Setting sail for here again? Whitbread appears ready to return; WHITBREAD 1997-1998


The visit to Baltimore and Annapolis in the Whitbread Round the World Race has been a success on so many major counts -- there were spectators, there was publicity, there was even wind -- that some race officials feel almost certain the international competition will return to the Chesapeake.

"I'd be very surprised if they [race officials] did not decide to come back," Whitbread race director Ian Bailey-Willmot said yesterday. "You go where it's good, and it's good here."

The Whitbread, a 31,600-nautical-mile race that runs once every four years, will be in the hands of Volvo next time, so Bailey-Willmot cannot make the Chesapeake stopover happen again. However, Mel Pyatt, the head of Volvo Sports and Marketing Worldwide, was glowing about this spot for the 2001-2002 race.

"This stopover should be a blueprint for all other stopovers," Pyatt said last week in Baltimore. "Four years down the road, this stopover would be in very high standing. Obviously, what we have to do is evaluate all stopovers for the accommodations for the boats and from a commercial standpoint."

Yesterday, thousands of people lined the docks and the Naval Academy wall in Annapolis to greet the boats as they completed a parade of sail from Baltimore. Saturday, Baltimore police estimated 300,000 people came to the Inner Harbor to see the boats and another 200,000 on Sunday.

The race came to Baltimore and Annapolis in part because George Collins, former chief executive of Baltimore mutual fund company T. Rowe Price, told Whitbread officials that he would enter a boat from the Chesapeake. He did, with Chessie Racing.

"The stopover in Baltimore was sensational, and you just saw all the crowd here," Collins said yesterday.

This morning, the Volvo race organizers are expected to announce the stopover countries in the next race. The names of the stopover cities are not expected until the fall.

Some in the sailing community heard rumors that only one U.S. city would be selected in the next race, which could be bad news for Baltimore, because Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been a staple in the last three Whitbreads.

But Pyatt hardly seemed concerned about that. "When you're looking at a land mass as large as the U.S., it would certainly be quite effective to have two stopovers," said Pyatt. "Two stopovers is ideal. Hopefully, it will stay that way."

Many sailors had worried about the fluky conditions in the bay -- from its shallows to its windless stretches -- but the Chesapeake delivered sufficient breezes when the boats arrived from Fort Lauderdale last week. The bay must perform one more time, when the nine boats leave Annapolis on Sunday for La Rochelle, France.

Most Whitbread skippers were thrilled with the stopover.

"We've had two of the biggest receptions we've had," said Merit Cup's Grant Dalton, in his fifth Whitbread. "I'm looking forward to coming here four years from now."

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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