LATE DURING THE NIGHT OF MAY 7, 2015, after 17 days and more than
5,000 miles tearing up the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil, two boats raced
neck and neck toward the finish line. In Newport, Rhode Island, unable
to believe the closeness of the contest they were witnessing, more than
7,000 people lined the water’s edge, and boarded their own vessels,
to cheer the first two boats of the Volvo Ocean Race across the finish
line – they were only three and a half minutes apart! It was one of the most dramatic long-distance ocean-race finishes in memory. The remaining four boats, locked together in
near-equal drama, arrived during that night and the next day.
Newport was the only North American stop for this nine-month around-the-world
marathon, and for years prior, organizers like Brad Read, director of Sail Newport, had
worked on complex logistics leading up to it. Their efforts paid off – for boating, for the
international race sponsors, and for the Rhode Island economy. In the 12 days between
their arrival and departure, Narragansett Bay hosted these brightly painted 65-footers.
This bay, a place I thought so huge when, as a 10-year-old, I sailed it with my family,
was suddenly cozy. The Volvo boats reached across its 3-mile width in minutes during
exhibition races, delighting crowds, and soaring at the same speed as the wind.
Walking into the Volvo Ocean Race Village, set up to welcome the public at historic
Fort Adams, it was a blast to be surrounded by children of all ages, excited to be part
of this international event featuring the height of marine technology – carbon fiber;
canting keels; twin rudders; daggerboards; astounding video, satellite, and multimedia
technology, plus the friendly crews working on the boats, and preparing for the next leg.
For seven months, several nights a week, from the comfort of my couch at home,
I’d visited www.VolvoOceanRace.com to check out the boats’ positions on my iPad,
enjoying near real-time reports, maps, videos, blogs, and Facebook posts from the different teams, which all had tracking beacons and automatic cameras on deck. I’d been
with them through storms and challenges, agony and ecstasy. Now, in person, I was
also impressed to see the well-coordinated effort to make the smallest state in the union
show it’s biggest heart, welcoming an estimated
125,000 visitors over two weeks to festivities,
interactive learning activities and – oh, yeah! –
boats, boats, everywhere.
There are times when I worry about the
future of boating, as I see less time for fun,
for family activities, for a commitment to the
outdoor life. But given the excitement I felt
in Newport – with every kind of boater possible coming out to catch the spectacle, either
watching from shore or aboard all kinds of
recreational boats – I felt buoyed. Boating had
brought us together, and it reminded us of our
endless fascination with the always changing
sea. Bravo to the Ocean State!
A PHOTO FINISH FOR BOATING
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VOLUME XXI, No. 4, AUGUST/SEP TEMBER 2015
Margaret Bonds Podlich, BoatU.S. President