Set your sights on the sails

Volvo Ocean Race's stop in Maryland gives fans a chance to see its yachts

April 13, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

Before the boats head to the Inner Harbor docks for the Waterfront Festival, before they let the public tour their cabins, they must complete the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Six 70-foot yachts set out from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this month for this part of the 32,700-mile trip. They will arrive this week and stay for open tours before, during and after the festival, which runs April 27-30. Then, they sail to Annapolis for the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival and resume the race May 7. The race ends in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June.

Though watching the ships finish this portion of the race might be less glamorous than seeing them at the Waterfront Festival, boat lovers will still come. They'll charter vessels, gather in a park and beg their Gibson Island friends for a spot to watch the racers come in.

But no one's exactly sure when it will be.

"The reason it's difficult is because the winds in the Chesapeake Bay are very fluky and very challenging for even the best sailors," said spokeswoman Mary Sue McCarthy. "It's hard to predict how long it will take each boat to get to the finish line."

There's a four-day window, from Sunday through Wednesday, which narrows as the boats close in, McCarthy said. The best way to keep abreast is by checking the race Web site, volvooceanrace.org.

The most accessible onshore view is from Downs Park, which is about halfway between the entrance to the Patapsco and Magothy rivers. Park hours are 9 a.m. to dusk, so if the boats arrive after dark, you'll have to find another place to watch. The leg's finish line is at the Patapsco River near the Baltimore Lighthouse.

Diehard finish-line viewers will rent boats to get closer to the action. How many do that depends on when the boats arrive. Eight years ago, the sailors arrived in daylight, and hundreds were there to watch, McCarthy said. Four years ago, it was nighttime, and there were far fewer spectators, she said.

After they finish this leg, the racers will head for the Inner Harbor to reunite with family in a champagne celebration.

"This race is very challenging, so people are glad to see their loved ones," McCarthy said. "More than glad - there's sometimes tears."

It doesn't take long for the sailboats to get from the finish line to the Inner Harbor. To catch them, plan on being there shortly after this leg of the race ends.

The day after the boats arrive, they head to Port Covington for maintenance. The public is invited to get an up-close look at the vessels, which will be there until the festival starts.

Downs Park is at 8311 John Downs Loop in Pasadena. Park hours are 9 a.m.-dusk. Admission is $5 per vehicle. For more information, call 410-222-6230. Port Covington's Marine Center is at 321 Cromwell St. For race updates, visit volvooceanrace.org. See the April 27 issue of LIVE for more details about the Waterfront Festival.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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