AC In Newport
Volvo Ocean Race executives will announce today the selection of Newport, R.I., as the 2014-2015 race’s North American stopover. Never before has the round-the-world race pulled into the self-proclaimed Sailing Capitol of the World, and according to Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, the non-profit public sailing center that will serve as the stopover’s host, a stop in the City by the Sea has been a long time coming.
“Newport is an incredible sailing community and the ideal destination resort for this race,” says Read. “We’ve shown them [VOR management] that we can supply them with a perfect backdrop for the race.”
The stopover is scheduled for mid-May (the in-port race and restart are scheduled for the weekend of May 16 to 17, 2015) and race operations and public engagement will be concentrated at historic Fort Adams, in a venue setup mirroring the America’s Cup World Series of June 2012. Coincidentally, in advance of this week’s port announcement, the State of Rhode released its economic impact study from the AC World Series event, reporting $38.2 million in sales for Rhode Island businesses. Says Read, the positive experience of the ACWS helped his group make a solid case to politicians in the Rhode Island State House.
“There’s no doubt that the World Series was a factor in the state understanding that marine events help the entire state. They know that they can, and will, use this [stopover] to market the state internationally.”
The State will provide both the venue (through the Department of Environmental Management, which oversees Fort Adams State Park) as well as financial guarantees, as they did with the ACWS. However, there’s a lot of fundraising to be done over the next 21 months.
“The majority of the rest will come from corporate and philanthropic sources, and from working with the community with things like concessions and concert promotions,” says Read. “This is not just about the boats and the race, and it’s not just happening at the state park. The Volvo Ocean Race village will be the entire city—and the state.”
The leg finish and re-start line will be staged directly off Fort Adams at the harbor entrance, as will the in-port racetrack, prime for spectator viewing on either side of Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. With the race’s new shared-shore-services component in play, and the potential for Newport to be a no-haul-out type stopover, the onshore footprint would be considerably smaller than previous stopovers in Miami and Boston, thereby reducing costs across the board and allowing organizers to focus on public activities, boat and race team visibility, and concessions (food, parking, and poor access being the dominant complaints of the ACWS spectator surveys).
To entertain the sailing base during the potential two-week event, Read is keen to build a loaded schedule of high-performance sailing demonstrations and races, tapping the local catamaran and dinghy fleets to provide warm-up entertainment.
“The setup and time of year is perfect for on-the-water stuff,” he says. “There’s a new enthusiasm for high-performance sailing in New England and we want to capture that enthusiasm. At the AC World Series, with the F-18s sailing around [before scheduled races] and giving people something to watch, we saw that as a model. We will utilize the Moths, the Nacras, the F-18s, the Vanguard 15s, and anything else we have here.”
There’s also faint hope of a hometown team getting into the action. In past editions, a team’s direct association with a stopover port has proven mutually beneficial—financial and otherwise. Read says he’s ready to support the fledgling All American Ocean Racing effort, a team spearheaded by five alumni of Roy Disney’s under-30 Morning Light project. Since the 2012 finish of the Volvo Ocean Race, Rhode Islander Charlie Enright and his teammates have been sniffing down the sponsor trail, chasing leads without success. A homeport hook, however, could help pry open a few more doors with access to the $15 million required to get into the game.
“We want to do it, we have support, but no money yet,” said Enright, who’s cautiously optimistic of his squad’s chances of finding the right sponsor match before it’s too late. “At the moment it’s not like we’re behind because the first boat [of eight planned] will not be available to any team until June.”
[After the announcement of Newport as the host port, SW’s Dave Reed caught up with VOR COO Tom Touber and CEO Knut Frostad to talk more generally about the 2014-’15 race. Click here to see those interviews.]