2018-05-24 / Front Page

VOLVO OCEAN RACE

Sun shines as fleet departs East Passage
BY TIM RIEL


Fort Wetherill was mobbed with spectators Sunday afternoon to watch the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, including MAPRE and Team AkzoNobel, depart Narragansett Bay for Wales after the 13-day stopover across the East Passage at Newport’s Fort Adams. 
AINHOA SANCHEZ/VOLVO OCEAN RACE Fort Wetherill was mobbed with spectators Sunday afternoon to watch the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, including MAPRE and Team AkzoNobel, depart Narragansett Bay for Wales after the 13-day stopover across the East Passage at Newport’s Fort Adams. AINHOA SANCHEZ/VOLVO OCEAN RACE About a dozen spectators trotted around the easternmost bank of Fort Wetherill late Sunday morning, staring anxiously toward the bay and the fog that covered it.

Just a couple miles away, invisible to those people in Jamestown, was the west coast of Newport.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet was scheduled to depart from Fort Adams for Wales. If they were lucky, the onlookers at Fort Wetherill would get a glimpse through the muck. It was just another gloomy day in a 13-day stopover headlined by a cloud-covered skies with spats of rain.

According to stopover director Susan Maffei Plowden, a Jamestown resident, race organizers were prepared to cancel the inshore exhibition. Instead, they were going to send the fleet directly to sea.

Then, as the starting time approached, the sailing gods awoke. The fog lifted, the sun appeared. Spectator boats began dotting the East Passage, from 5-horsepower dinghies to the 100-foot Red Sky, a Nautor’s Swan listed at $3.2 million. Hundreds of spectators along the Fort Wetherill cliffs and thousands across the channel were able to give a proper Narragansett Bay send-off to the striking yachts, which raced back and forth between the Newport Pell Bridge and Castle Hill for 90 minutes before finally departing the bay.

“I might be biased because I am from here, but I consider this to be the sailing capital of the world,” said Bristol native Charlie Enright, skipper for Vestas 11th Hour Racing. “Newport has shown its true colors this week.”

Plowden said about 100,000 people visited Fort Adams during the stopover, an impressive number for such a lousy week. An estimated 131,000 visited during the 2015 stopover, which was considered the most successful port visit during that edition.

“Despite the weather, it was fantastic,” she said. “The Volvo team was thrilled again.”

Plowden was especially pleased with the inshore race Saturday, which was won by skipper Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel. The rain was not enough to keep the Fort Adams rocky coastline bare.

“There was a sea of foul-weather gear,” she said. “It was pretty impressive.”

The fleet, led by MAPRE in first place, is now in the midst of its 3,300-nautical-mile transatlantic leg to Cardiff. The weather, Vestas meteorologist Chris Bedford predicted, will begin with thunderstorms, then the boats will hit a fast-moving system before running into high pressure off Ireland.

Following this “iconic ocean passage,” as described by British navigator Simon Fisher, there will be a 1,300-mile leg to Sweden followed by the 700-mile finale to The Hague.

“I may get more sleep on this transatlantic coming up than I did during the stopover,” Enright quipped before setting sail. “It has been great to be home, but we are ready to finish this race strong.”

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