Volvo race made big splash

Crowds, events, weather during boats' visit exceeded expectations, officials say

May 12, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

With the Volvo Ocean Race boats on their way to England, organizers and Annapolis leaders are saying that the crowds, the festivals and even the weather exceeded expectations during the three-week Chesapeake stopover.

"It's been dynamite," said Gregory H. Barnhill, chairman of Ocean Race Chesapeake, a nonprofit organization that coordinated local events. "People knew about it more this time, there was a lot more advance exposure, so it was bigger."

An estimated 40,000 people came to Annapolis on Saturday to see the boats and stop by the city's Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival, said Susan Steckman, director of communications for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

Six thousand people walked down the viewing docks to get a close-up look at the 70-foot Volvo Ocean yachts Saturday alone, Steckman said.

"I would call this a blockbuster event that many people came to," Steckman said.

After spending 17 days in Baltimore, the boats sailed to Annapolis, where they were docked for four days and served as the centerpiece of the four-day heritage festival. Tents for sailing vendors and sponsors were set up on City Dock, and the new National Sailing Hall of Fame was open for the first time.

"This is the one where all the weather gods were on our side. We had the chance to shine in more ways than one," said Jan Hardesty, a spokeswoman for Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

Estimates of how many people the stopover drew to Annapolis and Baltimore were not yet available. But Hardesty said it appeared that there were more people at the Annapolis festival this year than during previous years.

The city of Annapolis undertook elaborate preparations for the boats, including spending $600,000 to have silt removed from the harbor so the boats - which had 15-foot keels - could slip into City Dock.

City officials maintain that the dredging represents a long-term investment in the harbor and that it will enable the city to attract larger boats. A Maryland Sea Grant study published last year showed that people who owned boats that are 60 feet or longer spend $56,000 when they dock in a city.

Hardesty said she could not estimate how much money the city spent preparing in other ways for the boats: "It was a matter of focusing resources, [doing] things that you would do otherwise, but making sure you do them now."

The Volvo race, sailed every four years since 1973, has stopped in Maryland during the past three races. The route can change each time the race is sailed, and cities must compete to host a stopover. Barnhill said he would wait for an economic analysis before announcing whether his organization would put together another bid.

When the boats first came to this area in 1998, a local boat was in the race that was held on two sunny weekends. An independent group estimated that 500,000 people came out to see the boats that year and the economic impact on the region was $52 million.

The next time they came, in 2002, it rained on both weekends - including a downpour when the boats left the Chesapeake. Organizers that year estimated that 300,000 people came out to see the boats.

During this stopover, the clear skies returned and more events were held - including for the first time an in-port race where the boats raced against one another in close quarters.

"I joke that I'm Volvoed out," said County Executive Janet S. Owens. "Everybody just had a great time and tried to welcome those beautiful sailors."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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