I don't even know where to begin. The past week has been one of the wildest times of my life. I spent the past week in Rhode Island at the Newport stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race, the only North American stopover this year. There's so many things to talk about, remember and share. WHERE TO BEGIN?! With that said, it will all be covered in a three part blog series, with this first part covering the opening ceremony.
Driving in from Boston felt like old times and the area wasn't too busy, it felt like a normal day, with the traffic at it's normal Island pace (to be honest, I thought it would be a lot busier than it was, I was bracing myself for crowds galore). The weather was gorgeous and I couldn't have been more excited to be back in Rhode Island, my second home. I spent half of the past year living/on vacation in Portsmouth, 20 minutes North of Newport. It felt good to be back.
I spent the better part of my first day getting settled and attending the opening ceremony. That was my first taste of Volvo and little did I know the journey I was about to embark on was going to be out of this world.
Walking into the race village, it's hard to take it all in. There's so much going on and so many things to see: the multiple pavilions, boatyard, volunteers, coordinators, kids area, giant screen display, food area, etc... The sheer size and coordination behind the scenes to pull this off at every stop over is something to be admired. Hats off to the crew behind the scenes.
I got to the race village, which was at Fort Adams state park, a little bit before the actual ceremony started. I walked around and all I could think of was this place looks completely different - Fort Adams had been completely transformed. Now I've been to Fort Adams before on a regular day, with no event going on, and when the J24 world's took place there this past September. The way the Volvo Ocean Race crew has transformed the state park is insane and impressive.
As I continued my walk around, it seemed like the stations and pavilions just went on and on. The Boatyard was by far the biggest. The individual teams each had their own headquarters/pavilions and Volvo had its own interactive pavilion with cars on display. I kept going and stumbled upon Musto; which had its own, and may I say huge, tent which is fitting as it's the official race store for the race selling multiple teams' gear (except for Team SCA who has their own tent with Helly Hansen). Then came the sailors' terrace which was a coffee shop style place that housed multiple TV screens and offered some protection from the wind with its garage door style walls. Past the Musto pavilion, takes you to the North lawn which houses the Heineken beer garden, Moet champagne garden, and Mount Gay Rum garden. Beyond this (yes, there's more) is the food tent, large TV screen to watch the boats on, Volvo Ocean 65 cross section display and the golf ball shaped movie cinema. Like I said, Fort Adams has been transformed and there's tons to do and see in the Race Village.
After exploring the Race Village I made my way back over to the entrance to find a good spot to see the Parade of Nations begin; it kicked off the opening ceremony by having kids from the surrounding local schools carry in flags from all the nations that the sailors represent. Lots of people showed up for the opening ceremony, including Volvo Ocean Race Veteran (and Brad Reads brother), Ken Read. (See picture below)
There were multiple speakers on hand to say a few words to officially open the Race Village. Among them was Sail Newport (Co-host of the event with Fort Adams, State of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM), the City of Newport and Discover Newport) Executive Director Brad Read, Mayor of Newport Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad, Congressman David N. Cicilline and Director of the RI DEM Janet Coit. Although all separate and involved in different aspects and companies, they all had the same overarching message - "Newport needed this, Rhode Island needed this, and Newport will show up." The other clear and distinct message being heard was this (the Volvo Ocean Race) was a long time coming and the planning for this did not start when they won the bid 2 years ago, the planning started when they lost their first bid 5 years ago. Another huge focus for the stopover was sustainability, both on and off the water.
From talking to the local shop owners, volunteers and general patrons, you got that same message with multiple people telling me "we needed this, Newport needed this" and after the arrivals everyone was saying "Newport showed up." The community involvement and spirit behind the Volvo Ocean Race is so clearly evident and something to be admired, something you don't see in a lot of big cities these days. From local shops participating with store displays, (for which there was a contest a couple days before the opening), to the daily countdown from staff members, to the welcome signs placed around town, to the VIP discount cards for local shops, to the local schools following and tracking the race and making banners for the teams, to the government support, to the massive number of volunteers, one thing is for certain: the community (sailors and non sailors alike) wanted this and were just as excited about it as the "head honchos" running things.
On top of it everything, they're use of social media to build support and grow excitement was amazing. As far back as February this year, Sail Newport has been hosting event nights, some of which featured Skype calls with Team Alvimedica (who's home port is Newport) and sailing talks with industry pros, like Ken Read. It's not just those involved with the Volvo Ocean Race organization and Sail Newport who have used and continue to use social media. When it comes to the Newport stopover, the local shops have also been using social media - a lot on Instagram - to share their excitement and anticipation for the stopover.
If you haven't visited the Volvo Ocean Race during one of it's stop overs, put it on your bucket list. Now. Do it. It's something you'll never regret doing. And this is coming from a not so avid sailor.
This is truly one of those experiences that you'll talk about for years and years to come.
For more pictures from the opening ceremony, check out the album on our Facebook page or Instagram account (@foghmarine).
Coming up in Part 2: The Arrivals.