The Whitbread Round the World Race is not scheduled to sail into the Inner Harbor until April of 1998, but last week race officials were in town to inspect facilities and brainstorm about how best to bring the nine-month race to Baltimore, the state of Maryland and, perhaps, to schoolchildren across the country.
Race director Ian Bailey-Willmott said last week that Baltimore, with its Inner Harbor complex, is a "uniquely ideal" location for the Whitbread fleet to stop.
"It's off the direct route 'round the world, but these days the Whitbread is very much a grand prix event," Bailey-Willmott said during an interview at HarborView Marina and Yacht Club. "It's more than just an ocean race. In order that people can find the money to do it from sponsors, one has to make a course attractive to those sponsors.
"And coming to a place like Baltimore, which does offer one of the most attractive city-center waterfronts of anywhere in the world and is the center of such a large population -- Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and not that far from New York -- that is important to our sponsors."
It also is important that a week of shoreside festivities designed to draw the public to the racing fleet while in port not be lost among the myriad other attractions of a city as large as New
"Originally, when we looked [for a second stopover] in the States, we looked at both Baltimore and New York," Bailey-Willmott said. "I believe we would have been swallowed up by New York City."
Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay, on the other hand, not only offer superb viewing and repair facilities, but the closeness of the international media based in Washington is expected to allow strong electronic and print coverage of the event.
The decision by Whitbread officials to come to Baltimore after an earlier stopover in Fort Lauderdale is part of a restructuring of the race, which previously had consisted of ocean legs of 2,000 miles or more.
The leg from Florida to Baltimore in the next race will be only 800 miles. On leaving Maryland, the fleet will head for La Rochelle, France, before making a 400-mile -- to the finish line in Southhampton, England. Overall, the next Whitbread will have nine legs rather than the traditional seven.
The stopover in Maryland will be split between Baltimore and Annapolis, with the leg's finish line off Fort McHenry and the start of the next leg at the Bay Bridge scheduled to coincide with the annual Bay Bridge Walk.
"There is quite a difficulty in programming the Whitbread in terms of when you leave the Northern Hemisphere and when you get into the Southern Hemisphere. You're chasing the summer around the world, basically," Bailey-Willmott said. "We leave the U.K. as late as you can near the end of September and we get back to the U.K. pretty much as early in the year as you can."
But in previous races, stopovers reached up to 30 days to allow the slower boats in the fleet to make port before the start of the next leg. In the next Whitbread, which will start in 1997, all entries will be limited to the Whitbread 60 class and the racing should be tighter, with stopovers limited to 10 days to two weeks.
Baltimore, of course, allows another chance to hit the U.S., and the leg to France, Bailey-Willmott said, provides an opportunity to revive the interest of the French in the Whitbread.
"In terms of countries in which sailing is really big, France is in that league," Bailey-Willmott said. "In France, a prominent sailor is like a prominent tennis player in the States, and the French have always supported the Whitbread strongly, although we had only one French boat in the last race. I was quite keen to do something to make sure the French came back in their former numbers."
England, France and New Zealand traditionally have had the most entrants in the Whitbread, and the stopover in Auckland has provided the largest crowds at the finish of the leg. In the last race, 40,000 turned out at Auckland harbor at 3 a.m. on a Saturday to watch New Zealand boats finish 1-2.
"I would be surprised if we got that number [in Baltimore] unless the circumstances are right," Bailey-Willmott said. "New Zealand a country that is mad about sailing, mad about the Whitbread, and about a third of the sailors in the Whitbread are New Zealanders."
Bailey-Willmott and Lee Tawney of Mayor Schmoke's office said that a local entry performing well in the Whitbread could create large crowds at the finish line.
Tawney said a Baltimore businessman is considering backing a Whitbread entry, but declined to name him. Tawney also said out-of-town sponsors are considering backing the Chesapeake Bay entry.
"That is really what will make it work for Baltimore -- if there is a local boat," Bailey-Willmott said, "because, basically, people will be talking about it for nine months as they race around the world."
Tawney, who is in charge of international economic development for the city, said the city has not determined what bringing the Whitbread to Baltimore will cost. But he expects that costs will be minimal because very little will have to be spent on-site.
"We are really going to be taking advantage of what we already have," Tawney said. "The promenade, the facilities at HarborView, Rash Field and so on, although we haven't figured all that out at this point."
Bailey-Willmott said Baltimore isn't "paying Whitbread or me a bean."
Tawney said that Whitbread is an economic development tool that is hard to put a price tag on.
"The sponsors and the decision-makers in the race are the leaders of the global corporate world," Tawney said. "If we can call attention to Baltimore in the process, that is to our best interest.
"Just putting Baltimore on the race map that is being distributed to 27,000 people around the world is dramatic public relations for us. We can be chauvinistic and say that people know where Baltimore is. But in the international marketplace, they don't."
Bailey-Willmott and Andrew McCall, marketing sponsorship director for the race, said it is hard to gauge in dollars and cents, pounds or yen what the race means to individual sponsors or host cities.
"But Intrum Justitia, a large pan-European company which sponsored a boat in the last race, reckoned they spent 3 million pounds on their boat and got 28 million pounds of visibility out of it," Bailey-Willmott said.
"They are a debt collecting agency and, before the race, it took them 16 approaches to hook a client. After the race, the ratio went down to 12 to 1. I don't know what that is worth, but it's progress.
"Basically, there is not a global way to effectively measure the benefit for everybody. It's different things for different companies. If it were Coke, it would be to [undercut] Pepsi. But there are many different reasons for sponsoring the race."
Television audiences, however, can be accurately measured, said McCall, and Whitbread broadcasts seen in 177 countries put the last race behind only World Cup soccer and the Summer Olympics in global ratings.
"The race was seen by 2.5 billion people, exclusive of news coverage," McCall said, "and that figure goes up to 16.8 billion including news coverage."
If plans go as expected, the viewing audience will be increased significantly when U.S. school children come on line through an interactive study program being developed by the Whitbread people and the National Geographic Society.
"Will Baker of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is coordinating it for us," Tawney said, "and there is the potential of tapping into every school kid in the nation with this race.
"Whitbread already produces a teaching guide for weather, geography, navigation and so on, and they provide a video feed. If we can match that up with the resources of the National Geographic Society, we can make this sporting event a teaching tool for every kid in the country.
"The race starts in September," Tawney added, "which is the beginning of the academic year, and finishes up at the end of the year. Kids can be studying with it through the year and perhaps even interviewing crews as they round the five Capes."