“Wet, wild and crazy”: Ocean Race sets sail for Newport

International competition puts spotlight on R.I. economy, environment

By: - April 12, 2023 4:15 pm

The 11th Hour Racing Team’s sailboat, Malāma, under sail in the Southern Ocean in March 2023. (Photo by Amory Ross/11th Hour Racing/The Ocean Race)

Forget the Ironman.  Move over, Tour de France.

In the words of Charlie Enright, a Bristol native and skipper of Newport’s 11th Hour Racing team, the Ocean Race is the “toughest, longest sporting event on the planet,” and it’s headed to Newport next month.

The 12-day stopover at Fort Adams is the only North American destination on the 32,000-nautical mile, around-the-world sailing competition, offering an international stage for Rhode Island’s natural resources and vibrant hospitality scene to shine.

“When we bring events like this, it brings people to our restaurants, it fills our hotel rooms and it shows off the state,” Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Terrence Gray said during a press conference at the State House in Providence to promote the event Wednesday. “A lot of people come back after they experience it.”

The May 10-21 layover in Newport is expected to bring 100,000 visitors from around the world, matching or exceeding the $47 million in direct and indirect spending for the state when Fort Adams hosted the event in 2015. (It was also a stop in the 2018 race, but there was no economic assessment from that year, according to Mike Healey, a DEM spokesman.

Charlie Enright, skipper of the 11th Hour Racing Team, speaks at the State House Wednesday. At right is Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos (Photo by Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)

For 12 days, tourists and sailing enthusiasts will flock to the state park overlooking Newport Harbor to get a glimpse of the five, professional sailing teams coursing over towering waves and through fierce winds on 60-foot sailboats. 

Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, which is co-hosting the event with 11th Hour Racing, likened the sailors’ experience to driving through a carwash at 35 miles per hour with your head out the window.

“It’s wet, wild and crazy,” Enright said, recalling the conditions aboard the 11th Hour Racing’s boat, Mālama, on its journey thus far. The six-month-long event set sail in January from Alicante, Spain, and will finish in Genova, Italy, in June. The stopover in Newport comes after the fourth leg of the six-part trip, between stops in Itajaí, Brazil and Aarhus, Denmark,

It’s not all about the thrill of the race, though. An elaborate, festival-style sea of attractions set up throughout Fort Adams will give spectators a chance to see and taste Rhode Island’s riches, while also learning about sustainability and ocean health. The temporary infrastructure used for “Ocean Live Park” will be installed early next month before the event kicks off, Read said. 

When we bring events like this, it brings people to our restaurants, it fills our hotel rooms and it shows off the state.

– Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Terrence Gray

The stopover also offers a chance to promote sustainable ocean practices. Sail Newport has partnered with DEM to promote a low-waste event heavy on recycling, composting and minimal fossil fuel emissions. There will also be exhibits and education around ocean health, which is a key part of 11th Hour Racing team’s mission.

Since setting sail in January, the team has been collecting water samples along the trip to test for salinity, temperature and other markers of water health and sharing information with researchers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to Enright. 

“We feel like it’s our job to do that because we go to these remote locations where no one else goes,” Enright said. “If we don’t do it, who would?”



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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.