Patapsco race fans dot land, waters City's first powerboat event draws boaters, some on shore to view

Contest usually held in bay

July 26, 1998|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Aboard pleasure boats, sailboats, Jet Skis and on shorelines, hillsides and picnic tables, thousands of spectators gathered yesterday for a glimpse of Baltimore's first major league powerboat race.

They watched as boats roared by at speeds as high as 100 mph.

Baltimore resident Lloyd Stern, 54, arrived at Fort Armistead Park at 6 a.m., first to catch some white perch and then to stake out a site to see the race, which began about 1 p.m. He found his spot atop a picnic table in the park and gazed out over the Patapsco River, just south of the Key Bridge.

"I thought it was going to be crowded," Stern said, explaining why he arrived so early for the race. "I love any kind of racing. This looks pretty good."

Other spectators criticized the Chesapeake Power Boat Association, which sponsors the event, for moving the race from its usual Maryland location off Kent Island to a less aesthetic site near Charm City's Inner Harbor.

"They need to do it in the Chesapeake Bay, where it's beautiful," said 29-year-old Tracy Gravel, sitting with friends on board their tTC boat, the Trophy. "There are all of these industrial businesses in the background. This is horrible."

Even so, critics and supporters were included in the estimate by race organizers of more than 2,000 boats with spectators,

200 people on chartered vessels sponsored by the powerboat association and dozens of others who viewed the event from land.

Organizers of the Chesapeake Challenge Offshore Power Boat Race said they hoped to generate more interest in the sport by bringing the three-day event to Baltimore because of the variety of restaurants and other entertainment in the city. The competition draws more than 80 boats in 10 classes.

"We're used to being on a little, sleepy island," said Carol Boswell, a spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Power Boat Association. "But we wanted to attract more spectators. We believe that we can do it. This event is equal to NASCAR on land.

"The Coast Guard is having heart failure over this," Boswell said.

Coast Guard officials opposed the event until three weeks ago because the original course would have brought the fast-moving boats too close to land and could have endangered spectators.

Organizers redesigned the course and moved it into more open waters, satisfying the Coast Guard's safety concerns.

Because of their high speeds, the boats sometimes flip over and catch fire.

One powerboat, the Fountain B76, capsized and caught fire during yesterday's race, but no one was hurt in the accident. Coast Guard officials extinguished the fire within minutes.

Despite that accident, Coast Guard officials said yesterday's races posed no safety problems and the event appears to have been successful.

"I think the race went very well," said Lt. Cmdr. Brooks Minnick of the Coast Guard's Baltimore office. "Our safety concerns have been resolved. We can't see a reason why it couldn't come back again next year, but of course we'll have to re-evaluate it at that time."

Stacey Ryan of Bel Air, looking out at the race's starting line about 1,000 feet off the banks of Fort McHenry, said the race is the kind of event she would support year after year.

"It's just a nice way to spend an afternoon," said Ryan, who sat under a tree with her sons, Brendan, 9, and Shane, 7.

The trouble for the land-bound spectators was their limited view of the racecourse. They couldn't hear reports on the race from an announcer. And helicopters hovering over the speedboats often drowned out the roaring engines of the boats, which many people enjoy hearing.

Some spectators listened to boomboxes as they sat on their beach towels or lawn chairs. But most simply watched quietly until they saw the speedboats passing.

"I wish they had a speaker system," one spectator shouted.

The race culminated in a festive gathering of the racing teams and spectators at the Baltimore Marine Center, where the teams keep their boats for the weekend.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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