MPT airs ocean race footage weekly

ON THE WATER

April 02, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

Ron Katz is an Annapolis sailor desperately seeking news about the Volvo Ocean Race series.

"It is like being out in the desert," he said.

But lately, Katz, 38, and a group of his friends have found an oasis. They've been tuning in to Maryland Public Television's Saturday night broadcasts of race highlights. The race will arrive in Annapolis and Baltimore this month.

The mainstream television media in the U.S. have thus far taken a pass on covering the round-the-world ocean race, and Katz has found that MPT is the only local station where he can regularly watch footage of sailors tacking, trimming their sails and hanging on as water breaks over the hulls of the 70-foot racing boats.

"You are seeing these boats go at breakneck speeds on the edge of control," Katz said. "The boat is almost all the way awash with water, people are holding on for dear life. They are doing this for hours and hours at a time."

The weekly show is 30 minutes and follows a narrative of the race, which started in Vigo, Spain, in November. "I found out about [the programming] from another friend," Katz said. "It has spread through word of mouth."

The fleet of six Volvo boats has stopped on three continents and is set to start the fifth leg - from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Baltimore - today. The boats are expected to arrive in the Inner Harbor about April 15.

The MPT segments are put together from footage shot by cameras mounted on the boats, edited by a production company affiliated with the race and sent to MPT, where Annapolis sailing star (and ESPN sailing commentator) Gary Jobson tapes an introduction for each show.

The footage is dramatic. Shot from cameras mounted on the boats' masts, cabins and sterns - the videos show vessels pitching back and forth as they slice through waves. The boats look like dinghies being tossed around in a squall.

Stephen Schupak, the vice president of programming for the public television station, says word of the broadcasts is spreading. He declined to give viewership numbers for the program, but said that more people are tuning in each week and that viewership has tripled since they began broadcasting the series Feb. 11.

Maryland Public Television has exclusive public television rights in the Washington and Baltimore area, and MPT distributes the series to public television outlets around the country.

For those used to seeing live sports coverage, the broadcasts aren't timely - viewers look at footage that is about a week old.

But sailors don't seem to mind the delay. "It is more current than any footage you can usually get," said James Baker, a 33-year-old Annapolis sailor who regularly watches the shows and is trying to organize a regular viewing of them at Annapolis Yacht Club.

"The footage is fabulous," he said. "You get a front-row seat."

Sailors around the country have e-mailed the station asking whether the segments will be rebroadcast. The answer, for now at least, is no, Schupak said.

MPT airs the half- hour programs at 6 p.m. Saturdays. Information: www.mpt.org/programsinterests/ volvo.cfm

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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