Fleet's in, and celebration begins

Families, friends welcome Volvo sailors, as pupils from N.J. meet `their' boat

April 19, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

There were hugs, handshakes and Heinekens at the Inner Harbor yesterday when Team Tyco pulled into port, its sailors happy to be in, but a bit frustrated with their sixth-place finish on the Miami-to-Baltimore leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

"It feels good, especially after a frustrating race like this," said Rob Salthouse, 35, smiling as daughters Laura Jane, 5, sat in the crook of his left arm and Olivia, 10, stood to his right. "After the first night, we were with the first group, then we ran into a rainstorm and the first group put 13 miles on us. ... It's been like that the whole way."

Still, for Salthouse, who hails from Auckland, New Zealand, there was the joy of seeing his family, who have met him at every port of call. And amid the crush of friends, well-wishers and television cameras crowding the dock, there was the added surprise of finally meeting a group of New Jersey second-graders who have been following the race on the Internet since it began in September.

"We've been planning this trip for a long time," said Jodi Marcou, one of the parents who made the ride down from Brunswick Acres Elementary School. "They are just beside themselves to see the sailors."

Several students cheered Tyco as the sleek, 64-foot racer came to rest at Constellation Pier. Among them was Kelsey Holman, 8, whose group had adopted the Bermuda-based boat as its own.

"I think it's really cool," said Kelsey, who had Salthouse sign her T-shirt. "I get to see my boat and the skipper."

The Brunswick students left home in South Brunswick around 7 a.m. for their day in Baltimore. Holman was lucky. Her boat arrived at 2:18 p.m., about 12 hours after the first arrivals. That gave her a chance to be right in the middle of the excitement. She and a classmate even joined the crew on stage as they posed for photographs and were showered with champagne.

The arrival of the eight boats competing in the round-the-world race is the centerpiece for the fifth annual Baltimore Waterfront Festival, which continues through Thursday.

The Sam Smith parking lot that runs along Light Street at the Inner Harbor has been transformed. There are bandstands and food stalls. Cooks served up international favorites from Greece and South Africa, along with more standard fare. Lemonade vendors and anyone selling cold water did a brisk business on a day when the mercury hit 89 degrees, making the afternoon feel more like midsummer than early spring.

The sweltering heat did not slow down the groups of schoolchildren who skipped and ran through the festival's fun zone. They took turns doing long jumps into a sandpit, sailing small wooden boats across a pool and trying to scoop up oyster shells with a 12-foot hand tong.

The backbreaking work is the mainstay of many Chesapeake watermen and was a revelation to Terry Mauceri, 38, who came from Laurel with her daughter Samantha, 8.

"It's hard work, but fun. It definitely gave me an appreciation for the people who do this work," said Mauceri. "I think it would take a while to get used to."

The festival, the games and the music were all pleasant diversions. The boats, however, were the main attraction. By midday, four sat at anchor a short walk from the Maryland Science Center, their shore crews cleaning the racers, inspecting the rigging and electronics, making any repairs needed to ensure a successful voyage on the next leg.

Nautor Challenge's Amer Sports One, the second-place finisher, had an eight-man shore crew whose home countries are spread around the globe.

"All we have in common is, we all speak English," said Nick Bice, 24, of Adelaide, Australia.

Bice, a boatbuilder, has been sailing most of his life, but has yet to sail in a round-the-world race.

"That's the next level to step up to. Hopefully, if you learn enough this time around, you can step up," said Bice. "This is the Formula One of yacht racing."

These are hard races. Sometimes the boats will be on the open sea for weeks at a time. By comparison, a racing yacht in the America's Cup competes over a few hours.

And, these are not yachts like those in a James Bond film or from a segment of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. There are no sofas, wet bars or televisions. These racers are built for speed.

Below deck, a dozen spartan bunks hug the hull. There's also a toilet. That's it for creature comforts. The quarters are sweat-hot in summer, bone-chilling cold in winter.

For Sean Healey, 32, of Newport, R.I., an electrician for Amer Sports, the Baltimore stop was a homecoming. His parents, Daniel and Delores Healey, live in Federal Hill, a short walk from the dock.

Yesterday, the St. Mary's College graduate had a chance to see his son William, born 18 days ago. He'll get to see him all week until Amer Sports One sets sail for La Rochelle, France, and the shore crew flies on ahead to meet them.

After the Atlantic crossing comes the final dash to Kiel, Germany, and the end of a yearlong, 32,000-mile odyssey.

"Everyone right now is starting to scramble for what's next. There's multihull stuff, single-hull stuff, the America's Cup," said Healey. "Everyone's looking for the next thing."

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