When the World
Comes to Annapolis
Excitement is mounting
around town as Annapolis gears up for the Chesapeake stopover of the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race.
And little wonder. Four years ago the race, then known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, came to Maryland for the first time. "Our stopover proved to be the best ever in the 25-year history of the race," says Frieda Wildey, special projects coordinator for Ocean Race Chesapeake, the entity responsible for the stopover in Annapolis and Baltimore. "We had more than 400,000 people go through the race villages in about 11 days. They never had a stopover with as much public interest and attention."
After the last race, Volvo Corporation did an economic impact study on the race and subsequently purchased the race from its British owner, the Whitbread Group. "According to the study," Wildey explains, "the 1998 Chesapeake Bay stopover of the Whitbread Round the World Race generated $26.2 million of direct spending with an economic impact of $52.4 million."
The Chesapeake stopover consists of "villages" in three locations, each one a little different from the others. The Baltimore village will be open April 17-25, coinciding with the Baltimore Waterfront Festival, including activities for all members of the family. State agencies and local groups will have exhibits and displays. The race will actually finish a leg at the village in Baltimore. "The race village is like a shoreside camp for the teams," Wildey says. "They ship in big containers full of gear and equipment, extra sails, machine shops. They need everything on land to fix the boats because they do break." Each team has at least two containers which they "hopscotch" around the world and a shore crew of about 30-40 people who do nothing but work on the boats and the sails. When the team comes in, the shore crew takes over.
The village at City Dock in Annapolis will be open April 26-28. "We'll bring in special docks for the race boats," says Wildey. By the time the boats come to Annapolis, most of the repair work has been done. "The village is multi-purpose," she says. "In addition to the activities and displays for the general public, it provides opportunities for corporate hospitality. The teams are very much sponsor-driven and the sponsors use the stopovers as venues to entertain their clients. A lot of the sponsors-huge, multinational corporations-have employee incentive programs offering a free trip to the stopover. The boats are going in and out all the time, taking guests sailing."
Another aspect of the race is an educational component aimed at increasing environmental awareness around the world, with particular emphasis on the plight of our oceans. "Volvo has always had a very strong interest in safety and education and the environment," says Wildey, "so [the race] just seemed like a natural fit for them."
A third race village at Sandy Point State Park will not actually have the boats on site, but will be festival-like, featuring tents with food, music and race-related activities. The Sandy Point village will be open April 27 and 28 and will provide an excellent vantage point for viewing the re-start of the race on Sunday, April 28, when the eight boats begin the seventh leg of the race to La Rochelle, France. "The starting line is one mile north of the Bay Bridge," Wildey explains, "which is right in front of Sandy Point. It's a perfect spot." That Sunday, not coincidentally, is also the day of the annual Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk.
The race began in Southampton, England, on Sept. 22, 2001. In the succeeding eight months, the teams will cover more than 32,000 miles from England to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Miami, Baltimore/Annapolis, France, Sweden and Germany. Wildey explains that many different countries are represented in the composition of the eight teams and a team is not necessarily associated with a government agency, a corporation or any other entity. "It's just a group of guys or women," she says, "and it all begins with a dream. What usually happens is a group of professional sailors get together with some of their mates and say, 'Let's do a project together.' They go find a sponsor, build a boat, design some sails and do the race!"
Half or more of the sponsors have corporate interests in all of the countries where there are stopovers, so it's a smart business move for them. When multiple countries are represented onboard a boat, the flag of the sponsor's country is flown.
Wildey was in Southampton for the start of the race. "The neatest thing was when Assa Abloy, the team from Sweden, left the dock. They had the crew standing on the spreaders with the country flags and it was just beautiful. There were like eight different flags onboard-it was wonderful! So, it really is a global event."
Event planning on the local level, albeit large, is "more fun than anything else," according to Tina White, volunteer coordinator for Ocean Race Chesapeake. "It's not difficult to get volunteers," she says. "People search you out. The hardest part is identifying where people will be needed and then plugging them in. Then you have to keep them happy. In April, it can get nasty out, so you find somebody to have coffee and donuts at the volunteer tent. Then you go around and check with them so they know somebody cares."
White is responsible for volunteer staffing at all three of the race villages. This enormous task began months ago with a list of about 1,200 people who helped with the last race and is changing and growing day by day. White encourages all interested persons to visit www.vorchesapeake.org and click on "volunteer" to learn where help is needed and to fill out the online volunteer registration form. Opportunities abound in the areas of office help, sponsor liaison, event help, media liaison, set up, break down and ticketing. Volunteer boats are needed as well. White explains, "At Sandy Point on the day the race starts, there will be a blessing of the fleet and then the boats leave here. There are going to be skipjacks-you need people to help parade the boats out and to make sure other boats don't run into them."
This year, regrettably, there will be no entry from the Chesapeake Bay region. Wildey explains that, "we could not find corporate backing" and adds, "I think it's a crime. I find it incomprehensible that we don't have a team in the race."
White, meanwhile, is sporting a backpack of bright magenta-the official team color of Djuice Dragons, the team from Norway. Last winter, the team had been training in Florida and came to Annapolis for a pre-race visit. The Severn Sailing Association had a party for them and unofficially adopted the team. Likewise, Eastport Yacht Club has embraced the German team, Illbrook.
"The people of Annapolis are opening their arms to the race and to the crews," says Wildey. "We are sharing our love of Annapolis with the world and the world is coming here."
For general information, up-to-the-minute standings and statistics and edge-of-your-seat reports from the racing teams, visit www.volvooceanrace.com.