Yacht racing, oyster slurping and zydeco

Event: The Baltimore Waterfront Festival begins today with the first Chesapeake Grand Prix off Fort McHenry and features Inner Harbor ground attractions.

April 28, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Waterfront Festival will open today, and feature an oyster-slurping contest, Cajun zydeco music, a 30-foot girdle and a bicycle-powered dragon racing a beaver through the streets of downtown Baltimore.

More than 100,000 people are expected to pack the Inner Harbor through Sunday to feast on crab cakes, Caribbean jerk chicken, gyros and dozens of other foods.

Among those not gorging themselves are 11 sailors with an Annapolis team competing in a series of races near Fort McHenry that begin today and will offer a preview of some of the best skippers in next year's America's Cup.

The Prime Outlets crew was jogging yesterday around Fells Point wearing foul weather gear and thermal jackets in the hot sun in an attempt to lose 60 pounds so they could qualify for the first Chesapeake Grand Prix race.

"I haven't been eating or drinking for the last 24 hours," said Tom Weaver, a crew member whose weight had dropped from 188 to 181, as sweat poured from his face.

Among those not running on Boston Street in his raincoat was skipper Peter Gordon, who weighs 220 pounds -- 33 more than the average of 187 pounds allowed for each of the 12 crew members.

Gordon, owner of an investment management firm, and the Prime Outlets retail chain are bankrolling the Prime Outlets team.

"The crew members are losing pounds for all the dollars he's putting in," said John Bertrand, tactician for the team.

Gordon compared himself to past America's Cup champion Dennis Conner, who in spite of his girth has enjoyed considerable success.

"Some of the best sailors in the world are here for this race, and it would be a delight to knock them off," said Gordon, owner of Gordon Investment Management Co. of Annapolis.

The Chesapeake Grand Prix will feature three races a day on six 48-foot racing yachts today, tomorrow and Friday. The race course is between Fort McHenry and the Key Bridge.

On Sunday, the racing finale will be between the Bay Bridge and Annapolis.

The event has attracted more than a dozen sailors who will be competing in the America's Cup off New Zealand next year.

They include defending America's Cup champion Russell Coutts of Team New Zealand; Ken Read, the helmsman for Team Dennis Conner; and Ed Baird, skipper of the Young America syndicate supported by the New York and Annapolis Yacht Clubs.

George Collins, a retired Baltimore investment banker who sponsored the Chessie team in the Whitbread Round the World Race last year, has fielded another Chessie team with two of its 12 members from last year's effort.

Clay Oliver of Annapolis, who is a crew member for Team New Zealand, said the races will be different from the America's Cup though they will feature the same competitors.

The yachts are slightly more than half the length of the America's Cup yachts and are slower. While the cup is a race usually won by technological advantage, all six boats in this week's races are the same, Oliver said.

They will be going head to head, unlike the cup, which pits two boats at a time.

"This race will be even closer than the America's Cup, because you won't have any boat-speed differences," said Read, skipper of the Chessie team. "Here, the sailors will make the difference, not the boat. That makes it a matter of ego that we have to win."

The golden-sailed yachts practiced Monday in the outer harbor off Fort McHenry, cutting within feet of each other in the shadow of a huge Panamanian freighter that rose like a rusty wall behind them.

Coutts, whose team won the America's Cup in 1995, skimmed his boat within about 60 feet of a passing freighter whose deck was higher than the yacht's mast.

"Great place, Baltimore," the New Zealander said, looking out at the industrial cranes and mountains of coal at Dundalk Marine Terminal. "It's a bit like Auckland, other than that there are a few more volcanoes in Auckland."

Racing begins at 11 a.m. today, and the festival will conclude at 8 p.m. Sunday with a fireworks display.

The festival, in its second year, is meant to showcase Baltimore's success in rebuilding its once rundown waterfront. It will include several concerts, an "Oyster Shuck and Slurp-Off" at noon Friday and a "Kinetic Sculpture Race" at 9: 30 a.m. Saturday.

The latter will feature bicyclelike vehicles topped by wild-looking creatures including a dragon and beaver racing around the downtown streets.

In preparation for the festival, artists have raised seven sculptures made of sail cloth at the foot of Federal Hill.

Fifty-six white flags flapped in a stiff breeze yesterday near a Portuguese man-of-war and a cargo ship molded from sail cloth.

Jennifer Lynn Stewart Watson worked in a cherry picker to sew together a 30-foot-tall woman's corset made from a sail.

"I don't like the sound of that," she said as the wind picked up and a ripping sound came from her gigantic undergarment.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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