The international sailing world is on display in Newport, as teams from the Volvo Ocean Race make their only North American stop in the City by the Sea. The next week of events is expected to generate millions of dollars and draw thousands of tourists.
In the dead of night on Thursday, a chilly air settled over Fort Adams State Park. A crowd of 7,000 excited spectators thronged the lawn, waiting to catch a glimpse of the boats arriving in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Everyone, from families with children up past their bed times to international sailing enthusiasts, watched and cheered as the sailors arrived in Newport.
The normally quiet field overlooking Narragansett Bay has been utterly transformed for the festivities. Hollywood-style spotlights shine into the sky. On the ground, massive temporary buildings and a geodesic dome illuminate the race village.
In the water, spectator boats followed the racers, honking and urging them to the finish line, near the iconic Newport Pell Bridge.
All along the banks, people waved glow sticks and flags. Elizabeth Radocchio,one of the spectators, wasn't surprised to see such a large crowd.
"I live here in Newport, I love sailing, and I’ve been following the race, and I’ve been really excited for the boats to come in,” said Radocchio. “So I just wanted to be here to welcome everyone home.”
Cannon fire signaled the first place finishers. The Chinese Team, Dongfeng Racing, sailed into Newport after a grueling, 17-day, journey from Brazil.
For sailors, the Volvo Ocean Race is one of the largest, most important international yacht races. The event takes place roughly every three to four years. This year, seven teams set out on the race, though one has since dropped out. The race covers nearly 40,000 nautical miles of international waters, and takes about nine months to complete.
The route, which begins in Spain and ends in Sweden, is divided into nine legs. The winner is determined by a point system, so a first place finish for one leg is one point; a last place finish is six points.
The overall winner is the team with the lowest score by the end of the race.
In Newport, the race and the week of events that come with it are expected to bring in tens of millions of dollars. Mark Brodeur, director of tourism for Commerce Rhode Island, said there are no hard figures yet, but there are projections based on previous sailing events.
“Looking back to the America’s Cup event we had two years ago, the impact was estimated at 38 million, and about 65,000 consumers,” said Brodeur. “We actually expect this to bring more to the state.”
Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said the City by the Sea anticipates between 50,000 and 100,000 people during the week-long stopover.
“This will be such a shot in the arm for us, and it’s early in the season,” said Napolitano. “This has been a brutal winter for Rhode Island, and particularly for Newport that relies on a tourism economy.”
Napolitano said she hopes the success of the race will draw more nautical events to Newport shores.
It’s a sentiment shared by sailing fans watching the boats arrive at Fort Adams.
“This is history in yachting in Rhode Island,” said Vin Mcateer, who stayed until well after midnight Thursday morning to see Team Alvimedica come in.
Newport is something of a homecoming for the team. The Skipper, Charlie Enright, hails from Bristol, and two other crew members call Rhode Island home. As the clock edged towards three in the morning, Mcateer said he planned to stay for as long as it took.
“To see a local team, especially one with a skipper from Rhode Island, Charlie Enright come in, to see him doing this and see the team, it’s just incredible. It’s worth missing a couple hours sleep. Nothing a little coffee can’t help,” said Mcateer.
After seven months away, seeing familiar faces was something the team was especially looking forward said Newport Native Nick Dana, from the boat several days before they landed.
“Newport is a dream come true for a lot of us, you know, it’s the pinnacle of offshore yachting, and we get to finish in front of our friends and family back home, it’s a pretty special moment,” said Dana.
After dealing with nearly no wind at the mouth of Narragansett Bay, Team Alvimedica finally crossed the finish line around 3:30 Thursday morning.
Friends, family, and other supporters were at the dock ready to cheer the team to shore. Channel 12 news caught the sound of Charlie Enright, the team’s skipper, who sounded a grateful note as the boat docked.
“It’s amazing, it really is, to come in at this time of night, you know on a chilly night like this, and no win,” said Enright. “You’d think that people would throw in the towel, but obviously not here in Newport. And we really appreciate it.”
Team Alvimedica came in fifth place in this leg of the race, but currently stands in fourth place overall.
The teams will stay in port for a little more than a week. They’ll get some well-deserved rest, and after more than two weeks at sea, several said they hope to crack open a cold beer or two.
They’ll also compete in some in-port races – one of which will count as a tie breaker in the event of a tight finish – before heading to the next stop, Lisbon Portugal, some 2,800 nautical miles away.
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