash Field, along the Inner Harbor.

Tawney, who works under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said Baltimore could be pressed to equal the draw in Auckland, "but we believe it is a target worth shooting for."

Dean Kenderdine, assistant director in the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said the department's Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts has not determined what economic impact the Whitbread Race could have on the state, either.

"But we think it will be significant," Kenderdine said. "There is that kind of potential."

Filmmaking, Kenderdine said, is an example of economic activity created by entertainment business activity brought into the state.

According to Kenderdine, the television series "Homicide," which filmed in Baltimore, creates $700,000 of economic activity per episode. Feature movies filmed in the state in the last fiscal year produced $171 of economic activity for each dollar the state spent to attract film operations.

"People around the world see these things, and some of them decide they want to come here, for whatever reason," said Kenderdine. "That means tourism, which means economic activity. They have to eat, sleep and spend to do so."

What it also will mean is 10 days to two weeks in April 1998 when international television companies will focus sports programs on the Baltimore-Annapolis area. Sailboat racing is big business in European and Asian countries -- somewhere along the lines of NASCAR races in the United States.

Philippa Beresford, who coordinates onshore activities at Whitbread layovers around the world, calls the race "festival of sailing," a place where sailors and non-sailors alike can learn about racing a 70-foot sailboat around the world and the technology that makes 400-mile days possible.

Satellite technology, oceanography, geography, mathematics, weather forecasting and many other sciences are involved in completing the race -- along with expert seamanship.

A few years ago, while on assignment to cover the Whitbread layover in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a press boat went out into the Atlantic Ocean at 3 a.m. to cover the arrival of Steinlager, the big, red New Zealand boat that was leading the fleet.

The morning was squally, rough enough to make the 60-foot media boat roll and pitch heavily.

Steinlager blasted out of a 30-knot rain squall shortly after first light, spinnaker up and taut, crew at the winches, trimming continually to get every tenth knot of speed possible to build its lead even after more than 20,000 miles of racing and only a few miles from port.

Satellite up-links now create video feeds that enable television stations to track the racing around the world, from the struggle to find wind in the doldrums on either side of the equator, to the battle to harness it in the 50-foot seas of the southern reaches of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The Whitbread is not the stuff of weeknight, round-the-buoy racing, gunk-holing cruises around the Chesapeake Bay or even the inshore action of the America's Cup.

It is a knuckle-busting, high-endurance athletic event that lasts nine months and 32,000 nautical miles. And perhaps that is why people come from around the world to see the boats and sailors and learn of the what makes them and the race tick.

And if, in the process, the economic activity created in Maryland by their passing can come close to the 171-to-1 return of filmmakers in the state, then so much the better for all of us.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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