Thousands of sailors and landlubbers alike have traveled to Baltimore's Inner Harbor -- and thousands more are expected in Annapolis this weekend -- to get a close-up look at the Whitbread yachts.
In the middle of the fanfare, C. Thomas Miller hopes that a few people take a moment to admire something else that floats -- the docks.
The nine Whitbread teams are mooring their boats in the two cities to docks designed and constructed by Eastern Floatation Systems Inc., an upstart company operating in Canton.
Though big corporate sponsors like Volvo and Toshiba dominate the race with their names emblazoned on sails, masts and weather gear, Eastern Floatation Systems plans to cash in on some of the worldwide exposure the race brings to Annapolis and Baltimore.
Eastern Floatation Systems is so confident in the potential rewards that it donated $250,000 in materials and labor to supply docks for the yachts during their stops in both cities.
"The whole purpose of this race is corporate sponsorship," said Miller, who designed the docks for each city's harbor. "That's the way things work."
Local businesses donated $500,000 to the city and Whitbread Chesapeake so Baltimore could be a host to the race. The docks represent one of the largest donations, city officials said.
"It was really critical to our effort. It would have been a sizable amount of money to rent the docks," said Lee Tawney, assistant to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and secretary of Whitbread Chesapeake.
Selvin Passen, one of the founders of Eastern Floatation Systems and owner of Baltimore Marine Center in Canton, is looking beyond the race. He sees Whitbread as the push Baltimore needs to become a primary boating destination -- worth the journey up the Patapsco River.
"We have one of the best natural harbors on the East Coast," he said. "I'm prejudiced about Baltimore, but I really want to sell this harbor. The potential for boating tourists is unbelievable."
From the top of the World Trade Center on a recent afternoon, Miller admired the docks being assembled 27 stories below for Whitbread's stop in Baltimore.
A welcoming pier sat just south of the Pratt Street Pavilion. A second dock reached 450 feet into the harbor from the Maryland Science Center.
In Annapolis, the dock stretches from the Annapolis City Dock. The docks in both cities will be removed after the yachts depart for France.
The company promotes its product, which is fashioned from concrete, polyethylene, galvanized steel and pressure-treated wood, as being nearly indestructible.
"Wood and Styrofoam docks will disintegrate over time," Miller said. "These are going to last forever."
Miller knows a thing or two about docks. He's been tied up to hundreds of them since dedicating his life to sailing in the 1970s.
That's when he broke both his arms and legs in a motorcycle accident. He turned to sailing, a safer sport, he said.
"I decided to get my thrills at 15 knots, not 60 miles per hour," he said.
As enthusiastic as Miller is about the docks, he doubts many people will take notice. What's more important, he said, is that the sailors' stay goes off without a hitch.
"We want them to come back again," he said.
Pub Date: 5/02/98