Annapolis VS Newport: Which is the “Sailing Capital of America?”

December 10th, 2017

Annapolis and Newport have a lot in common: both are historic, beautiful, waterfront cities and, for years, both have claimed to be the “Sailing Capital” of America.
In the first column I wrote in this space three years ago, I questioned whether Annapolis deserved its self-anointed “sailing capital” title, given the cramped, crowded harbor and relative lack of amenities for the visiting yachtsman. Lots of readers agreed with me, but a vocal minority cried foul. Hell hath no fury, I discovered, like an Annapolitan challenged on the sailing pre-eminence of his or her city!
I was in the crosshairs – the fire and fury – until Molly Winans, the editor of SpinSheet Magazine came up with a Solomonic solution. Noting that Newport routinely hosts mega-yachts and huge sailboats and that Annapolis is home to an active fleet of 30-40-foot racing sailboats, she decreed that Newport is the “Yachting Capital” of the U.S. and that Annapolis is the “Sailing Capital.”
Controversy resolved!
But wait: Newport now has thrown down a gauntlet that threatens Annapolis’s sailing capital title. Newport’s Mayor, Harry Winthrop, has invited the National Sailing Hall of Fame, currently housed in temporary quarters on Annapolis’s harborside, to move to Newport and settle into the city-owned Armory building, a handsome, turreted stone structure on Newport’s beautiful harbor.
The Mayor is offering to sell or lease the building to the NSHOF, which has been struggling for 13 years to raise the money to build a new Hall of Fame and museum at its postage-stamp site at Annapolis’s City Dock. The NSHOF has raised some $4.5 million in cash and pledges, but needs $9.5 million to meet its commitment to the Maryland state government and obtain a long-term lease on the land, which it currently occupies on a $1-a-year interim lease.
Gary Jobson, the reknown sailor, Annapolis resident and president of the NSHOF’s 27-member board, admits that they are tempted by the Newport offer, although they need more details.
“We in Annapolis claim we are the U.S. sailing capital,” he said this week, “but in reality the big yachts and the big donors don’t come here. They go to Newport.”
Jobson said his board is confronted with three options: continue their fundraising efforts in Annapolis, move to Newport or convert the Hall of Fame into a virtual, online operation. The board members are deeply divided, with some supporting each of the options, but Jobson is determined to bring the matter to a head and make a decision at the Board’s next meeting on January 8.
Would Annapolis forfeit its claim as the sailing capital if the Hall of Fame departs? Not necessarily, but one board member, former Delegate Dick D’Amato, thinks it would be a shame. He’d like to see the NSHOF raise enough money to build a striking building on the Annapolis waterfront, something that would catch the eye of any sailor coming into the harbor.
“It would be the first thing that they see,” he said, “and it would effectively hang out a sign that says “Sailing Capital.”
Moreover, D’Amato says, the Hall of Fame and museum would be a singular attraction in Annapolis. In Newport, it would be one more sailing institution, along with the majestic J Class yachts, the America’s Cup yachts racing in the harbor and the International Yacht Restoration School. The America’s Cup Hall of Fame is just up the road in Bristol, RI.
Jobson, clearly frustrated by his protracted fundraising shortages, says the zillionaire celebrities who spend tens of millions on America’s Cup challenges, the Ted Turners and the Larry Ellisons, aren’t interested in contributing to a Hall of Fame here. “Believe me,” he said, “I’ve asked, more than once.”
But there is one new player in this continuing drama, as of last Monday: Mayor Gavin Buckley. He said in an interview that he is “100 per cent” behind keeping the Hall of Fame on City Dock in Annapolis.
So, as they say in live television, stay tuned.

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