BALTIMORE – As the crew of ABN AMRO ONE docked in the Inner Harbor Monday after winning Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race, they were greeted by the sweet welcoming sounds of the race’s first American landfall this year: a cannon blast from the U.S.S. Constellation and the crunchy guitar line of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty”.
Maryland business leaders, particularly those in Baltimore and Annapolis, are hoping that another sweet sound will persist for the 19 days the boats and their crews are scheduled to be in Maryland: the ringing of their cash registers.
“It takes a lot of money to do this,” said the state’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dennis M. Castleman. “But last time when it was here for a short time we estimate it brought in $30 to $40 million of economic impact. Being here for 19 days we can see it bringing in $50 to $75 million…and that could be conservative, it could do a lot more.”
But so far, area business owners have seen mixed results.
Richard Davis manages Auntie Anne’s Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels, a small outdoor stand with a prime location directly across from the U.S.S. Constellation in front of Pratt Street Pavilion.
He said that his sales on Monday were no higher than average and that he had experienced “nothing yet” as far as an increased number of customers.
“The big turnout is Sunday night, I think. I’m hoping then we’ll get the big crowds – counting on it,” Davis said.
“In Annapolis a lot of people will come out to support it,” he continued, “but here I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as big until Sunday” when the John Legend concert and the awarding of Leg 5 Waterford Crystal trophies to the top 3 teams are scheduled.
However, other businessmen, such as Carl Fisher, the owner of Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries in the Pratt Street Pavilion, said they experienced tremendous sales spikes on Monday.
“Business has increased like 60 percent,” Fisher said. “I don’t know if it’s the race or if it’s that peak season starts April 1 here, but I’m sure the race has a lot to do with it . . . Yesterday results were up 50 percent from last year.”
Most business owners, though, reported moderate increases in revenues and customers on Monday and Tuesday. Liam Kelly, manager of Irish-themed Pratt Street Pavilion watering hole Tir Na Nog Bar and Grill reported an estimated “10 to 15 percent increase” in sales.
The festivities Monday and Tuesday attracted a diverse group comprised of sailing enthusiasts from surrounding states, people of all nationalities eager to celebrate a world-wide sporting event in America, street performers and Marylanders looking for a fun way to spend quality time with their families.
Didier Vandoorne, a 31 year-old Belgian who is living in Baltimore for a year with his wife, said he came to the Inner Harbor Monday to connect with the European-American community and to have fun.
“There’s some kind of European dimension to these events here,” Vandoorne said. “They were sailing in the Netherlands, and the ABN AMRO ONE team – they’re from Holland . . . It’s an interesting event.”
Dan Fortney, 48, brought his wife and two children with him on the five-hour drive from Bedford, Va. to see the race. He considers himself a novice sailor, and said he has great respect for the sailors involved in the Volvo Ocean Race.
“It’s brutal. Anytime you race it’s hard. You’ve got to be in great shape,” he said. Fortney’s family had an easier time finding a place to stay in Baltimore than most out-of-towners. “We stayed with my mom,” he said. “The rent’s cheap and there’s good food.”
Monday, for the winning crews, and Tuesday for the crews of the boats that were not as fast this leg, marked a long-awaited homecoming after more than 15 days at sea. The boats left Rio de Janeiro April 2.
The sailors, most of whom were thinly bearded after the journey, were greeted at dockside platoon by their families, reporters, their team’s shore crew, and large metal washtubs stocked to overflowing with bottled water and tall cans of Heineken.
Stan Honey, the navigator and only American member of Leg 5 winner ABN AMRO ONE’s crew, said he hadn’t been in the country since last June.
“It’s fun to relive the high school experience of playing a team sport,” he said. “This is the World Series of ocean racing. It’s pretty stunning. The cold legs you’re just numbingly cold. In the hot legs it’s sweltering hot. If you can sleep at all you’re in a pool of sweat, and the motion is such that you’re always holding on with three hands.”
Most of the sailors said they were most concerned, after getting back their land legs, with seeing their families again.
“I haven’t seen the family for a long time,” said Ericsson Racing Team navigator Steve Hayles, who is from England, shortly after the boat arrived in Baltimore, “I’m thoroughly looking forward to meeting them.”
Hayles’s fellow crew member from Ireland, helmsman/trimmer Daiman Foxall joked about the time he has had to spend apart from his wife while racing.
“I haven’t been divorced yet. Yet,” Foxall said. By the time the boats leave for Annapolis on May 4, they will be ready for Leg 6, a short jaunt to the final American stop on the 2006 Volvo Ocean Race’s itinerary, New York City. 04-19-06