Volvo yachts to stop here

Baltimore, Annapolis will again play host to round-the-world race

Ocean racing

April 20, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore and Annapolis will again play host to the Volvo Ocean Race Round the World when the racing vessels set sail to circle the globe in 2001-2002, Volvo and local race officials will announce today.

Propelled by the success of the 1998 stopover, the region beat out New York, Boston and Newport, R.I., to be the second U.S. stopover port next race. Competing to be the first U.S. stop are Charleston, S.C., and Miami. The selection of one of those cities is to be announced tomorrow. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which played host to the racers in 1994 and 1998, is no longer in that competition.

Local organizers have worked for the past year to try to win back the event -- formerly called the Whitbread Round the World Race -- that brought an estimated $26.5 million in economic impact to the state.

"As the boats sailed out of sight, we were totally exhausted, but all we were thinking about was how to get them back," said Gregory H. Barnhill, president of Volvo Ocean Race Chesapeake Inc. and a managing director at BT Alex. Brown Inc.

The event is scheduled to return to the Inner Harbor in mid-April 2002 and then move to Annapolis for a total stay in the region of two weeks -- four days longer than the 10-day visit in 1998. As it did last year, the boats' stay will coincide with the Baltimore Waterfront Festival.

"On behalf of a lot of sailors around the bay, we're really excited to have the Volvo Ocean Race return to the Chesapeake," said Gary Jobson, a world-class sailor, Annapolis resident and ESPN sailing commentator.

Minor changes will be implemented to make the local stopovers better this time around, including easier access to the boats for visitors, said Helge Alten, chief executive of the Volvo Ocean Race.

"Baltimore/Annapolis was the best stopover in the last race," Alten said. "That's why we want to keep them."

The region was aggressive about promotion and attracted some of the largest crowds of any stopover, he said. An estimated 500,000 visited the race village in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. In Annapolis, 60,000 people came out to see the boats.

Despite the praise from Volvo officials, local organizers have been cautious until now.

"We never dropped our guard and made the assumption that they would automatically return to Baltimore and Annapolis," Barnhill said.

The race -- first sailed in 1973-1974 -- is a nine-month, 31,600-nautical-mile odyssey that is run every four years.

Next time around, Volvo hopes to increase the entries from 10, the number in last year's race, to about 15. Locally, two groups are considering entering a boat.

Last year, Chessie Racing was a competitor, helping to fuel local excitement. That was the $7 million program financed by former T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. chief executive George Collins, who stepped up when it became clear that having a boat in the race could be the deal-maker for race officials in choosing Maryland as a stopover.

A total of about $2.1 million was spent to put on the 1998 event, including $675,000 to $700,000 in cash and $1.4 million worth of in-kind contributions, according to Lee Tawney, secretary of Volvo Ocean Race Chesapeake Inc. and assistant to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"The last stopover was beyond our wildest expectations," Tawney said.

"You put Baltimore and Annapolis and the Chesapeake on the international map; you can't pay for that kind of publicity."

And serving as a stopover goes a long way toward furthering other regional dreams, he said.

"It also demonstrates that we can handle the Olympics," he said. "It shows that we're a venue that can handle world-class sporting events."

The Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition is working to have the region play host to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Last year's local round-the-world-race stopover demonstrated that sailing, often considered a sport for the elite, could draw huge crowds from every sector of the community, as well as from the far-flung world of sailing.

"That was the thing that was magical about this," Barnhill said. "It touched so many people from so many backgrounds."

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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