Sail race festivities take city by storm

Celebration: As one of the stopovers in an international boat race, Baltimore welcomes participants with music, food -- and a downpour.

April 20, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Taking refuge in Harborplace's Light Street Pavilion from a sudden downpour yesterday evening, Mayor Martin O'Malley and others officially welcomed the Volvo Ocean Race to Baltimore.

A three-piece band led a procession of the eight racing teams around the pavilion's food court before race officials, businessmen and local dignitaries took to the podium before a crowd of onlookers to thank those who had brought the international sailing race to Maryland once again.

The rain storm caused some booths at the accompanying Baltimore Waterfront Festival to shut down and visitors to flee. But it was the wind -- or, rather, the lack of wind during the race up the Chesapeake Bay -- that the speakers blasted as the biggest weather culprit locally so far.

While the eight boats competing in the nine-leg, 32,000-mile-long round-the-world race were expected to finish the Miami-to-Baltimore leg by early evening Wednesday, boats didn't begin crossing the finish line off Fort McHenry until early Thursday.

At the welcoming ceremony yesterday, ESPN sailing commentator and Annapolis resident Gary Jobson promised stronger winds when the race resumes April 28 near Annapolis.

"I want all the sailors to know, this is not normally like this here," Jobson said. Race participants, he joked later, "are really getting to experience our waters -- at a slower pace than we anticipated."

This is the second time that Maryland has played host to the race, which is one of the most significant sailing races in the world. When the race came to Baltimore and Annapolis in 1998 -- then called the Whitbread -- it drew more than 500,000 visitors.

"The stopover here in Baltimore last time was probably the best stop overall and it looks like it is going to be again," race director Helge Alten told the crowd at the ceremony.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer then took the podium to welcome the race. The boats will travel to Annapolis on Friday, where another round of festivities will be held.

"We're looking forward to another great party," Moyer said.

O'Malley officially welcomed the boats to his city, where food, music and other attractions will fill the Inner Harbor through Friday.

"Wow! It's finally here," he declared. "We are very, very, very, very proud to host this race."

As he blew a signal horn, confetti streamed onto the crowd while outside the Pride of Baltimore and the Constellation ships fired their cannons in salute.

By the time the ceremony ended shortly after 6 p.m., the skies had cleared and more people had come to enjoy the festival after work.

Ayanna Garment, 29, of Lanham in Prince George's County, came to the Inner Harbor with family members.

"The boats are beautiful -- so many different types of people and nationalities," she said.

About two hours earlier, the sudden burst of rain and wind, which lasted less than a half-hour, brought much of the festival to a halt. Visitors, vendors and exhibitors who did not leave or flee indoors braced for the worst.

At the Maryland Department of the Environment tent, where volunteers were preaching water conservation, Gary Kelman, 48, and his co-workers said the sudden downpour was "scary."

"It was a little dicey there for a while," Kelman said. "The rain came and people disappeared. Then it got sunny and people came out of the woodwork."

At one of two music stages set up for the festival, some people waited out the storm under the stage tent as a steel drum band played and vendors brought over beer and wine.

"Everyone was scrunched together, so we talked to people we wouldn't otherwise have talked to," said Ann Harrington, 45, of Scranton, Pa.

Mark Johnston, 31, of Columbia arrived in early evening. "The food is good and the music is good," he said, listening to a drum group as he ate dinner with his wife and friend in the sunshine. "And the weather is perfect."

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