I’ll never forget witnessing the Volvo Ocean Race finish in Kiel, Germany, in 2002, when John Kostecki’s illbruck nailed its amazing win. The spectators were packed six-deep along the city-front esplanade as the boats motored into the basin in the late afternoon. The waterfront was electric; it had the feel of a New York City parade route, only with portable beer gardens every 100 feet or so. The energy carried on into the night, with bars and clubs spilling over with race fans, sailors, and tourists. It was humbling to find myself among the crews, these rockstars of around-the-world racing, and to crawl around the innards of illbruck, with a personal tour by Ray Davies. And in Kiel’s bars that evening, the sailors finally let down their guards. Whenever I cornered one in a pub with the offer of a pint, the honest stories came freely. It gave me a better appreciation of their experience, an appreciation that only comes by being caught up in the excitement as it’s happening.
The same was true in Boston two years ago when the fleet came calling. Because it was PUMA Ocean Racing’s hometown stopover, they did their best to throw a legitimate party. The cantilevered Puma City—red shipping containers stacked three stories high—was a retail hive by day, from which streamed bags of wet-weather gear, sneakers, and race merchandise. At night, the rooftop bar served as the discotheque, jammed with shore crew, sailors, and anyone else who could sweet-talk their way in with the doormen. The two-week festival pulled in bands and street performers, and dinghy regattas ran regularly off the sea wall. My kids tried the “virtual experience” at least six times, and they were intrigued by Olympic medalist Anna Tunnicliffe and Laser star Brad Funk foiling past in their Moths. The big rigs and the Volvo station wagon replica built entirely of Legos were a hit, too.
The modern-day stopover is a highly orchestrated and commercial event, which would explain why a reported 3.8 million spectators visited the nine venues during the 2008-’09 race. The sailors say Kochi, India, was a sea of people, as was diminutive Galway, Ireland. The Emerald Isle turnout stunned the sailors. The party was so good that Galway will host the finish for the latest edition, which starts from Alicante, Spain, in November.
I’m kicking myself for missing that last Galway stop, so I’ll be putting my request in to the travel department real soon. But I’ll be booking a ticket to Miami, too, which won a bidding war to host the race’s only North American stop. Miami is apparently throwing its might behind this one.
By May 6, the Race Village will consume 40 acres of Downtown Miami. A two-week music festival is in the works, with Sony Music Entertainment footing the bill. That’ll keep the nightlife going—as if that’s a problem in Miami. There’s not a lot of deep water, but there’s a plan to bring the boats in close, erecting a marina with about 2,000 feet of temporary docks.
For our entertainment there will be an Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association semifinals regatta, kite sailing, wakeboarding, and, of course, the in-port races sailed on the ocean off South Beach. So do yourself a favor and get down to South Florida to check out the boats, hit the race village, and find out where the race crews are hanging out.