- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — “They are so beautiful, and so powerful,” says Gary Jobson of the boats sailing around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Annapolis sailor, TV commentator and author, named Admiral of the Chesapeake in 2005 by Maryland’s governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., will serve as master of ceremonies this afternoon as Annapolis welcomes the fleet of seven Volvo ocean racers into port to anchor this weekend’s Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival.

“You need to see the boats up close,” he says. “At this level, the challenge of sailing these things becomes an art.”

These miracles of sail left Vigo, Spain, in November. They sailed to Cape Town, South Africa; Melbourne, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — a distance of 20,650 nautical miles — and then set out on a 5,000-nautical-mile fifth leg to Baltimore, where they blew into port, surrounded by celebratory small craft, on April 17.

Their stay in Annapolis is comparatively short: They leave on Leg 6 for a New York pit stop Sunday morning and from there head for Portsmouth, England, and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. They’ll finish in June in Goteborg, Sweden, after 31,250 nautical miles of sea and spray.

That’s a bit less than 36,000 of the kind of miles landlubbers log in their SUVs — and it’s formidable.

“If I had one message for families coming down to see all this,” Mr. Jobson says, “it would be to let your imagination go when you’re around these boats.”

Down to the sea again

The history brims with the exhilaration and terror of a bout with the sea.

What is now the Volvo Ocean Race traces its beginnings to the Golden Globe, the first nonstop solo race around the world by sail. With prize money put up by the Sunday Times of London in 1968-1969, nine sailors entered. Only one finished. The others succumbed to equipment failures, depression or despair. One abandoned a sinking ship. One sank into madness and jumped overboard.

Inspired by the idea of the Golden Globe but focused on crewed boats, in 1973 the British brewery Whitbread teamed with the Royal Navy Sailing Association to organize the Volvo’s immediate predecessor — the Whitbread ‘Round the World Race, a regatta for crewed sailboats covering about 31,000 miles in stages. Of the 17 entries in the first race, 14 made it to the finish line nine months later. Three men were lost at sea.

The Swedish car and truck maker Volvo, now a division of the Ford Motor Co., took over corporate sponsorship of the quadrennial Whitbread race in 2001 and named it after itself.

The Whitbread, and now the Volvo, race is far from the only ‘round-the-world ordeal that grew from the Golden Globe. Two solo yacht races — the staged BOC Challenge (now the Velux 5 Oceans Race), first run in 1982, and the non-stop Vendee Globe, begun in 1989 — are run once every four years, as is the Global Challenge for crewed steel yachts, called “the world’s toughest race” because its boats sail against prevailing winds and currents.

The last time the Volvo racers came to Annapolis, four years ago, as many as 500,000 visitors hit the city’s docks to ogle the splendid sailing ships. Since then, the $25-million-and-higher boats have gotten bigger and faster — they’re 70 feet long, with 100-foot masts, and can make up to 46 miles an hour on sail power alone in high wind.

A support team of some 500 technicians and craftsmen follows the fleet, moving from port to port by air and ship to patch up and help keep the expensive sailing yachts afloat and racing. Lonely family members fly in, too, to catch up with their loved ones.

A big business

Not surprisingly, deep pockets count in this enterprise.

The Disney Co. bankrolls the American entry, Pirates of the Caribbean, captained by America’s Cup racer Paul Cayard. There is even talk that the stars of the Disney movie of the same name — Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley — might appear in Annapolis to pump up the free publicity machine for the movie’s sequel, expected to be released later this year.

Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson has a crew, the Ericsson Racing Team. A mobile telephone company from Spain sponsors movistar. A Brazilian telecommunications group has Brasil 1, and a Dutch mortgage lender named ABN AMRO has two boats, ABN AMRO 1 and ABN AMRO 2.

Brunel International, another Dutch corporation in real estate and finance, saw its boat Brunel break down earlier in the race. It was plunked into a freighter and shipped to Baltimore for reassembly in time for the Baltimore Waterfront Festival and today’s sail-in to Annapolis.

Razzle-dazzle

The high-tech show doesn’t stop with boat speed or the flashy colors and designs of sail and ship. Each boat sports a white pod at its rear looking something like an R2D2 droid from a “Star Wars” movie. Inside is a satellite communications system, and wiring to on-board cameras, microphones, and live-cams — all of it sent via satellite to a state-of-the-art World Wide Web system allowing landlubbers a virtual joy ride on each ship over the entire race.

Organizers say the images generated by the hookups will be used to create at least nine documentary films of the race, and no doubt many corporate and promotional tie-ins.

The on-land organizing side of the race is just as ambitious, and not just in Annapolis.

