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Md. clearing the way for Volvo 70s

Dredging ‘The Hump’ was one task that needed completing before the Volvo Ocean Race visits

Dredging ‘The Hump’ was one task that needed completing before the Volvo Ocean Race visits

Baltimore and Annapolis have spent the Maryland winter digging deep to prepare for the mid-April arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race for the fifth stop of that around-the-world contest. A dredge barge spent the frosty weeks of January scooping muck from Spa Creek in Annapolis, clearing 17 feet of depth for the canting keels of the Volvo 70 yachts; in Baltimore, similar dredging took place in late winter. But there was much more work than just scraping the bottom of the Bay.

Before the expected arrival from Rio de Janeiro of the six sailboats some time between April 15 and 17, there were concerts to schedule, stages to erect, festivals to orchestrate, food to order and cook, docks to float, and at least one big party to celebrate not only the achievements of the racers but the visiting crowd anticipated to number in the hundreds of thousands.

“The nice thing about this race is it connects the world,” sailing legend Gary Jobson proclaimed during a February press conference at Baltimore’s ScienceCenter adjacent to the InnerHarbor. Outside, preparations were already being made for the world-circling sailors. A city park, authorized by Baltimore voters 25 years ago, was finally being created.

“With the Volvo Ocean Race coming on, we used that as the deadline to make sure [the park] was done,” explains Bill Gilmore, executive director of the city’s Office of Promotion and the Arts. The project involves “the total reconfiguration and redesign of the west shore” of the harbor, he says. A new park will replace what had been a temporary parking lot. “It will be a beautifully designed public open space.”

In Baltimore, the arrival of the Volvo yachts will coincide with the annual waterfront festival. There will be live music, maritime exhibitors, street theater and lots of food, some of it harvested from Chesapeake Bay.

But the boats would never make it to the dock had not the dredges come first. “We have an area that has been a problem for a long time with visiting ships, especially tall ships,” Gilmore says. “We’ve affectionately called it ‘The Hump’ for a long time.” The Hump was in a corner of the harbor near the ScienceCenter. Dredging was also needed in another part of the city’s port, and $316,000 was budgeted for the work, Gilmore says. “It’s not a cost I would attribute to hosting the event. It’s a maintenance issue” that had to be funded even without the race, he says.

The costs of the Baltimore Waterfront Festival — running from April 28, with the arrival of the yachts in the Inner Harbor, through May 4, when the vessels parade on to Annapolis — will be paid by funds raised by the non-profit group Ocean Race Chesapeake, the local host of the event. The group is supported by grants from a number of area, national and international businesses.

Once in Annapolis, the Volvo boats will be tied at six special docks anchored on Spa Creek off of the City Dock. According to harbormaster Ulrich Dahlgren, the city will have invested $44,000 to drive the pilings and install the docks, which are loaned to the city by the Annapolis Boat Show. In addition to the state-of-the-art raceboats, the harbor will host the tall ships Pride of Baltimore II and Virginia, and the former presidential yacht Sequoia.

The annual Annapolis Maritime Heritage Festival will take place during the Volvo’s four-day visit to Maryland’s capital, but it will be a cut above the normal year’s festival, according to Brendan Curley, the event’s executive director. “Our attendance will be way up [with] the media, the excitement. They’re the sleekest and certainly the most cutting-edge sailboats in the world,” he notes. “From security to logistics, everything gets magnified by 10 to get ready for this.” There is “a ton of entertainment planned,” Curley says.

Tons of mud had long-since been hauled from Spa Creek and a channel leading to it so that the Volvo yachts, each drawing nearly 15 feet, could dock and the public could gawk up close. The city is paying, although Dahlgren has no final figure.

During the Volvo stay, the city will have on display vessels ranging from “schooners to skipjacks to powerboats to historic boats and state-of-the-art raceboats,” says Freda Wildy, a city employee involved in the festival. Besides boats, there will be “tents for exhibits and family activities, and all kinds of things associated not only with the Volvo Race but the rich and varied maritime history of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay.” There will also be a display from the recently announced National Sailing Hall of Fame, whose future home will be the Annapolis waterfront.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer says the city will have repaved some walkways near the city dock, let out a contract to bring back the City Market, which had been vacant, and the NavalAcademy will get a new entrance.

The Volvo yachts will resume their race May 7. That will give their crews time to recover from the big party in the Eastport section of Annapolis at the Eastport Yacht Club and the Severn Sailing Association. “It’s quite a big deal that is put on by literally 300 volunteers plus,” says Clare Vanderbeek, the chairperson. A committee of 15 began planning the event in November, “ordering the tents and services, setting up the stages and bands. I think we’ve got seven groups performing,” she says. Tickets are $25 each, and Vanderbeek expects to sell out the entire block of 6,250 that will be available. A portion of the price of each ticket will be donated to the National Sailing Hall of Fame, she says.