Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:55AM - Comments: (10)
Being raised on the shores of Biscayne Bay, I should have known better than to expect crowds of sailing fanatics to converge on Miami when the Volvo Ocean Race sailed into town last month. Still, I held faint hope. Now, as the fleet of around-the-world racers closes in on the coast of Lisbon, and the flurry of press releases begins anew, I'm reminded of my many disappointments in the Miami stopover.
More than anything, the event recalled a birthday party for the elementary school outcast. His parents had promised that ďthis year will be different.Ē They hung streamers, blew up balloons, hired a magician with a real live rabbit, yet once again only a few close cousins showed up to somnambulate around the Doritos bowl.
It was sad. In its heart, the Volvo Race is a good kid, and deserved much better.
Miami is a tough town to host a sailing race, and at the risk of infuriating my sailing friends in the city I still hold close to my heart, I would offer this piece of advice to future race organizers: Unless you are ready to invest hugely in promoting the event, your U.S. dollars are better spent elsewhere.
Iím not even sure better promotion could have saved the event, but I do know that the local effort on the ground was pathetic. A few flashing highway signs, a couple of stories in the local press, and some ephemeral spots on the local TV news channels was about as far as it went. In fact, you could be driving right past the port village and still not be sure what exactly was going on beyond the stark portable trailers at the front gates.
The venue might have been half-pleasant had the hosts or organizers gone to the trouble of trucking in some shade, a few more potted palm trees or some tents. As it was, a barely concealed urban desert greeted the public: a white-hot parking lot beside a downtown canal, some weeds, chain-link fences, and wind-whipped dust. A poor singer on the main stage serenaded the scavenger seagulls. Some teams, like Puma, had gone to the trouble of laying mulch around their mobile fan bases, but others, like Camper and Abu Dhabi sprung like hopeful daisies through the cracks in a neglected sidewalk, splashes of color in a concrete prairie.
In spite of the venue's best efforts to ruin the affair, I still enjoyed my weekend. Highlights for me were the young racers whirling around race buoys in multicolored Optis, and the Volvo boats themselves, far more impressive in person than in any YouTube spot. Several were clearly undergoing significant repair and maintenance (rudders were the subject of particular attention), and all the crews were engaged in meticulous fairing of the hulls.
My boys loved the virtual racing in the Volvo tent, the race boat simulator, and the chance to see a hunting falcon up close in the Abu Dhabi tent. We all enjoyed listening to the super-enthusiastic Puma promoter read a book about saving the sea, while a smiling stuffed octopus named Marmo pantomimed. After a couple of hours, though, we were ready to go to the beach.
I suppose that is the hardest part about promoting watersports in Miami. Itís hard to get excited about someone elseís adventure when your own is so close at hand.