5,010nm. 6 boats. 5,000 people.
That’s how many people came out to see the 6 teams arrive in Newport to finish leg 6. Waiting for the boats to arrive felt like waiting for paint to dry. Although there was the tracker, available on the Volvo Ocean Race Newport App and on the big screen in the Race Village, it was hard not to keep looking out to Castle Hill point to see if any boats were in sight; especially once it started to get dark and the nautical miles kept decreasing.
I got to the race village mid afternoon (I did some shopping in the morning - did you really expect me to visit Newport and not shop?) to toodle around and settle in for the long wait for the teams to arrive in Newport. I guess this is what people feel like when someone they know is in labour?
The initial ETA was between 1AM-5AM EST on May 7th, then it switched to 10PM-1AM EST on May 6th for the first couple of boats and then around 8pm (on May 6th) an announcement came over the speakers that Dongfeng and Abu Dhabi, who were basically match racing right up until the finish, were set to arrive in the next 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs. FINALLY, I thought, and not just because I was cold, but because I wanted to see the boats and the teams that I had been following since September. Clearly, I'm a little impatient. By this time, wind speed had picked up to 7-9 knots, which everyone was happy about as the 2-4 knots that were happening earlier around 5/6ish were painfully slow.
By this point the crowds were starting to fill in and everyone was eager to see the teams arrive. Kids of all ages were there, adults, grandparents - everyone from Newport was there. Soon as Dongfeng and Abu Dhabi's mast lights were in sight, as they rounded the corner of Castle Hill and were making their last couple of gybes towards the finish line, excitement went through the roof and the non-stop cheering began. It was pure pandemonium. Once Dongfeng crossed the finish line, a mere 3 minutes ahead of Abu Dhabi, and the cannon went off – people went nuts – it was chaos. But not a bad kind of chaos, a good type of chaos that reflected the amount of excitement the people of Newport (and surrounding areas) had for this international race that was taking place in their own backyard.
The whole setting once the first two teams got to port was like being in a completely different world. Everyone rushed towards the pier to see them dock after crossing the finish line. By the time Dongfeng and Abu Dhabi actually did dock, the dock was packed.
It's hard to wrap your head around it while it's all happening, especially during the awards ceremony. It's like "is this really happening, am I really here watching this, with these guys and gals standing a mere 2 feet away from me? Pinch me." I feel like I need to pause, rewind and watch the whole thing over again for it to really sink in.
Once the boats docked, media hounds the crews while they're getting things on the boat all squared away and then they're whisked away straight to the awards podium for the ceremony. Even after being at sea for 17 days, the sailors were in such great spirits and moods - laughing and interacting with the crowds - Ian Walker was even singing along with Adil Khalid to their arrival theme song on stage. (Side note: every team has an arrival song that is played in every port when they dock.) By this time it was 10:30ish and everyone just had adrenaline racing through them, overtaking the tiredness and cold. Brad Read, along with Mayor of Newport Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, gave out the awards, confetti was thrown and champagne was sprayed (thanks for covering me in it, Team Brunel). And the whole process repeats for every team. Team Brunel was up after Dongfeng (1st) and Abu Dhabi (2nd), which was around 11:15/11:30ish, I think and then it was MAPFRE's turn (4th). At this point the crowds had died down a bit and I was able to get a closer view and actually watched them dock. What amazed me was the size of these boats, pictures really don't do them justice. Soon as they dock, the shore crews jumped on and went to work - cleaning, fixing and prepping the boats for the next leg and in-port race.
By the time first four teams had arrived and gone through the awards ceremonies, it was 12:15 and I was ready for bed. The ETA, at this point, for Alvimedica was 1:30ish in the morning - no amount of coffee would be able to keep me up for that at this point so I called it a night and set my alarm for Team SCA's arrival, who had an ETA at this point of 7-9am.
After I caught some shut eye, I made it back to the race village for 8:30am. At this point, I felt like I lived at the race village (no complaints though, even became buddies with the parking guys.) Once there, I made my way to the jumbo screen and did some blogging while I waited, which I thought would go on a lot longer as they were currently doing 2nm at 9:20am.
The ladies of Team SCA arrived around 10am and a lot of people still came out to see them arrive - it was basically a see of magenta, so I was right at home. By 9:30am the ladies were up to 6 knots and by 9:58am they were in sight. Cheers erupted once again. I have to say watching the arrival in daylight was a lot different than at night and it was an absolutely gorgeous day no less. The ladies docked and headed to the awards stage where more champagne was sprayed. The ladies of Team SCA were just as happy and enthusiastic as the guys were and very interactive with the crowd, with many stopping in the race village taking pictures with young fans.
This was sailing. This was sportsmanship. This is what gets the younger generation excited and involved in sailing. This is what we need more of.
The excitement, the energy, the atmosphere: it's something everyone needs to experience at least once in their life. I'm not saying this as a promotional thing, I'm saying it because it's true and it's something that you won't forget.
Speaking with customers who had been to one of the stopovers before in previous years (about my trip before I left) they told me the same thing: everyone has to experience it because it's an experience of a life time. So seriously, get out your bucket list and put this on it.
For more pictures from the arrivals, check out the album on our Facebook page or Instagram account (@foghmarine).
For a full review of leg 6 from Volvo Ocean Race, see here.
Coming up in Part 3: Post-Arrvial Fun.