The Whitbread Round the World Race, which will come to Maryland in the spring of 1998, has captivated millions of people elsewhere in the world, but for 20 years has sailed past the American public largely unnoticed.
Yesterday afternoon, after state and local officials announced that Baltimore and Annapolis will be ports of call for the 1998 Whitbread, a prominent naval architect was asked to describe the allure of the race.
"The Whitbread race is really two races," said Bruce Farr, whose Farr and Associates group in Annapolis designed two-thirds of the boats in the 1994 Whitbread.
"First we have what is an incredible adventure that some call the Everest of sailing -- 32,000 miles, 120 days of sailing to get around the course," Farr said. "Ten or 12 people on a 60-foot boat have to go out into the worst oceans of the world and make their way through them as fast as they can.
"We are talking about 60-mph winds and 20-foot high seas, and (( these guys are still out there racing their boats."
The second Whitbread race Farr referred to has developed in the past few years. With the creation of the Whitbread 60 class for the 1994 race, following the addition of a Fort Lauderdale stopover in 1990, the competition got tighter and the international yachting public began to take closer notice. The new breed of sailors was more easily recognized than a handful of madmen on the water.
"The Whitbread has really also become something more of a grand prix racing event which attracts some of the best sailors in the world," Farr said. "Names like Dennis Conner and Chris Dickson, who also are known in other parts of yacht racing such as the America's Cup and Admirals' Cup.
"The race has evolved today into a race in a single class of nearly identical boats where they race around the world in sight of each other almost continuously, side by side at speeds up to 30 mph. And the object is simply to beat the other guy to port.
"So what we have now is one of the greatest adventures left on earth coupled with one of the greatest yacht races that ever has been seen."
Close racing made for good film footage and photographs. Good film made for better media coverage. And better media coverage increased interest in the race among corporate sponsors and cities eager to be recognized by tradesmen, tourists and sports fans around the world.
Mark Wasserman, secretary of Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development, said yesterday at a news conference in Annapolis that being a port of call in the 1998 Whitbread race will benefit Annapolis, Baltimore and the entire state of Maryland.
"This is a real breakthrough for the promotion of Maryland," Wasserman said. "I am not a sailor, but I think that people in Maryland who are not sailors are going to come to recognize the value of the name Whitbread and this Round the World Race because we are going to bring the focus of the world media on the state of Maryland, Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis and Baltimore in a few short years."
Wasserman said the 1994 Whitbread drew a worldwide television audience in excess of 2.6 billion viewers and was ranked seventh in the year's top 10 international television sports events.
"This is a way for Maryland to send its message [to the world]," Wasserman said. "We are going to have a chance to visually communicate an extremely positive impression of Maryland to a very large tourism market."
Wasserman said that international tourism is playing an increasingly important part in the Maryland economy and one of the state's strongest markets is England, headquarters for the Whitbread.
"I know that everybody recognizes this as a great sports town [with] a great nautical tradition," Mayor Schmoke said yesterday. "But the Whitbread is to yachting what the World Cup is to soccer.
"It is a unique opportunity for Baltimore and the region as we continue to position ourselves in the global marketplace."
The Whitbread also can bring cash into the regional economy.
Whitbread race director Ian Bailey-Willmot, speaking on a videotape made earlier in the day in London, said that studies made in Australia, New Zealand, Fort Lauderdale and England showed the economic boost to local economies ranged from "the bottom end at $20 million to the top end of $60 million."
The figures from the last race, however, reflect full, 30-day stopovers, and Baltimore and Annapolis will be the sites for Whitbread activity for about two weeks.
The Whitbread fleet is expected to arrive here from Fort Lauderdale on or about April 23 and, after splitting time between activities based at HarborView Marina and Yacht Club on Key Highway and a site to be determined in Annapolis, will set sail for a stopover in France on May 3.
The restart of the race off Annapolis is expected to coincide with the annual Bay Bridge Walk, which draws thousands of people.
Dean Kenderdine, assistant DEED secretary for tourism and promotions, said the cost of being host to the Whitbread fleet will be between $300,000 and $600,000, based on estimates of costs in other ports during the last Whitbread.
Wasserman and Kenderdine expect that most of those funds will be raised through Whitbread Chesapeake, Inc., a private, nonprofit organization established to organize the Baltimore-Annapolis venue.
"I think our approach is to find as much private sponsorship as is possible, to work with the two units of local government and to have the state government play a role, but a modest one, in this," Wasserman said.
Kenderdine said that the infrastructure already in place in Baltimore's harbor area should keep costs to a minimum. Wasserman said no financial guarantee has been made to the Whitbread Race Committee.
Richard Swirnow of the HarborView Marina and Yacht Club said yesterday morning during a briefing by Mayor Schmoke that his facility will provide docking for the 12 to 25 boats expected to enter the race.
"The question in everybody's mind is how good a job Baltimore will do," Swirnow said. "You can bet we will do a good job."
The next time around the world, the Whitbread will stop at nine ports in seven countries, an expansion of the course made by race organizers eager for more exposure to new markets.
Short, coastal legs to Baltimore and from France to England to end the race will allow the racers to close up the fleet after longer ocean passages, Farr said.
The leg from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore is 870 nautical miles, and Farr said "that is going to make for very close racing toward the end of the leg as they come up the Chesapeake Bay."
Farr also said he expects several U.S. entries in the next race, including one from the Baltimore-Annapolis area.
Once the Whitbread fleet roars up the Chesapeake, Wasserman said, the plan is to "wrap a celebration" around the days that the boats are in Maryland.