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Build It and They Will Come – Don’t, and They Won’t:

The VOR in NYC

by Alex Blackwell

A few spectators viewing the fleet of Open 70s at North Cove Marina in NYC.
May 2006 saw one of the premiere sailboat racing events come to New York City : The Volvo Ocean Race (VOR). Previously, this was the Whitbread Round the World Race, which has indeed been an exciting event and probably the most extreme of the racing events every time.

The fleet this year was an exceptional one. There was even one American entry - with Paul Cayard at the helm of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. We were ready to go out to “spectate”. We had been given the planned itinerary from one of the people close to the New York event well in advance, so that we could publish this on our club website (and here on Coastalboating.net).

As the time drew closer, we went to the organizing yacht club’s website, and then did a general search on the internet to confirm the schedule, as we wanted to do a write-up. Nothing, anywhere. Not even the VOR website had the starting times. We innocently asked if it perhaps had been cancelled.

“It has definitely NOT been canceled.” We were told. The seven Volvo boats would leave Annapolis on Sunday May 7th and were due to arrive in NYC either late Monday the 8th or early on Tuesday the 9th. The boats would then lay over at North Cove Marina until they re-started for Portsmouth , England at 1300 on Thursday May 11th.

Record crowds saw the fleet off on Chesapeake Bay.
Our contact then continued: “The race is visiting Baltimore/Annapolis for the third time so they have their act pretty well together. This is the first visit to NYC and they have done practically nothing.”  Oh boy, what a missed opportunity, I thought.

A record number of spectator craft, estimated at 3,500 by the U.S. Coast Guard, lined Chesapeake Bay to bid farewell to the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 fleet for the start of the sixth leg of the race up the east coast of the USA from Annapolis to New York. Thousands more fans took up vantage points on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where traffic also came to a standstill. In contrast "May 11, 2006, New York – In front of a spectacular backdrop and with H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden looking on, leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-06 got underway." (i.e., with virtually no spectator crowd). And Pirates, America's only entry, won the start and led the way out of the harbor. What a great moment of pride this could have been.

This reminds me of an event a few years back. It was the Rockland County, NY Bi-Centennial, which we subsequently dubbed “200 Years of Obscurity”.

My company got the concession for all the collateral materials and merchandise: T-shirts, hats, posters, mugs, you name it. We repeatedly asked about PR, and were told that the committee would handle that. Memorial Day Weekend and the Big Event came along and we had booths all up and down the Hudson , as the Tall Ships were going to grace the shores of the Hudson as part of the event.

As usual, while driving, we tuned in to a news radio station. Top of the news was that the Tall Ships were passing under the George Washington Bridge – and that was it. No mention of where they were headed, or why they were headed there. Nobody had thought to tell anyone.

The spectator fleet in NYC. Pretty sparse, eh?
We spent a really hot sunny day at the end of the Piermont pier at our concession stand explaining to the few people strolling out there why there were a couple of huge sailing boats tied up at the pier there - one of which was the ROSE which of course later became the star of Master and Commander. When we then told them about the bi-centennial they smiled politely and went their way. I don’t have to tell anyone the event was a flop, that we were left sitting on the merchandise, and that the Tall Ships will most assuredly never come back to Rockland County - at least in this century. It would not have taken much effort for this to be a fun and exciting day for all concerned, even if it was their first time. Fortunately, it will be a “little” while until their next centennial.Not so, hopefully, for the next Volvo Ocean Race. We certainly hope they return.

We do understand that the participants were very happy with the accommodations and facilities for their stopover. Apparently, it was the perfect place to entertain the many sponsors of the individual boats. It was also an exciting venue for the American crew to meet up with their friends and families. Because of Bruce Knecht's interest in sailing and trip up on ABM Amro One, the Wall Street Journal gave the event some coverage.

But what about the average sailor who would be awed in the presence of these machines? Don't we keep saying that we need to expose more people to the sport?

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden together with Princess Madeleine, who lives in New York, attended the start of leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race. They all participated in a "spectator cruise" watching the boats leaving New York. Photo from AP via Yahoo.
Daria stood among the few who showed up and listened to them calling their friends and saying "You have got to come down here and see these things. They are amazing. No, drop everything, they're leaving tomorrow, come down right now." Everyone who was there seemed to have come upon them by chance. And they stood and stared, and took pictures with their cameras and cell phones and emailed them to friends. But there were certainly no crowds milling about on a beautiful spring day in the early evening. Check out the photo gallery we posted.

And what about Volvo, the primary sponsor? They had quite the machine there –  entertainment, live music and confetti; just few spectators. If there is a next time for New York , hopefully the PR machine will be turned on – even if just a little bit.

Now granted it was the middle of the work week. But from the looks of it, aside from the King and Queen of Sweden and a few other brave souls, the spectator fleet at the start was rather sparse.

We have often sailed in New York harbor. The vistas are breathtaking from the water, and the sailing always exciting. New York could so easily be a sailing Mecca . She is such a pretty sight when there are a lot of sail boats out there...and even prettier with lots of powerboats lined up to watch their magnificent dance at the start of such an exciting race.

Lets take a few lessons from Baltimore and Annapolis. Let's throw a party next time that only New Yorkers can pull off.


 


     
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