2013-11-21 / Around Town

Volvo Race Could Be Bigger Than America's Cup Series

By Tom Shevlin

A cutting edge media campaign being planned to accompany next year's Volvo Ocean Race is promising to once again place Newport at the forefront of the international sailing community.

Considered the "Mt. Everest of sailing," the Volvo Ocean Race is a grueling circumnavigation of the globe which begins in October of 2014 from Alicante, Spain and is due to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In a presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at the Hyatt Regency on Goat Island, Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad said that the 2014-15 edition of the round-the-world race will not only showcase some of the best sailing on the planet, but will also feature some of the most exciting technological advances ever seen in the sport.

Frostad was in town as part of a three-day summit aimed at bringing the race into better focus for both members of the public as well as participating host cities.

Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined Frostad in welcoming the group to what will be home to the race's only North American stopover in May of 2015.

In addition to representatives from Newport, officials from Europe, South America, the Middle East, Africa, New Zealand and Asia were all on hand for Tuesday's announcement.

Spanning nine months, the 2014-15 race will take competitors around a 40,000 nautical mile course, stopping in 10 different countries spread out across six continents in what has become one of the world's most anticipated sailing events.

"What an honor to play host to the conference this week," marveled Evan Smith, CEO of Discover Newport.

Gov. Chafee said that as the only North American stopover, the event is estimated to rival that of the 2012 America's Cup World Series (ACWS), which generated more than $50 million in economic activity for the state and served as a highlight of Newport's tourist season.

But Smith, who was intimately involved in the run-up to the ACWS, said that he wouldn't be surprised if the Volvo brought even more of an upside with it than the America's Cup competition did.

"My read on it is that it's going to be larger," Smith said, promising that it will be an event like no other. "The ACWS was a fabulous event," he added. But it was also a development project and "no one really knew what to expect."

The Volvo Ocean Race, on the other hand, has been in business for 40 years and comes with a robust planning and event management team.

"It's very exciting stuff," Smith said. "In my 25 years here, this is the biggest event that we've had the pleasure of working on."

And while the race will only be in port for about a week in May, Smith sees the entire experience lasting well after the last boat tacks past Castle Hill.

"I think that the impact from the event is going to be enormous," he said. "By providing visibility to highly-coveted international clientele, Smith was confident that it will also pay dividends for years to come."

Read, whose Sail Newport put together the winning bid to host the race, said simply that the race "sells itself."

And with over 18 months to get ready, he's certain that Newport will make a lasting impression with race organizers.

In addition to learning about overall race logistics, officials from each of the 10 international stopover ports were also due to tour Sail Newport and Fort Adams State Park to review the facilities that will provide the backdrop for the Newport stop.

Frostad also released some details about the boats that will be used for the next two editions.

The Volvo Open 65 will be lighter, faster, and more affordable than the previous generation of Open 70s used in the 2008-09 and 2010- 11 races.

According to Frostad, the new 65-foot monohull racing yachts will be strictly one-design and will be delivered "ready to sail" with some important refinements, not the least of which will be the economies that he hopes will encourage more teams to take part in the race.

And while much of the drama on the water will be dictated by the crews, weather, and strategy, the boats themselves will play an integral role in how fans experience the race.

In addition to each team's dedicated on-board media crew, the boats will incorporate the latest in video, satellite, and content production facilities that will allow the race to be broadcast to televisions, smart phones, and tablets.

According to race officials, each boat will feature five fixed camera positions and two uplink points, which will combine to give coverage from all angles. Microphones will also be strung around the boat, and all of it will be controllable from a central control panel tucked below deck.

Featuring live satellite feeds, a constant social media presence, on-board video and photography from a dedicated media crew member, and faster, more affordable boats, Frostad said that next year's Volvo Ocean Race will truly be a global competition.

During the last race in 2011, a total of six teams competed, with Groupama, skippered by Frenchman Franck Cammas, taking first place. Camper with Emerites Team New Zealand was second, with Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg, and skippered by Newporter Ken Read placing third.

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