When the fleet in the Whitbread Round the World Race departs Annapolis tomorrow afternoon for La Rochelle, France, more than just the nine ocean-racing yachts are expecting to be battling for the best position on Chesapeake Bay.
A spectator fleet of up to 6,000 boats is anticipated on the water in the vicinity of the Bay Bridge for the 1: 45 p.m. start of Leg 8 -- one-half nautical mile north of the Bay Bridge -- and the Coast Guard appears ready to ensure that spectators don't interfere with racers.
The Coast Guard will close a portion of the Severn River in Annapolis, and on the bay it will establish a spectator-fleet exclusion zone and a spectator anchorage for small boats.
Coast Guard Lt. Commander Brian Poskaitis said that a unified command of up to 250 federal, state, city, county and auxiliary patrol vessels will control the on-the-water crowd during the start.
The exclusion zone will be 1 nautical mile by 7 nautical miles and run from Sandy Point Light -- 1 nautical mile north of the Bay Bridge -- to a gate of markers off Thomas Point Light near the mouth of the South River.
The exclusion zone will be closed from 10 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m. to all but the Whitbread racers, their support craft, media boats and command boats. The Coast Guard and its patrol fleet plans to maintain a hard line around the exclusion zone.
Also, restrictions will be in place from Annapolis Harbor to the mouth of the Severn River from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., and only Whitbread racers and official vessels will be allowed to be under way.
Commercial traffic will be coordinated, and recreational boats must maintain a 250-foot margin from any of the Whitbread racers. Recreational boats will be restricted from speeding, throwing wakes, pacing the racers forward of the beam and crossing a racer's bow.
Coast Guard officials said the regulations will be enforced and violators may be subject to arrest and maximum fines of $25,000.
"It is important that [people] stay away from these boats because you just don't realize how fast these boats are," Poskaitis said.
Interestingly, though the Whitbread skippers acknowledge the need for an exclusion zone for pre-race maneuvering, they said they believe the Coast Guard may be flexing its muscles too hard.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon after the Whitbread fleet sailed from Baltimore to Annapolis, Merit Cup skipper Grant Dalton said he was worried about the Coast Guard chasing people away.
"It seems that if they get any keener, they could ruin the start by overdoing it," Dalton said. "With the exception of Brazil, we have never had a problem, and they should probably let the spectator boats get in there and have a look," Dalton said. "We wouldn't be there if it wasn't for them.
"Most people in power boats know what they are doing. They will run into each other rather than into us. We are sometimes in more danger from the Coast Guard's cutting in than the spectator boats."
Race director Ian Bailey-Wilmott, while not critiquing the Coast Guard's plan, pointed out that, in the United States, unlike in most countries, the Coast Guard has the legal authority to enforce its rule on boaters.
On VHF radio, Channel 22A will carry special safety information broadcasts pertaining to Whitbread and commercial activity. Use VHF Channel 9 for hailing and Channel 16 for distress traffic only.
Pub Date: 5/02/98