barcelona on my mind (part 3)
CITY BY THE SEA
When I shared my Christmas plans for Barcelona with some of my better-traveled friends, they were extremely jealous. “What’s the big deal?” I wondered. I remembered Barcelona as a pretty cool but typically Spanish city. Landlocked like much of the Spanish Med by industrial maritime uses and fences, its dirtiness and smell tempered with delicious food, insanely hot women and great nightlife. But since I’d be staying near the water for the Barcelona World Race, I’d see little of the good stuff, so I thought.
But sometimes I’m an idiot, and my assumption that the Barcelona of 2010 was anything like the Barcelona of the late 80s and early 90s couldn’t have been more wrong. I’d spent a little time in the Catalan capital in my late teens, and in fact 1991 – my last visit – was an exciting year for the city, its first as the host of the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix. My two weeks here was marked by youth hostels, chasing Barcelonesa tail, buckets full of cheap beer and sangria and the utter dominance of Nigel Mansell’s new active-suspension Williams-Renault. And like every time I visited Barcelona, I wondered how the hell such a cosmopolitan city could get their waterfront so wrong, with a huge fence around the completely industrialized port, nearly no access anywhere, and nothing to see besides a soot-filled landscape of containers and tank farms and men at work.
I somehow forgot that 1992 was Barcelona’s Olympics, and it marked the wholesale redevelopment of more than 20 km of the areas waterfront, including the conversion of the industrialized harbor to a maritime treasure. A man-made island houses a huge IMAX theatre, maritime museum and aquarium, restaurants and shops and galleries dot the once-nasty neighborhoods of Barceloneta at the water’s edge, marinas and a superyacht yard are integrated into the layout seamlessly, and for both walking tourists and visiting cruise ships, it’s the kind of place that anyone who loves the water can easily get lost for a day. The old city and downtown a short walk away are buzzing just as they did 20 years ago only more so, along with an infrastructure that now supports the fifth most popular tourist destination in all of Europe. And thankfully, the same shockingly gorgeous Catalan women are everywhere you look. It’s one of the few places that you’ll see three 25-year old girls – all of them tens – skipping down the sidewalk holding hands (my only regret is that it’s not bikini weather). In short, a dedicated group of people and two decades of strategic development and marketing has made Barcelona one of the most attractive places to visit in the world.
When the Mayor of Barcelona decided to throw his support to the World Race, he had pretty clear reasons for doing so. Despite the excellent harbor redevelopment, Barcelona, like many industrialized cities in the Western Med, has long looked to the land rather than the sea. It’s a by-product of being an important port for centuries, and you see the pattern all over except for the cities that have made a conscious effort to change it, Valencia being a good example. The cities developed while focusing on their cathedrals and palaces and plazas while the seafronts often grew from fishing ports to rough-and-tumble Age of Sail waterfronts to naval strongholds and re supply ports to container ship and freighter terminals. If you lived in the city, you just ‘didn’t go down there’ even if you were allowed to; it was dirty, smelly and full of seedy bars and industrial concerns, while at night cheap prostitutes, pickpockets and the drunken sailors they preyed on roamed the streets.
Barcelona may have transformed the waterfront, but compared to the famous Ramblas and the Cathedral and Picasso museum and Gaudi’s incredible landmark buildings, it’s seriously underutilized. The beaches certainly get their share of summer crowds, but neither locals nor tourists really look to the port and Barceloneta as the kind of sought-after destination that the mayor’s office wants it to be. So while the city continues to host F-1 and MotoGP events and other big-name sporting trials, the Fundacio Navegacion de Barcelona (the “FNOB”) focuses on promoting sailing events that will help Barcelona’s maritime reputation catch up to her general fame as one of Europe’s great cities, and the Barcelona World Race is the keystone of that strategy.
And tomorrow in Part 4, we’ll tell you all about how the FNOB created the Barcelona World Race, how they went from nothing to a sponsorship, competitive, and media success in just 3 years, and the kind of creative solutions that have integrated the BWR into Barcelona’s consciousness in such a short time. So check back here for it, and go to the Barcelona World Race thread for up-to-the-minute pics, video, and information from on the ground here in Barcelona. And if you’ve got the bug, be sure to check here on the 31st when we’ll be running a live, free webcast from the docks on the morning of the race with a little of everything, and we might even be doing some live On-The-Water work for you as well alongside the official TV-quality feed.
Also a big thanks to two great sponsors that are well represented here in Barcelona and that have stepped up to help support our coverage of the Barcelona World Race: Magic Marine is back supporting ocean racing while fine-tuning their soon-to-be-launched line of hot offshore foulies, their prototypes riding with superstar Spanish Olympians Iker and Xavi’s on their Open 60 back Mapfre. And top French furler, block, and rigging hardware manufacturer Karver is with On-The-Water Anarchy for the first time, though their glittering techno-awesome stuff has been helping solo racers go faster for years. So welcome to them, and welcome to all the Anarchists following this exciting doublehanded race around the world.