Throughout the eight-month race, major ports along the way stage a kind of sea-going carnival of gleaming ships luring visitors to elaborate dockside festivals. Extravagant shindigs are the norm in each port: Baltimore’s Waterfront Festival last weekend was simply the centerpiece of a 17-day maritime gala.

At the top level of the corporate food chain are the private parties that allow captains and crews to mingle with the very rich and with the big-time customers of the sponsors.

At each port, corporate pavilions show off their wares — lots of exhibit space for Volvo to display its trucks and cars, for Ericsson to show off its computing gizmos, and the other telecommunications firms their razzle-dazzle capacities, and the Disney crowd to work up some froth for the its many entertainments.

Less exclusive hobnobbing is focused on the sailing elites at each port of call. Rounding out the jamboree are street music by local artists, themed games, food courts, nautical demonstrations and maritime displays for ordinary folk interested in celebrating what must be a lasting global fascination with the world of sailing.

After the boats leave Annapolis on Sunday, the next leg of the race takes the fleet to the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park in New York for more partying and corporate messaging. Then it’s across the Atlantic to more port festivals and the finishing extravaganza in the old harbor at Goteborg — perhaps on the scheduled date of June 6 if the winds stay fair.

Sailors’ heritage

“We’ve been pretty busy for a long time getting ready,” says Jeff Holland, director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum. The racers’ visit is a good fit for Annapolis, he says, joking, “We’ve had our feet in the water for a long time.”

Maryland’s capital was founded on the water’s edge as a port, he says, a place for early trade with Europe for finished goods, with Africa for slaves, and later as a commercial center.

The U.S. Naval Academy is an important part of its nautical past, he adds, and a centerpiece that helps make the city a modern-day yachting center for both humble weekenders with boats and the monied folk with grander vessels.

For the Maritime Museum, which is just across the harbor from the City Dock, the four-day festival offers an opportunity to showcase its collection and help with fundraising. That’s important because Hurricane Isabel two years ago caused extensive damage to the facility, Mr. Holland says.

Today, though, visitors can walk or take shuttle buses over to visit a Chesapeake Bay skipjack on display, check out old racing boats and clamming gear, and oyster dredgers from days of yore. There are old photos, books, oral histories and more on the watermen of the Chesapeake.

There’s even a pirate angle, says Mr. Holland, laughing, recalling the legend that Bluebeard was said to have buried treasure off the Magothy River just north of today’s Bay Bridge.

A star to steer her by

Perhaps the most significant enduring aspect associated with the festival is the unveiling at the City Dock of a temporary tent offering a sneak preview of what will one day become the U.S. Sailing Hall of Fame, Mr. Holland says.

Just a stroll from the Kunte Kinte monument at the waterside, organizers have set up exhibits of Olympic champions, gear from past America’s Cup and other great races, video displays and other offerings that one day will be permanently housed in a museum planned to replace the frumpy Department of Natural Resources Police building on the north side of the dock.

Launched with some fanfare last December, the push for a hall of fame center here is backed by such luminaries as former CBS anchorman and yachting enthusiast Walter Cronkite.

Organizers hope that when completed, the museum, which will back up to the Naval Academy, will be the equivalent of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., or the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — and will be key to making Annapolis the center of U.S. sailing.

Call of the running tide

All of that is fine with Mr. Jobson, who lives year-round in Annapolis with his wife and three college-age daughters, who themselves sail as amateurs and crew on big boats.

Mr. Jobson — who was tactician on Ted Turner’s 1977 America’s Cup winner Courageous, and was on Mr. Turner’s boat Tenacious when it won the infamous storm-tossed Fastnet Race of 1979, which saw 19 sailors lose their lives in the Irish Sea — recalls that he saw his first America’s Cup race when he was 12 years old.

“It just blew me away,” he says, “the beautiful boats, the speed, the grace of it all.”

Smitten utterly, soon thereafter he took a 13-foot sailboat out into the Atlantic off the New Jersey shore by himself, and went out some 40 miles on a windy day. He was gone for eight hours.

“It was just me and the boat, and the sea, the wind and colors, and smells, the motion,” he says.

“I was in a trance when I got back,” he recalls. “Somehow it got through me, not in words, but emotionally, that sailing is a kind of art, and anybody who dares to climb into a boat to give it a try somehow becomes a … maybe a kind of artist, too.”

The festival will be a success if it brings that kind of wonder to today’s visitors, he says, “especially kids.”

“Just stand by the boats,” he says, “and imagine what it is to just sail away.”

Festival events

Daily

• Free admission rain or shine at the City Dock and Campbell Park for visitors to get a close-up look at the racers.

