2018-05-10 / Front Page

VOLVO OCEAN RACE 2017-18

Plowden at helm of local stopover Jamestowner in charge of village
BY ROBERT BERCZUK


Jamestown resident Susan Maffei Plowden talks Tuesday with Andrew DeNeen about the race village they built at Fort Adams, which is hosting the Newport stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Jamestown resident Susan Maffei Plowden talks Tuesday with Andrew DeNeen about the race village they built at Fort Adams, which is hosting the Newport stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN While some say it takes a village to raise a child, when it comes to the Volvo Ocean Race, it takes Susan Maffei Plowden to raise a village.

Especially if you only have 10 days.

Plowden, a Jamestown resident since 1983, is director of the Newport stopover for the 2017-18 around-the-world sailboat race. Hired as a contractor by Sail Newport, she started the planning process more than a year ago, covering everything from site setup to public safety to lodging for the Volvo staff. Her job, she said, is to work with Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, to establish a staffing plan that can handle upwards of 15,000 daily visitors.

“There’s a method to do it and there’s a model where you have people who have done this before,” she said. “They’re event people, whether it’s sailing or sports, because we have to have a pretty lean team because we don’t have a big budget like some of the other stopovers.”


Jamestown residents John Mulligan and Susan Maffei Plowden chat Tuesday at Fort Adams. The Newport village for the Volvo Ocean Race is open through May 20. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Jamestown residents John Mulligan and Susan Maffei Plowden chat Tuesday at Fort Adams. The Newport village for the Volvo Ocean Race is open through May 20. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN That’s where someone with Plowden’s vast experience is an asset, Read said. She knows the site, Fort Adams State Park, and the ancillary players, from the state Department of Environmental Management to the contractors.

“She has such a great reputation in this industry and we’re fortunate to have her,” Read said.

The Calvert Place resident is a veteran of major sailing events, having worked on previous Volvo races in 1997-98, 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2014-15, which was in Newport. She’s also worked America’s Cups in 2012 and ’16.

Besides Plowden, several other Jamestowners are linked to this year’s Volvo race. Pat Sheehan is working with Sail Newport on protocols and sponsorships, John Mulligan is working on the logistics side, and Evan Smith, president of Discover Newport, has been heavily promoting the event.

The village consists of 120 containers, of which there are two sets that alternate between every other stopover location. Plowden’s crew has about 10 days before the stopover begins to put the village together with the help of Volvo staff, during which 12- to 14-hour days are the norm.

“It’s tight,” she said. “You just keep building.”

This year’s process went more smoothly than three years ago, she said, due to an important lesson learned — the need for more experienced people.

“A lot of people think Volvo comes to town and they produce this event, but we really produce it for them,” Plowden said. “We get a lot of support and they bring a lot of the elements — they bring the village — but we have to make sure the village fits, help them lay it out, get all the permits and work with the public safety to develop a plan because it’s a big international event.”

While most of the stopover villages are the same, the Newport location will have some unique experiences. The Newport Preservation Society will have a pop-up store similar to the one it has at Bannister’s Wharf. The Hong Kong tourism bureau also will have a local site.

A returning feature is the One Ocean Exploration Zone, which also is unique to Newport. The tent will showcase 30 different exhibitors, Plowden said.

“It’s a little like a science fair but it’s really hands-on and they’re really good, engaging activities,” she said.

There also is a pavilion hosted by Sail Newport that teaches visitors sailing basics on J/22 boats.

“What a great place to be in Brenton Cove and be sailing,” she said. “It’s just spectacular.”

Plowden said her team was able to make better use of Fort Adams this time and use all of the space available. All told, about 130,000 visitors are expected to come to the village during the two-week stopover, which is about the same as in 2015, she said.

“It’s not as jammed, it’s a nice flow and it’s more efficient,” she said. “You can look in the boatyard and watch (the teams) work. It’s a great setup because there’s something for people to do, it’s not just ‘let’s look at the boats at the dock.’ ”

Read said he was happy with how the village turned out.

“Sue is a rock star,” he said. “There’s nobody better in North America in doing large-scale major marine events. We wouldn’t do it without her.”

Plowden, for her part, gives credit to the 500-plus volunteers at the village.

“It’s amazing. These guys have done it before and they’re enthusiastic and knowledgeable,” she said. “When Volvo showed up here, their volunteer manager just said, ‘These guys have it all sorted out.’ It’s nice to be recognized by the Volvo team.”

While acknowledging “it’s pretty neat to come over the bridge and see it popping up,” she said mostly what she enjoys about the race is seeing old friends and making new ones.

She said several sailors have told her Newport is their favorite stop because of its size and the intimacy of the village.

“Newport is a place that people want to come to, and a lot of the sailors have been here for other events,” Plowden said. “People come here and appreciate the town, the bay, all the people and the support they get.

“You don’t get that in some of the other stopovers that are bigger cities because it’s lost in there. This is what we do well — host an event this size.”

Plowden will be onsite every day through May 20, troubleshooting problems and trying to ensure things go smoothly for an event that costs about $2.5 million to produce.

Saying there’s a lot to see and do for both sailing enthusiasts and those with little knowledge of the sport, she hopes locals will stop by and patronize the event and not just watch the race from Fort Wetherill.

“People should come here to see the race village and experience it because there’s a lot of great things to do, and also to support the event and support Sail Newport because people think it just happens and we really need people to come here and help support the event,” Plowden said.

“It won’t come back if we can’t break even or make this a success so we need the financial support and just bodies to count to show how much they want to support it. There’s something for everyone to do so it’s a great event in that regard because it’s not just to come and watch the racing; it serves a little of everything.”

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