2017-12-28 / Around Town

Volvo Race Brings World’s Best Sailors to Newport

By Rob Duca


At the last leg, in Melbourne, the Vestas team had an on deck open house as part of the race village activities. (Photo from volvooceanrace.com) At the last leg, in Melbourne, the Vestas team had an on deck open house as part of the race village activities. (Photo from volvooceanrace.com) There is nothing like it in the world of off-shore sailing. By the time the Volvo Ocean Race reaches the finish line next June in the Netherlands, the seven competing One Design Volvo Ocean 65 racing boats will have traveled 45,000 nautical miles over eight months, across six continents and four oceans, with stopovers in 12 host cities, including Newport in May. Through it all, the sailors will endure a wide range of weather, challenging their endurance, their composure and their courage.

This is sailing’s ultimate marathon. Since its inaugural year in 1973, it has been considered one of the most grueling sporting events in the world.

“It is the largest and most successful property in sailing right now,” says Brad Read of Sail Newport, which will serve as co-hosts for the stopover along with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Commerce R.I. “The America’s Cup has gone through some ups and downs, but the Volvo Ocean Race is the pinnacle of off-shore racing.”


There will be a big welcome to everyone, when the Volvo Ocean Race makes its Newport stopover in May, regardless of what language you speak. (Photos from volvooceanrace.com) There will be a big welcome to everyone, when the Volvo Ocean Race makes its Newport stopover in May, regardless of what language you speak. (Photos from volvooceanrace.com) The regal yachts are only part of the allure. At each stopover, temporary Olympic-style villages will be erected that feature a plethora of attractions and family friendly activities. The Newport village, scheduled to open May 8, will be located at Rhode Island's Public Sailing Center in Fort Adams State Park. It will feature a One Ocean Exploration Zone with interactive marine education exhibits, children’s activities, a food court, team compounds, official gear store, sponsor pavilions and a dome theater. A full-size duplicate of the race boats will be located shore side and available to explore. On-the-water activities and sailing events are scheduled for each day, and visitors of all ages will have the opportunity to try sailing with experienced helmsmen onboard Sail Newport’s fleet of J22s.


Race village activities will range from simple science displays for future young sailors to high-tech film footage of the previous legs. Race village activities will range from simple science displays for future young sailors to high-tech film footage of the previous legs. There will also be numerous on-the-water events, including M32 high-speed catamaran racing, the Pro-Am race and in-port racing. “Think of it as a food-and-wine festival wrapped up in a sporting event,” Read says.

Approximately 125 40-foot containers will be shipped to Newport from around the world to be used in the construction of the village. There will be around 50 people working over 10 days to build the village, which includes those needed to build the Volvo Pavilion, the seven team bases, the boatyard, and the Volvo Ocean Race Experience elements.


Vestas 11th Hour, our hometown team on a calm day. Vestas 11th Hour, our hometown team on a calm day. Newport will be the ninth of 11 stopovers in the VOR, which began in October in Alicante, Spain. The yachts are scheduled to arrive on May 11, and the sailors will spend between 10 and 12 days here. The boats will then depart for Cardiff, Wales. Just as in 2015, Newport is the only North American stopover.

If two years ago is any indication, the sailors will receive an enthusiastic greeting. Vestas 11th Hour Racing features a pair of local sailors, skipper Charlie Enright and crew member Nick Dana.

“We had more people come through our race village [in 2015] than any other North American stopover in the history of the Volvo Ocean Race,” Read said. “The community embraces them and they are at the spiritual home for sailing, which is not just Newport but all of Rhode Island.”

For the sailors, all of whom are professionals, there is pain and pleasure as they navigate these extraordinary yachts around the world. They will burn up to 6,000 calories a day, subsisting on a diet that consists mainly of freeze-dried, highly calorific meals, regular snacks and vitamin boosts.

“[The sailors] have to hit the gym seven days a week, every day of the year, because this race takes a ton out of you,” Read said. “Picture yourself standing up through [the sunroof of your car] going 40 m.p.h. through a car wash. That’s what it’s like.

“But the hardest part for every one of the sailors is leaving the dock on a 6,000-nautical mile leg, knowing that they are going out into potentially very hazardous weather. The mental aspect of the race is huge.”

One of the most demanding stretches will come when they reach southeastern New England, where the water temperature plunges to the low 40s after they exit the gulf stream. “Spring storms can be ruthless. It takes them through some of the worst conditions in the race,” Read said.

With the stopover less than six months away, planning is heating up. “We’re going full bore now, but VOR planning never really stops. It’s always in the back of your mind,” Read said.

According to Read, approximately 130,000 people turned out for the 2015 VOR, with an estimated economic impact of $48 million. He is expecting even bigger numbers in May. “Two years ago was such a huge success,” he said. “We’re anticipating the same this time.”

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