Sailboat race sets changes for 2006 event

Boats will be longer than in 2002 Volvo

in-port racing planned

A boost for local economy

Baltimore-Annapolis area to be only major stop for event in this country

Anne Arundel

October 08, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

When the Volvo Ocean Race sails into Baltimore and Annapolis in the spring of 2006, spectators familiar with the past two rounds of the sail-around-the-world race will notice a few major changes.

The boats will be 10 feet longer - 70 feet instead of 60 feet. And they will stay in port longer - 17 days instead of the 10 days they stayed in 2002.

At a briefing yesterday, local officials and sailing enthusiasts cheered the fact that, aside from a New York pit stop, Baltimore-Annapolis is the only stopover in the United States. Racing officials expect hundreds of thousands of spectators, especially since the race is adding in-port racing for 2006.

"Part of it is the showcase, marketing a great sport and two great cities. Another part of it is the cash," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The race, formerly called the Whitbread, is expected to bring in about $26 million in direct spending on food, lodging and shopping, and $50 million in indirect spending, according to state and race officials.

Last time, the Volvo event included eight boats competing on several legs of the race around the world.

This time, organizers hope to have 10 boats and plan to stop in South Africa, Australia, Brazil, the United States, England, Sweden and a Baltic port. The race will start in late 2005 and wrap up in 2006. The start and end ports will be announced in about two months.

Organizers are adding in-port races in most stopovers for 2006. In Maryland that could be from Fort McHenry in Baltimore to Thomas Point in Annapolis, if the wind cooperates.

A port race would allow sailors to show off their ability, while offering spectators another chance to view the racing.

"We want to make it as accessible as possible to the public," said Glenn Bourke, the race's chief executive. "The boats are exciting. They're not something that's been seen before."

Organizers also plan an educational component to the event focusing on oceans, the Chesapeake Bay and the importance of exploration.

The program - for students and families - will be developed with help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Consortium of Oceanographic Research and Education, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Baltimore and Annapolis worked together on the bid to secure the race, and beat out five other U.S. cities to land it, said Gregory Barnhill, president of Ocean Race Chesapeake, the team of local organizers working to bring the race back.

Some never had doubts that the race would come back to the city that calls itself the sailing capital of America.

"How could they not come?" asked Frieda Wildey, the maritime business liaison with Annapolis' Office of Economic Development. "We were the best stopover in the history of the last two races."

Added Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens: "The sailors told me they had the best time here last year. They loved it."

Annapolis likely will have to do some dredging in its harbor to accommodate the larger boats, something city officials have said they are working on with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Bourke said more than twice as many teams are entered on a preliminary basis this time than in the 2001-2002 race.

But he was a bit more circumspect about specifics, saying only that the five confirmed teams "come from a much more diverse group of countries than we've ever seen before."

Three teams already are known. A trio of Australian yachtsmen will compete under the name Premier Challenge. British husband-and-wife team Neal and Lisa McDonald, both skippers on different boats in the 2001-2002 race, also will enter - this time on the same boat.

A third team is the local Team Kan-Do. George Collins, who led the Chessie Racing yacht in the 1997-1998 Whitbread campaign, has joined forces with entrepreneur Patrick Bischoff, who lives in Ellicott City.

In 2002, the Volvo race ended in Kiel, Germany. Bischoff is hoping it ends there again in 2006.

"It's awesome, it's absolutely wonderful," the native German said. "I could be sailing twice to a home port, which would be fabulous."

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