Newport history, beauty propel sailors in global ocean race
May. 10, 2015
NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — This City by the Sea is riding a wave of excitement harkening to its heyday as an international sailing mecca as it hosts this year's only North American stopover on the Volvo Ocean Race.
The sailors from the six teams arrived this week in Newport. The teams departed Oct. 11 from Alicante, Spain, on the 45,000-mile race that will conclude in June in Gothenburg, Sweden. Newport's race village will stay open through May 17, when the sailors begin racing toward Lisbon, Portugal. A seventh team was forced to suspend racing after its boat smashed into an Indian Ocean reef in November.
Newport used its rich sailing history to help beat out Baltimore, Maryland, a much bigger city that has hosted once before, for the chance to host — and to bring in millions from visitors. The area's last major sailing event — America's Cup World Series in 2012 — drew 65,000 people and generated about $50 million.
Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad said Newport was chosen because of its history, and also because its residents and visitors are passionate about sailing.
"The sailors love it," Frostad said. "They love coming to places where people love what they're doing and are following the sport."
Founded in 1639, Newport has always relied on the sea for commerce, transportation and defense. Recreational sailing came later, in 1844, when the New York Yacht Club first cruised to Newport and fell in love with the city's deep waters and dependable winds. The club soon created an outpost in Newport.
Bert Lippincott, reference librarian for the Newport Historical Society, said this was the "birth of American yachting."
"You've got one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world," Lippincott said. "There's nothing like it."
The yacht club chose Newport in 1930 to host the America's Cup match race. The international event draws tourists from around the world.
By that time, many wealthy American families were spending their summers at mansions they had built on the city's cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Tourists still flock to the 70-room Vanderbilt mansion known as The Breakers, which has been open to the public since the 1940s.
President Dwight Eisenhower vacationed in Newport, staying for weeks at a time. President John F. Kennedy stayed frequently at Hammersmith Farm, the estate owned by the family of his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. A sailor since boyhood, Kennedy enjoyed outings on the Honey Fitz, the 92-foot presidential yacht that could carry 40 guests.
The city hosted the America's Cup for 50 years, maintaining its position as an international sailing mecca. When the New York Yacht Club lost to the Royal Perth Yacht Club in 1983, the cup was moved to the Australian port of Fremantle. The winning team chooses the host city.
"It was a big loss for both the yacht club and the city of Newport," said Stuart Streuli, a yacht club spokesman. "It was a tremendous financial engine and it gave Newport something that made it unique."
A nonprofit sailing center was established in the wake of the loss to bring sailing back to the city.
But Newport did not host another large-scale professional sailing event until 2012, when it was the final stop in the America's Cup World Series, a string of regattas leading up to the America's Cup.
"The America's Cup World Series gave us a lot of confidence," said Brad Read, executive director of the sailing center, Sail Newport.
The state invested millions in upgrades to Fort Adams State Park so Newport could host large sailing events once again.
With the Volvo stopover, Newport has a new jewel in its sailing crown.
"As a sailor and a fan, it's tremendous," Streuli said. "I think most people in Newport think it's long overdue."