2018-03-08 / Front Page

Volvo Ocean Racers Head for City

Locals Get Ready to "Paint the Town Volvoā€¯
By Rob Duca

In just two months, the sailing world will descend upon Newport when the seven One Design Volvo Ocean 65 racing yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race arrive from Brazil in a competition that started out in Spain last October.

For the organizers of the Newport stopover, preparation for hosting an event that could draw more than 130,000 spectators to Aquidneck Island and result in a state and local economic windfall of approximately $50 million has been ongoing for years.

“We really haven’t stopped working on the Volvo Ocean Race since it left here in 2015,” said Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, which will serve as co-host for the stopover with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and Commerce R.I.

“It’s a lot of work for all our staff and volunteers. [Last week] we had 60 meetings on everything from container deliveries [for the race village] to a public safety meeting to working with sponsors on the budget.”

A Volvo Ocean Race kick-off meeting was held on Feb. 27 at the Newport Marriott, where representatives from the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, Discover Newport and Sail Newport presented details on how the business community can be involved in welcoming the event. With the clock ticking, additional sponsors are being sought to cover an operating budget of nearly $4 million. Currently, sponsorships in the $2,500 to $3,500 range are needed, said Kim Cooper, marketing director at Sail Newport.

Approximately 600 volunteers will also be required to work the VOR. Volunteers were recruited at a meeting on March 1, and 70 percent of the slots are now filled, Read said. Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up at volvooceanracenewport.com.

The Volvo Ocean Race, which began in 1973, is the world’s premier off-shore sailing competition. It spans 45,000 nautical miles over eight months, across six continents and four oceans, with stopovers in 12 host cities. For the second time in three years, Newport is the only North American stopover. The race village will be open from May 8-20, with the boats expected to arrive either May 9 or 10.

“An event like this takes dozens of organizations and hundreds of people to plan, stage and execute,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport. “This is about as large an event as we can hold in Newport.”

More than 500 hotel rooms have already been reserved by the VOR team, said Robin Crawford, executive director of corporate affairs for the Volvo Truck North American Division. “We're up to 800 guests so far staying in Newport,” she said.

Before the 2015 stopover, the VOR had traditionally visited only major North American cities like New York, Boston, Baltimore and Miami. “They were terrified of bringing the race to a boutique city like Newport, until they saw what we were doing to get ready for it,” Read said.

The success of that stopover lured back the VOR, but even with 2015 as a template, organizers know that many challenges remain before the boats arrive in Newport Harbor. Committees overseeing security, logistics, marketing, finance and education are now ramping up as the event draws closer.

“This event is ridiculously expensive to run, so we need to get the word out,” Read said. “There are 156 pages of requirements, ranging from all the logistical support to making sure there are hotel rooms, office trailers and Internet communications. There are dozens and dozens of line items to cover.”

That includes, he said, upgrading the electrical wiring and dock system at Fort Adams State Park, working with local marine and ferry companies to mitigate transportation issues, and persuading the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) to reinstate the bus line during the event from downtown Newport to the park.

“We’re looking to get people off the road and to come across Newport Harbor by water,” Read said. “We’re also working with Newport police to use the same egress patterns that have been used in the past for the jazz and folk festivals, and for the [2006] U.S. Women’s Open [at Newport Country Club]. We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work on the roads.”

The marketing committee will soon begin sending out e-blasts and become more prevalent on social media. “We’ll be pumping up the volume to get people psyched,” Smith said. “We need to get people engaged and connected to welcome the global [sailing] community.”

The logistics committee is teaming up with local police and fire officials, the harbormaster and the Coast Guard on a security plan, while the educational One Zone Exploration Zone committee, which consists of 26 nonprofits and local institutions, is organizing exhibits that will focus on sustainability and the health of the ocean.

Perhaps the most massive undertaking is the temporary Olympic style village that will be erected at Rhode Island's Public Sailing Center at Fort Adams. Approximately 125 40-foot containers will be shipped to Newport to be used in its construction. There will be around 50 people working over 10 days to build the village.

By the time the

boats arrive, the city will be adorned with banners, flags, posters and signs heralding the VOR. Organizers will even hold a window decorating contest to inspire local businesses to embrace the event. “We want to paint the town Volvo,” Smith said.

Currently, Read said, everyone associated with the stopover is “going 80 miles-per-hour each and every day, making sure that we’re organized and that nothing is missed.

“[In 2015], we knew there was a runaway train coming, but we didn’t know how fast it was or how hard it was going to hit us,” he said. “Now, we do. And that knowledge is reducing the total pressure of preparing for this event.”

Return to top