Crowds expected in Annapolis to see sleek Volvo ocean racers


April 30, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

Set your timer. Depending on when you read this, the Volvo Ocean Race yachts will slide into Annapolis in a little over 100 hours.

Sailors, sailing wannabes and anyone else who likes big, fast, expensive sailboats will trek into downtown Annapolis for a chance to rub shoulders with around-the-world racers and see yachts that have beaten speed records.

"When the boats are here, [Annapolis] is the center of the universe when it comes to sailing," said Jeff Holland, who was in charge of the Annapolis part of the stopover in 2002.

The Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau hasn't ventured a prediction on how many people will come into the city over the weekend, but spokeswoman Susan Steckman said she didn't think the city would be gridlocked.

"We're saying that for those who are interested in sailing, they will be there because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said.

The seven Volvo 70s are set to arrive at 4 p.m. Thursday in a parade of sail from Baltimore.

They'll be tied up at City Dock until 11 a.m. Sunday, when boats head out toward the Bay Bridge for the start of the next leg to New York City.

At 70 feet, the boats are 10 feet longer than those used four years ago. Even though these yachts sailed through the frigid, iceberg-dotted Southern Ocean, they look fragile.

"These are rocket ships compared to other boats," said Holland, director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

One of the boats, the Dutch yacht ABN Amro Two, clocked 40 knots riding down a wave, according to crew members. The others are cruising at speeds usually associated with motorboats.

The first of two chances to see the boats under sail will be Thursday. Spectators who don't own a boat - or haven't secured a spot on a friend's boat - can buy a ticket aboard a charter boat. (Nautical Destinations is one company with slots left for sightseers.)

The second opportunity is May 7, when the boats start racing again.

The arrival of the boats coincides with the city's annual Maritime History Festival. On tap this year is music aboard a skipjack, a treasure hunt in the city, a boat-building contest and a giant sailing party.

Festivalgoers will get the first glimpse of the new National Sailing Hall of Fame and Museum. The hall will be temporarily housed near City Dock and will eventually move into the Department of Natural Resources building.

Model boats, lists of famous sailors and video footage from famous moments in sailing will be shown there.

The Hall of Fame will remain there until after the October boat shows, said L.B. "Buck" Buchanan, president of the hall's board of directors.

Several organizers said the Volvo skippers' forum Saturday, with local ESPN sailing commentator Gary Jobson as host, will be a highlight.

Audience members can ask Volvo captains about the race and their strategy. "It is like getting to interview the guys at the Super Bowl," Holland said.

Another reason city dwellers might come is to see their tax dollars at work. A half-million-dollar project was recently completed so these boats - which draw 15 feet - could fit in Annapolis harbor.

What to do at the dock

Sailing activities coming to City Dock this week:

Thursday: Volvo 70s arrive at City Dock at 4 p.m.

Arrival ceremony hosted by local sailor and ESPN commentator Gary Jobson at 5 p.m.

Friday: Educational events and displays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sailing party at the Eastport Yacht Club from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Saturday: Skippers' forum at the Ericsson Stage near City Dock from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Boat-building contest from noon to 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 per team of two. Free to watch.

May 7: Blessing of the fleet at 10 a.m.

Fleet departs for start of next leg at 11 a.m. The starting line is just north of the Thomas Point Light House and the gun goes off at 1 p.m. (Boats will sail north toward the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, round a buoy, then sail down the bay.)

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