Whitbread race to drop anchor here


Professional football has the Super Bowl. International soccer has the World Cup. In most years, major-league baseball has the World Series.

The most grueling sailing competition in ocean racing is the Whitbread Round the World Race, an event that every four years draws the biggest and fastest boats and the best crews and skippers in the world.

In April 1998, it appears that the Whitbread racing fleet of maxiboats and Whitbread 60s will sail up Chesapeake Bay and finish a leg of the race in Maryland.

Sources here said yesterday that it is probable that the leg from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., could finish outside the Inner Harbor and that the start of the next leg might be held at the Bay Bridge, possibly in conjunction with the annual Bay Bridge Walk.

When the probable parameters of the April 1998 stopover and restart were detailed, a race spokesman said, "I can't say officially, of course, but your information sounds very close."

After leaving Maryland, the Whitbread fleet might be headed for France before dashing across the English Channel to finish in Southampton.

An official announcement on the course for the 1998 Whitbread will be made in London today. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to announce the Maryland Whitbread dates during a regularly scheduled meeting with the media this morning, and a separate news conference also has been scheduled this afternoon in Annapolis.

A spokesman in Whitbread race headquarters in England neither would confirm nor deny that a leg starting from Fort Lauderdale would be sailed to the Baltimore-Annapolis area. City and state officials in Maryland also declined to confirm or deny that the Whitbread is headed here.

However, sources close to the negotiations in London and Maryland said yesterday that the Baltimore-Annapolis area will be one of perhaps several additions to the Whitbread course.

In the last Whitbread, stopovers were scheduled at Punta del Este, Uruguay; Fremantle, Australia; Auckland, New Zealand; and Fort Lauderdale. The race starts and finishes at Southampton, England.

Bruce Farr of Farr and Associates, the Annapolis firm that designed the majority of boats that finished the last Whitbread in June, said yesterday that he does not know the course or stopovers for the next race.

"But reading between my own lines," Mr. Farr said, "I think the reason to call such a meeting is to say that they are coming here."

Mr. Farr will attend the news conference in Annapolis today to answer technical questions about the Whitbread boats and difficulties they might expect to encounter.

Mr. Farr said a racing leg that includes the Chesapeake Bay poses no significant problems for either the 70-foot-plus maxiboats or the Whitbread 60s.

"They are deep boats, 12 feet deep, and that poses potential hazards, but there are plenty of deep parts of the bay, enough to get up it at least," Mr. Farr said. "And there are plenty of other places where there are tidal conditions and unreliable breezes to be overcome during the race."

Mr. Farr mentioned the Solent in England, where the race starts and finishes, as a particularly windless place at times. The approach to Auckland, he said, is 150 miles of sailing among small islands and rocky shoals.

"So I don't see the Chesapeake Bay as a problem, really," Mr. Farr said. "A challenge perhaps, but not a problem."

Sources said that berthing arrangements for the Whitbread fleet still would have to be worked out, along with a location for shoreside activities during the stopover.

Mr. Farr, who has been deeply involved in the Whitbread races, said that bringing the 1998 race to Maryland would be a sizable accomplishment.

"If they are coming here, then they are bringing major business interests here with them," Mr. Farr said. "The corporations that back these boats are the primary players in international markets. Economically, it would be a very good thing.

"The Whitbread is not just a sailing race."

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