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The Volvo Ocean Race Comes to Newport

This May, Newport will play host to the only Volvo Ocean Race stop in the Northwestern Hemisphere

October 16, 2014
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Roberto Bermúdez de Castro, who has sailed the Volvo Ocean Race six times in 20 years, effortlessly pushes the grinding pedestal handles through two rotations and then glances up from his hunched stance toward the lush, tumbling lawn of Hammersmith Farm, passing by at 12 knots.

“It is very, very beautiful here,” he states softly in his deep Spanish accent, grinning behind dark sunglasses. “I think this will be the favorite stop.”

It was on a sun and sea breeze kissed afternoon in June, when Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s crew was giving VIPs from Etihad Airways a two-hour joy ride on their VO65 on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. De Castro, who’s seen his share of ports, had never visited Newport, but he’d heard plenty about it.

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The 375-year-old seaside city has been an epicenter of colonial commerce, naval power, tourism, and sailing in all its forms. Today, it’s teeming with tourists most of the year, and it’s the one place where visiting racing sailors find what they expect: reliable winds and a lot of bars. While Newport has hosted plenty of America’s Cup matches over the years, it’s never had the Volvo Ocean Race. And that’s about to change.

Brad Read, leader of the Newport Stopover, says the stopover team’s pre-race plan is to take the two-week festival beyond the typical, compact village teams will find elsewhere along the race route. He witnessed the remarkable turnout in Galway, Ireland, in 2012 when his brother sailed into port with Puma Ocean Racing, and he envisions the same for his hometown. “The entire city of Newport and the State of Rhode Island will be the race village,” he states emphatically every time. “It’s going to be unreal.”

The fleet will arrive from Brazil in the shoulder month of May, likely a few days after the Race Village opens May 5, 2015. The Village, by day, will take over Fort Adams State Park, where the boats will berth at a new 240-foot pier. Team compounds, sponsor pavilions, bars, and interactive displays will flank the boats, berthed at the fort. The stopover will also host an educational village for visiting schools, with a focus on marine education and ocean conservation. When the sun drops and the Village winds down, the afterhours action and entertainment will shift to downtown, with easy water taxi runs.

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For a chance to hear stories straight from the race crews themselves, weeknights at the usual sailor haunts is a sure bet. The must-see portion of the stopover is the leg-start weekend, which has Pro-Am Races and one stadium-style in-port race. May 17 is the big send off, starting with the emotional morning dock-out ceremony, and followed by a few laps outside the harbor before disappearing past Castle Hill and over the eastern horizon. Next stop, Lisbon.

All efforts are on making it easy-in, easy-out for visiting race fans, offering plenty to do, plenty to see in the city by the sea.

Schedule of Events:

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MAY 5

Race Village Open In advance of the fleet’s imminent arrival, the Race Village at Fort Adams, with free public access, will feature dozens of interactive displays, sponsor pavilions, team bases, bars, and food vendors.

MAY 5-14

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Sailing Festival While the teams arrive and settle into the city, opportunities for youth sailing, try sailing, and regattas keep the action alive on the water. The Race Village at Fort Adams is open daily.

MAY 8-9

Concert Series – Newport Volvo Ocean Race Concert Series at Newport Yachting Center: bands downtown on the big stage.

Pro-Am Races – Sponsors, VIPs, and lucky guests get to mix it up with the race teams on the racecourse off Fort Adams.

Prize Giving – With all teams in attendance, the Leg 6 Prize Giving and concert at the Volvo Ocean Race Village at Fort Adams is one big party.

In-Port Race – Seven teams go head-to-head on the Narragansett Bay, a spectacle not to miss, followed up with a prize giving on the stage at Fort Adams.

Leg 7 Restart – Led off by an on-the-water festival, the boats depart for Lisbon, with excellent race viewing from the shoreline at Fort Adams.

Sail Newport, at Newport, R.I.’s historic Fort Adams will serve as the primary race village during the May stopover, hosting the teams, the in-port races, and a sprawling race village. The bustling town itself will become the village by night, with concerts and special events. Oone van der Wal
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