December 05, 2008 @ 20:09:33   Foto Photos by Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race

Cochin, India, hosts the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time in its history

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Wednesday 3 December 2008

There were speeches, dancing and a small piece of history. On Wednesday, for the first time, a Volvo Ocean Race stopover village opened in India.

It was seen as a break in tradition when the new route to incorporate Asia was announced after the last race, but the reasons for it to happen were clear for all to see this evening.

Thousands of people, most without any prior knowledge of the race, packed the village in their droves. When the doors are closed and the last visitor has left later tonight, N Ramachandran, chairman of Cochin Port Trust, predicts between 50,000 and 100,000 people will have been in attendance.

And that is partly the point: taking the race to a demographic which has not before had the chance to realise what it is about. It was best illustrated by the queue to the race cinema - known as The Dome - where hundreds waited in line to glimpse what the race is about. They stood still and gracefully on the way in, and left talking and excited.

Ditto at the simulator. When the visitors stepped out they had an unending supply of questions, ranging from "why do they do it?" to "do they catch fish?"

Generally, the wonderment was matched by pride. The line up of guests on stage suggested the magnitude of the moment for the locals greeting this alien new sport, the first offshore race to visit India. Shri Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the Honorable Minister for Home Affairs and Tourism, was the guest of honour at the ceremony, while Shri Vayalar Ravi, the Honourable Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, addressed the audience in his role as chief guest.

Surrounding them were Members of Parliament and Dr Venu V, the Tourism Secretary of the Government of Kerala. "It is truly wonderful to welcome the Volvo Ocean Race," said Shri Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. "It is an honour," added Shri Vayalar Ravi.

They proceeded to call each of the teams on stage and presented the sailors - not to mention the numerous shore crews, press officers and anyone else in team kit - with gifts.

In time, the cultural music and dancing started as the last of the fleet's eight boats, Team Russia, was due to touch land for the first time since November 15. They have had a long leg but will arrive at a party in full flow.

All the while, the queues for the simulator grew and the cinema continued to spin its reels to a new audience. Whether they become lasting followers of the event once it leaves town remains unknown, but the early signs are good.


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