With a new America's Cup event and a gathering of tall ships headed to Newport this summer, Rhode Island's 2012 tourist season aims to attract visitors with a celebration of its nautical heritage.
This month's America's Cup World Series regatta at Fort Adams State Park is expected to feature top international sailors competing in catamarans built for speed and agility. The event is scheduled for June 23 to July 1 and will include four days of racing.
The World Series races are being held in locations around the globe; Newport's race will be the final stop before next year's America's Cup in San Francisco. Newport hosted the America's Cup for decades until 1983. Hosting one of the World Series events has been a goal since the state learned it lost a bid to host the 2013 Cup.
The return of the America's Cup brand has special meaning in Newport, according to Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport and chairman of the event's host committee. "We are one of the biggest and best ports for cruising, racing and marine events in the world," Read said. "This is important for us, not only because of the economic implications but also because it reinforces Newport and Rhode Island as a tourism destination because of our amazing asset: Narragansett Bay." Newport's natural setting will again be on display in July, when the seaside city hosts the Ocean State Tall Ships Festival.
The July 6-9 event will boast at least a dozen vessels including one featured in the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty." Although Newport has hosted similar tall ship gatherings before, this year's event has special significance as it marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, according to Erin Donovan, executive director of Ocean State Tall Ships.
The event will be based along Newport's downtown waterfront.
"We made a conscious effort to keep it on the waterfront, close to restaurants and shops," Donovan said.
Together, the two events are expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors and generate nearly $100 million in spending.
Big nautical events aren't the only highlights on the Ocean State's summer calendar. Mark Brodeur, director of tourism at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., noted that the state will also play host to a big fishing tournament on Block Island and several music festivals including mainstays like the Newport jazz and folk festivals. This year's Newport Folk Festival sold out three months in advance.
Brodeur said that as gas prices remain high, more people are looking for destinations closer to home. That could pay off for Rhode Island if tourists from New York, Boston and other points in the Northeast decide to skip long trips for a shorter drive to the Ocean State.
"Sailing is always big, so is music," he said. "These kinds of events bring people back to Rhode Island, and they also attract new visitors who hopefully will want to come back."