Photo by Marc Bow/Volvo Ocean Race
The final visitor count of approximately 125,000 at the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover exceeded all expectations for the 12-day celebration.
Although the final visitor tally won’t be known until tomorrow, organizers from Sail Newport, Rhode Island’s Public Sailing Center, the State of Rhode Island, the RI Dept. of Environmental Management, Discover Newport, and the City of Newport had hoped to draw 60,000 to 80,000 people. To attract as many visitors as the stopover did shows the Ocean State’s greatness as a sailing capital.
“We’re just blown away by the final visitor number,” said Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport. “We had 14,000 people each day on the first weekend and a high of 20,000 on Saturday this weekend. We expect to bring the race back, but building on that excitement and enthusiasm will secure it.”
Today’s start of Leg 7 continued the great feelings. Some 13,000 people lined the shores of Fort Adams State Park. Unaccounted for were the thousands of fans in the spectator fleet of 500. More were at Castle Hill and Brenton Point State Park in Newport and Fort Wetherill in Jamestown.
The turnout impressed even Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad. “I’ve been to an American stopover seven times now and can’t recall anything as good as this. We waited 42 years to come to Newport and that was way too long,” said Frostad, who added that the final visitor number could be more than four times the previous North American stopover in the 2011-’12 race.
The stopover has been so successful that Frostad changed protocol and announced on Saturday that Newport has been awarded an exclusive two-month negotiating period to secure the North American stopover in the next race, which could visit in May 2018. That means an announcement could come as early as the end of July. Frostad added that the final route will be announced in January 2016.
In all of his remarks Frostad has commended the enthusiasm of the visitors, their knowledge of the race and sailing in general, and the support of state and local governments as key reasons why the race could return. The sailors also have praised residents of Newport and visitors to the village for their knowledge.
“One of the nice things here in Newport is the knowledgeable audience,” said Ian Walker, skipper of overall race leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. “Everybody who’s come to Fort Adams; so many of them follow the race so closely they know more about it than I do. They live and breathe it. You really start to understand how much it means to them, especially when you talk to the kids.”
Of the 11 ports in the current race, Newport has the smallest population of approximately 24,000. The next smallest is Lorient, France, with approximately 57,000. The largest population is in Cape Town, with approximately 3.7 million. The Newport stopover drew visitors from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, Canada and Europe.
“Personally, I think it’s fantastic to go to places like Newport,” said Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking of the Netherlands, who’s competing in his seventh race around the world. “Newport has been great. It’s a small town, but the local people love it. It’s a beautiful environment. Volvo makes the final call on the stopovers, but of course they see how fantastic this stop has been.”
There were many highlights at the Race Village at Fort Adams State Park:
- The fleet leaders approached Newport on the afternoon of May 6 and the first two boats finished shortly past 10 p.m., separated by three and a half minutes. An estimated crowd of 5,000 was on hand to bear witness and some 2,500 were still around at 3:30 a.m. when Team Alvimedica, the “hometown team”, ghosted across the line in very light winds.
- The MetLife Combat Wounded and Injured Veterans Regatta on May 13 brought tremendous joy to 14 veterans of the Armed Forces who traveled from across the country to participate. Sailing has been identified as a positive therapy-based activity for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and they were thrilled with the experience. “Sailing gives a bond with the guys on the crew. We give each other encouragement and help each other out. It’s a brotherhood,” said Brian Miller of Rockwell, N.C.
- The Exploration Zone, a marine-themed science fair where visitors of all ages learned about nature, the ecosystem, and sustainability attracted approximately 3,000 school children on field trips and many more teenagers and adults.
- The Volvo Ocean 65 cross section was one of the most popular attractions during the stopover. The full-scale cross section illustrated life belowdecks of the global ocean racer, which is spartan.
- Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chára raced with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the Team Vestas Wind In-Port Race Newport on Saturday. Before sailing he thrilled many NHL fans by illustrating his league-fastest slapshot, which has been recorded at 108 mph.
“We’re ecstatic that the turnout exceeded our expectations. Thanks to the hundreds of organizations and businesses that contributed to make this so successful,” said Evan Smith, the CEO and President of Discover Newport. “We’re eternally optimistic that negotiations for the next race will go well. We’re going to work hard to bring this opportunity to closure.”