Boating gets kick start as race reaches Bay

Boats: The race that draws thousands of boaters and landlubbers to water's edge promises an early boost to business, too.

April 17, 2002|By Liz Steinberg | Liz Steinberg,SUN STAFF

Jack Gardner, marina operator in CantonFor some members of the local pleasure boating industry, the Volvo Ocean Race will bring more than just eight yachts and 500,000 people to Baltimore when the 27,000-mile 'round-the-world race lands in the harbor tomorrow: Advocates and race coordinators say the boating season will be given a kick start by the race and will be boosted by international publicity.

However, not all industry members say they expect to feel the impact.

"It's without a doubt one of the biggest things that comes to Baltimore," said Jack Gardner, marina director of the 16-acre Baltimore Marine Center in Canton. The center is the designated repair shop for the racing boats, which are to arrive in the harbor tomorrow, then continue on to Annapolis April 26 before leaving April 28 to complete the last three legs of the race.

"It's going to give us an early start on our transient business," said Gardner. "Normally, it starts Memorial Day" weekend.

When the Volvo Ocean Race, formerly known as the Whitbread, landed in Baltimore and Annapolis in 1998, it generated $26.2 million in direct spending and had a total economic impact of $52.4 million, according to Frieda K. Wildey, special projects coordinator of Ocean Race Chesapeake, the local nonprofit host organization.

The publicity the region receives will boost bookings, according to industry advocates.

Ten days of international spotlight "makes people with boats want to come to Annapolis," said Susan Zellers, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland Inc., which has more than 400 members.

All will not be affected equally, though.

"The people that are going to be most immediately, positively affected by this are the ones who have the closest proximity to the boats," said Gregory H. Barnhill, president of Ocean Race Chesapeake, who noted that the full effect won't be felt until the boats arrive.

Baltimore Marine Center business was up through the end of the 1998 season, said Gardner, who expects the same thing will happen this year.

Six of the eight racing boats are Farr Volvo Ocean 60s, designed by the Annapolis-based Farr Yacht Design Ltd., said Margaret Rogers, Farr spokeswoman. Farr-designed boats have won the last four races.

Of all the local businesses, "we benefit the most, I think," she said. While not all customers necessarily want a boat as fast as the Volvo 60, "they know our designs have a good reputation," she said.

Building a Volvo 60 costs about $2 million, of which $120,000 to $180,000 goes for the design, Rogers said.

The race will allow Farr to meet with its clients - the skippers and their crews - and let the designers see the products of their work.

"A lot of our designers haven't seen our boats in real life," said Rogers. Many of the boats were constructed in the home countries of their sponsoring institutions.

Milford, Conn.-based North Sails Inc. manufactured all the sails for the eight boats, said Will Keyworth, manager of North Sails Chesapeake. The Annapolis facility, North's second-largest in the country, will be renting its building to the sailing teams for about $150 an hour. The teams will spend about a day repairing the sails, Keyworth said.

While he doesn't expect a spike in his usual business of storing and maintaining private boats, Eric Bradley, dock master at the Annapolis Landing Marina, said his dock will play host to chartered boats coming to watch the race.

The marina, which leases space to the local company Watermark Cruises, will provide services for about 700 people the weekend beginning April 26, Bradley said.

On a normal weekend, the marina wouldn't do any business of this sort.

"I haven't had this kind of demand for this type of service before," said Bradley. Because of the marina's location on Back Creek, one creek removed from downtown Annapolis, it's convenient for larger ships, which are difficult to maneuver.

Boat owners who rent slips at Annapolis Landing have not shown as much interest in watching the race from the water as they did in 1998, said Bradley, so he doesn't expect to see a major increase in servicing revenues.

The novelty is gone: In 1998, "it was a little chaotic out there; I think it's more than [the slip renters] are willing to do again," he said. About 6,000 boats sailed to watch the Annapolis restart in 1998, said Barnhill.

Not all industry members say they expect to benefit.

Annapolis-based Quantum Sail Design Group built "several million dollars' worth" of sails for past races and made a substantial investment preparing for this year, according to Director of Marketing David Flynn.

This year, "it's been an incredible disappointment," said Flynn. "In the past, [Volvo] has been an important linchpin for us because it is a showcase in the maritime industry."

While North, the larger sailmaker, produced some of its sails at a facility in Stevensville, most were constructed in Nevada. Each team pays about $1 million for its 38 sails, not counting testing costs, said Keyworth.

For some marinas, Volvo weekend will be just like any other.

Jan Kanner, manager of slip rentals at the Port Annapolis Marina, also on Back Creek, hasn't booked any rentals.

"It's not really going to bring business to those marinas that are not in downtown Annapolis," she said. Port Annapolis is about three miles from downtown by land.

While his marina will play host to "one or two" boats coming to town this weekend for the race, "it hasn't impacted us much at all," said Rob Simkins, general manager of the 200-slip Chesapeake Harbour Marina, which is near Port Annapolis. Chesapeake Harbour didn't see an increase in business in 1998, he said.

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