Annapolis welcomes Volvo racers as kin

Self-proclaimed `Sailing Capital of America' turns out for boats' brief stop

April 27, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Thousands of spectators cheered the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as it arrived yesterday afternoon in a crowded Annapolis Harbor.

As each boat pulled up to the dock after the Parade of Sails from Baltimore, fans on land and in dozens of boats nearby waved flags, shouted and applauded. The 32,000-mile international race had finally made its way to the self-proclaimed "Sailing Capital of America."

"This is what Annapolis is all about," said 42-year-old Deborah Bell of West River as she and her 12-year-old son, Justin, waited along the water for the boats to arrive. "How often do you have a chance to be part of nautical history?"

For the quaint state capital - the smallest city on the race's worldwide trek - this is the second taste of the international attention offered by such an important race. But the journey to Annapolis this year was longer than the 28 nautical miles the boats traveled from the Inner Harbor to City Dock.

After tension and controversy in 1998, when the race came here as the Whitbread, and worries about the cost of moving equipment between the two Maryland ports, Annapolis was almost dropped this year.

In a compromise, the race returned to Annapolis - but the boats will stay just one full day, after having spent more than eight in Baltimore.

Tomorrow afternoon, the next leg of the race will start near the Bay Bridge.

"This is the heart and soul of the sailing community" in Maryland, said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. "We're a tiny town with a lot of spirit."

The move to bring the nine-month competition to the region began about a decade ago. Though a Baltimore group had made an unsuccessful pitch to bring the 1994 race to Maryland, it was Annapolitans, including then-Alderman Moyer, who first presented the idea to then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

A Baltimore booster, he promptly pulled his city into the plans to attract the race in 1998.

Over the next few months, the region wooed international organizers. Schaefer and Gary Jobson, ESPN sailing commentator and then-Annapolis resident, even met with them in Europe to sell a stop in Maryland.

Chessie tilted scale

Still, the key factor in getting the 1998 race was the entrance of Chessie, funded by Baltimore executive George Collins.

After that, some in Annapolis felt Baltimore was running the show.

"We never had that feeling that we were interconnected," recalled Annapolis Alderman Michael W. Fox, now vice president of the local race committee, Ocean Race Chesapeake.

"I think it is fair to say that the tension was unnecessarily severe," said Moyer, one of the lead Annapolis organizers in 1998.

Race vs. boat show

Then, complications started piling up in the state capital. Reluctant to lose a loyal event, the city scheduled its spring boat show for the same weekend, drawing the ire of some race officials.

And, less than six weeks before the racing boats were to arrive, some downtown residents tried to stop some of the festivities. At public meetings they fought what they described as a "beer bash" on City Dock and complained about planned entertainment; one resident said it might disturb his afternoon nap.

"It was an international embarrassment," Moyer recalled.

But the city worked through those complications, and the event, which organizers say brought $26.2 million to the region, was a success.

In a display of enthusiasm for the race, about 5,000 people turned out in the rain to party with the teams at Eastport Yacht Club. Later, 1998 race director Ian Bailey-Wilmont declared the Maryland stop "undoubtedly the best stopover the Whitbread Round the World Race has ever had."

Looking ahead

Almost immediately after the boats left in 1998, minds turned to this year's race. Fox said then-Mayor Dean L. Johnson asked him to explore recapturing the race, now sponsored by Volvo - but for Annapolis alone. It soon was clear that Annapolis could not handle the event financially by itself, Fox said.

Not so for Baltimore. Fox learned that race officials - eager to return to the Chesapeake - were thinking about skipping Annapolis, stopping only in the Inner Harbor.

In meetings with race officials, Fox was questioned about the local residents who had complained about the event in Annapolis in 1998.

"When we started meeting, people said, `We didn't think you wanted it,'" he recalled. "It is something we've come to expect here, but other areas don't realize this is a typical thing in Annapolis. They look at it like we're crazy."

Matter of logistics

But Jobson said it was logistics, not local complaints, that tempted race organizers to skip Annapolis. In 1998, it cost each syndicate tens of thousands of dollars to move supplies and equipment between the cities.

Jobson, who lived in Annapolis for 25 years before moving to Baltimore recently, went to race organizers and brokered a compromise. If they cut a day off the stop, the teams could prepare for the restart in Baltimore and just go to Annapolis for the weekend celebration.

Smoother planning

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