• Dozens of exhibits celebrating life and culture on the waterfront, including live daily concerts featuring the U.S. Naval Academy Band, local singers, musicians, and more, daily throughout the festival.

Today

• Noon: The seven Volvo racers leave Baltimore to proceed down the Chesapeake, passing beneath the Bay bridges, to enter Annapolis harbor and City Dock at about 4:30 p.m.

• 5 p.m. Welcome to the captains and crews at City Dock ceremony, kicking off the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival.

Tomorrow

• 10 a.m. Volvo Ports Optimist Regatta warm-up. Annapolis Yacht Club, 2 Compromise St. See annapolis yc.org.

• 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Education Day, with grade school and middle school students invited to learn about the work of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. Free. See cbf.org.

• 5-11 p.m. “Annapolis Salutes the Volvo Ocean Race.” Eastport Yacht Club, 317 First St., and Severn Sailing Association, 311 First St. Music, entertainment, refreshments. $25 admission in advance; $35 on-site. Tickets may be purchased at www.eastportyc.org; call 410/263-0415.

Saturday

• 9 a.m. Gary Jobson Cup Interscholastic Regatta. Annapolis Yacht Club.

• 9:30 a.m. Ports Optimist Regatta. Annapolis Yacht Club.

• 10-11 a.m. “Meet the Skippers.” Ericsson Pavilion, City Dock. Gary Jobson welcomes captains of the Volvo racers for discussion of tactics and logistics of the race.

• 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Great Treasure Hunt. Annapolis Bookstore, 41 Randall St. Teams of two follow clues leading to significant Annapolis sites for prizes valued at $5,000. Team registration $88. 410/280-1821 or annapolis_bookstore @hotmail.com.

• Noon-7 p.m. Sikaflex Challenge. City Dock. Two-person teams compete in first-ever competition to build a sailboat by hand using routine carpenter’s tools and materials. $50 per team entry fee. See asne-tw.org /asne/Qn Dirty.shtml for technical details. Contact 410/268-2114 or brendan@ mdmhf.org to enter.

• 1 p.m. Dragon boat race. City Dock.

• 7:30-10:30 p.m. Best Dressed Pirate contest. Annapolis Bookstore.

Sunday

• 8 a.m. The 10K Governor’s Bay Bridge Run. See www.annapolisst riders.org.

• 9 a.m. The 2006 Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk. This popular 4.5-mile walk across the bridge from east to west is closely controlled in terms of parking and accessibility to the start point. Call 877/229-7726 or see baybridge .com.

• 10 a.m. Blessing of the Volvo Ocean Race Fleet. City Dock. The blessing will be followed by the start of the race’s Leg 6. The boats will sail from the Severn River up to the Bay bridges, then southward again past Annapolis to the Atlantic. Bridge walkers will have a bird’s-eye view of the boats.

• Noon: Pirate Dog costume contest and parade. City Dock. 410/268-7601 ext. 104 or www.watermarkspecialevents.com.

• Noon-5 p.m. First Sunday Arts Festival. Water Street from Church Circle to Cathedral Street. Craft vendors, artists, crafts demonstrations, live music.

Following the race, festival on the Web

Landlubbers interested in keeping up with the lat- est news about the Volvo Ocean Race and the Annapolis festival can tap into four Web sites devoted to them, including a new offering from the National Geographic Society at nationalgeographic.com/volvooceanrace.

The city of Annapolis and surrounding Anne Arundel County are co-sponsoring the festival, and operate an up-to-the-minute site loaded with how-to information on the myriad entertainments offered over the four-day event at oceanracechesapeake.org.

The Volvo race’s own site includes Web streaming and archival videos taken at sea, including the sight of 50-foot waves pounding the boats, and microphones capturing the roar and tumult, at volvooceanrace.org.

Organizers of this weekend’s Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival have a separate site at mdmhf.org.

Free shuttle runs during the festival

Because of the crush of visitors to Annapolis over the weekend, organizers have set up free shuttle service into downtown from the parking lot at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. To get to the stadium, take U.S. Route 50 (John Hanson Highway) to Rowe Boulevard, Exit 24, and follow it toward Annapolis. Signs lead the way to the stadium complex, on the right.

Additional parking is available at the Noah Hillman garage, 150 Gorman St., just off Main Street; Gotts Court Garage, 25 Northwest St., near the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau’s 26 West St. offices; Whitemore Garage, 37 Clay St., across from Gotts Court; and Knighton Garage, corner of Colonial and West streets.

Metered parking is available at City Dock/Susan B. Campbell Park.

For more information, see visit annapolis.org.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide