by J. V. Reistrup

Rather than sweeping across the finish line, as might be expected of sailboats capable of close to 40 knots, the fleet of Volvo Ocean Race boats crept up the Chesapeake Bay, then ghosted under the Bay Bridge in light air. The end of the long leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Rio de Janeiro was done . . . but the real excitement was yet to come.

And boy, was there excitement! So much so that we're still thinking about it seven months later and looking forward to the possibility of a repeat in 2009. There were races, parties and cool boats of all descriptions, including visiting tall ships and Volvo Extreme 40s. There were even Blokarts, sail-powered go-karts for the kids. All this whet our appetites for the Bay stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race, and its promised "Life at the Extreme."

The 2005-2006 version of the famous round-the-world sailing race (formerly the Whitbread) saw several innovations. One change turned out to a big hit: in-port racing, which adds spectator appeal and gives competing teams the chance to earn extra points (up to half as much as the winner of a long ocean leg). In the Chesapeake, the two-and-a-half hour race off the mouth of the Chester River above the Bay Bridge drew an estimated 1,500 spectator boats. The results had to please local crowds: the first four finishers-Movistar, Brasil 1, Pirates of the Caribbean and Ericsson, in that order-all came from the drawing boards of Farr Yacht Design of Annapolis [see "Farr Yacht Design: The Next Generation," April 2006]. The Farr boats fared better in the Bay's light air of 8 to 10 knots than did the beamier ABN AMRO boats-designed by Argentinian Juan Kouyoumdjian, who deliberately passed up light-air speed to focus on performance under the most likely wind conditions on the long ocean-going legs of the race. Excited crowds of thousands got to watch the big boats swap leads during the in-port race as well as the start of the long leg to New York City.

Another change to the Volvo race was the boats themselves, completely new 70-foot craft, which proved to be less than bulletproof-mostly because of their innovative canting keels-designed to be tilted by hydraulic rams to compensate for the angle of heel. Several of the boats missed a leg or more of the race while their keels were being repaired, and Movistar ultimately had to be abandoned when her keel broke loose in the North Atlantic and her hold filled with water. ABN AMRO Two turned back to pick up the stranded crew.

But it wasn't a structural failure that led to the race's only fatality; it was the ocean itself. The North Atlantic wind was topping 50 knots when ABN AMRO Two crewman Hans Horrevoets, who was waiting his turn to buckle into his safety harness, was swept overboard. His boat turned around and managed to find him in the darkness, but he couldn't be resuscitated. Fellow Volvo Ocean Race sailors have donated their seagoing gear to be auctioned off on eBay for the benefit of Horrevoets's partner, Petra, and their two children.

The Volvo Open 70 rule has now been changed with an eye to keeping the same design but making the boats sturdier, and the next race will come in three years rather than four. All the ports haven't yet been chosen, but Baltimore and Annapolis hope to be among them once again because of their strong showing this year. The race is dependent on deep-pocket, international sponsors who want to "brand" their products-it costs millions to field a boat-and the key to winning these sponsors is public exposure worldwide. The Bay delivered that this year, says Gregory Barnhill, president of Ocean Race Chesapeake, who hopes these numbers will help bring the race to the Chesapeake again:

' 350,000 visitors in one day alone came to the Baltimore Waterfront Festival, which was timed to coincide with the visit of the Volvo boats (tied up near the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor, making viewing easy.)

' 40,000 spectators gathered on the Bay Bridge for the race restart, as the boats headed for New York and ultimately Gothenburg, Sweden.

' 3,500 spectator boats were at the restart, as well as 1,500 for the in-port race.

' 4,000 schoolchildren visited the race villages.

' 40 regional organizations promoted the stopover.

' A local TV station provided live coverage of the race finish, producing so many hits to its website from around the world that the site crashed.

' $40 million in economic impact to the Baltimore/Annapolis region.

As for Annapolis, it timed the stopover to coincide with the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival. After a Parade of Sail including the old-time Pride of Baltimore II and the schooner Virginia, the new-school Volvo boats tied up at City Dock in the city that calls itself the sailing capital of the nation. At a party sponsored jointly by the Eastport Yacht Club and Severn Sailing Association, members of the local racing community mingled with Volvo crews as they enjoyed barbecue beef, crabcakes, beer and rum, and tried to make themselves heard above bands on two stages.

Barnhill hopes the Volvo race organizers find the numbers persuasive enough to keep the Bay ports as stopovers. "Basically, if the bridge holds and the creek don't rise, we'll be back and so will they," he says.