Organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race have decided that when it comes to civic and corporate hospitality, there are no better ports on the East Coast than Baltimore and Annapolis.
The fleet competing in the global campaign will make its only U.S. layover when it finishes one leg near Fort McHenry about April 6, 2006, and restarts the race in Annapolis under the Bay Bridge 23 days later.
Many of the details of the race, including stops and boat specifications, were announced today in Auckland, New Zealand, site of the America's Cup.
"We're happy to be coming back to Baltimore and Annapolis because they've done a fantastic job in the past," said Glenn Bourke, chief executive of the Volvo Ocean Race, in a telephone interview. "The feel of the place is just great."
The bid by Baltimore and Annapolis beat a number of other proposals. It is believed that Miami, Charleston, S.C., New York and Newport, R.I., sought port-of-call status. Ocean Race Chesapeake, the team of local organizers, was thrilled at the announcement.
"It could have gone anywhere up and down the East Coast. It's fantastic that we've won this," said Gregory Barnhill, president of the group. "It's really great that this global competition will be here. We're going to get a lot of exposure from the Volvo."
The regatta will have one other brief encounter with the East Coast after it leaves the Chesapeake Bay. Boats will race north for a "pit stop" of several hours in New York before heading across the Atlantic to Southampton, England.
The race, which has used Baltimore and Annapolis as a port during the previous two campaigns, infuses the local economy with more than $52 million and adds luster to the Chesapeake Bay region's reputation as a premier sailing venue.
"It's terrific news," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday of the race's return. "It's a great image builder for Baltimore, and it's a great event. We're showing that we're a major-league city that can put on major-league events."
"Obviously it is a great honor for [Annapolis] to be chosen again as a site of the Volvo race," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. "We have had the opportunity to showcase this region for an international audience, and that has bought us international acclaim.
"This is a great community as far as spirit is concerned," Moyer said. "There is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of celebration and a lot of pride that goes into having this international race come to our city."
Moyer said having the race for a third time "absolutely" validates the city's claim to be "America's Sailing Capital."
"It's what we've been saying all along: We are the sailing capital," she said. "We're it. And we're it for a special reason -- because we have a passion for the sport." She noted that the city has about 225 small maritime businesses and that sailors have been drawn here from all over the world.
Annapolis Alderman Michael W. Fox, who also serves as vice president of Ocean Race Chesapeake, said he thinks it is perfectly fitting that Annapolis-Baltimore be the only U.S. port of call.
"Over the last two races we have shown that we are a premier port," he said.
"I think the combination has been a win-win for everyone for the last couple of races," he said of the two-city stop. He noted that the region can draw sailing enthusiasts from up and down the East Coast as well as from the Great Lakes region.
While Baltimore has the harbor, baseball games, large hotels and other assets, he said, "Annapolis offers true sailing flavor, feel. It's truly a great sailing and boating port."
The race will start in the Mediterranean in early November 2005 and move on to Cape Town, South Africa. From there, the boats will sweep south and east to Australia or New Zealand, through the southern Indian and Pacific oceans and around Cape Horn to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The 250-nautical mile race from the Bay Bridge to New York will follow the "Blue Ribbon Run" used by trade ships of the 1800s and will be "a great little sprint," said Bourke.
From there, the regatta will sail to Europe for stops in England and Gothenburg, Sweden -- home of the Volvo corporation -- before ending at a Baltic Sea port, most likely Kiel, Germany, the finish line last year.
While the name of the race remains the same, the dynamics will be different from those of the 2001-2002 campaign, which saw German entry illbruck Challenge assume an early lead and never look back.
"We interviewed sailors, sponsors and designers when the race came to an end, and a few things jumped out," said Bourke, who led the $20 million illbruck campaign. "The race needed to continue some traditions, but we needed to make it cheaper and more commercially viable."
To trim the length of the race from nine months to eight months, race officials have reduced the number of legs from nine to seven and moved the starting point from Southampton to the Mediterranean.