America's Sailing Capital

Port of call: Although there are other contenders, Annapolis fills the bill for nautical superiority.

October 10, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

"America's Sailing Capital," that would be Annapolis, right?

Annapolis, as in the home of the Naval Academy, as in the only North American stopover on the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race, as in the home of author and broadcaster Gary Jobson, yacht designer Bruce Farr and more regattas than you can shake a spinnaker at.

It says so right on the hand-carved, gold-leaf sign right at the Spa Creek bridge. No less than a city council proclamation in 1995 backs up the claim with legislative might.

"If anybody can deny us this title, let them come forward or forever hold their peace," declared then-Mayor Al Hopkins after the vote.

This weekend and next, the city embraces the 35th annual U.S. Sailboat Show and 33rd annual U.S. Powerboat Show with all the strength one might expect from the national nautical giant.

"We look forward every single, solitary year to the boat show being here," says Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, who as a city alderman drafted the 1995 resolution. "If you look back several decades, you wonder whether we would still be the maritime center we are today without this show."

There you have it. Annapolis, "America's Sailing Capital."

But wait, could there be something better? Is the state capital selling itself short?

Look to the north. Newport, R.I., bills itself as the "Sailing Capital of the World."

The legitimacy to the claim comes from no less an authority - his bias notwithstanding - than Donald Carcieri, the governor of the Ocean State.

In a speech in April, the state's First Sailor declared: "As home of the America's Cup for a half-century, Newport has long been recognized as the sailing capital of the world."

That would come as a shock to the British Virgin Islands, which has christened itself the "Sailing Capital of the World" in tourism brochures. Or Auckland, New Zealand, which is known in some circles as the "City of Sails, and as the "yachting capital of the world," from BBC broadcast journalists.

The sweeping pronouncement might also ruffle feathers in Marblehead, Mass.; San Diego; and several other coastal communities.

Maryland sailors would be quick to point out that Newport hasn't played host to an America's Cup since 1983, when Dennis Conner aboard Liberty lost to John Bertrand and Australia II. San Diego was an America's Cup city once, too, but that was so 20th century.

And, local sailors might note, in the same month that Gov. Carcieri's bosom was swelling with civic pride, Annapolis was quietly setting a record for the largest number of entries - 292 - at a National Offshore One Design regatta.

But why stop at wind-powered boats? State officials like to boast that Anne Arundel County, which includes Annapolis, has the highest per capita registration of all types of boats in the country. If the state's 15,018 registered sailboats make Annapolis the capital of sailing, what do 194,622 registered powerboats make it?

That visionary mayor, Al Hopkins, said after the famous 1995 proclamation vote: "I'm getting so bold as to claim that we are the boating capital of the world - sailboats, motorboats, rowboats and canoes."

If money talks, Annapolis is a nautical chatterbox. City officials estimate the two boat shows attract 100,000 visitors, with an economic impact exceeding $25 million. That's music to the ears of the city's $155 million-a-year maritime industry, which does everything from designing and building boats to repairing and housing them.

A study prepared by the University of Maryland and updated annually shows that for every eight boats registered, one job is created, and the spending tied to each boat adds almost $7,200 a year to the economy. Last year, the maritime industry was responsible for $1.4 million of the gross state product.

But it's not all stuffy board rooms, either.

"We know how to throw a party," says Dick Franyo, owner of the Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport, which serves as unofficial headquarters for many regattas.

Sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race consistently rate their Chesapeake Bay layover as the best - better than Australia, better than New Zealand, better than Miami. And locals are still talking about the bill for one Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championships party last year, which topped $150,000, without tip.

But enough about the cash and the party animals. What about the title?

John Rousmaniere, who among his 20 books wrote the Annapolis Book Of Seamanship and A Picture History of the America's Cup, might be viewed as an impartial judge. But the noted maritime author, who lives in Connecticut, counts off the reasons why Annapolis has fair claim to the title.

"In sheer number of boats, the beauty of the place, accessibility and the enthusiasm, intensity and quality of the sailors, Annapolis is wonderful," he says. "I think you frame the question, `If you have one place in your life to go sailing all the time, where would it be?'

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