BoatingLocal is pleased to introduce a new blog written by experienced boater, writer and photographer Thad Kubis. Kubis’s award-winning photography has been featured in such well-known publications as Black & White, Northeast Boating, Cruising World, SAIL and of course, BoatingLocal. His recent book, A Sailor’s Eye, documents a 12-day sail from Mallorca to Rome.
Kubis holds a USCG 50-ton license, with a Master upgrade and a towing and sailing endorsement. A sailor for 25 years, he has raced and cruised the entire East Coast, as well as the Bahamas, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. His boats have included a Tartan 33R, a Tartan 40, a J-32 and many 1-designs.
In the coming weeks and months, Kubis will be checking in with BoatingLocal viewers via “The Boater’s Eye”, offering his observations and insights on the boating life, both in New England and farther afield. In this first “Boater’s Eye” entry, Thad reports back from the recent U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, where he had a great time checking out some of the latest boats and gear—and maybe a few rum drinks.
The Boater’s Eye: Scenes from the U.S. Sailboat Show
I like boat shows, especially in-water sailboat shows, so I was excited to attend the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, earlier this month. I found the aisles crowded (especially on Saturday), and long lines of people waiting to board the boats. Frankly, the attendance surprised me, given the woeful state of the economy.
Yet while the crowds were large, the number of people visiting the many lenders, banks and other financial-service firms exhibiting at the show were weak to non-existent. It’ll be interesting to read the official post-show press release concerning the number of boats sold.
The exhibitors of boating equipment seemed to fare well. I spoke to many of them, and nearly all were pleased by the volume of people, and somewhat pleased by the level of sales.
The show featured every major boat manufacturer and accessory maker, as well as dozens of marine services and suppliers. Boat-wise, there were few new ideas, at least in my view, and some very old and repeated claims.
Beneteau demonstrated its Dock&Go technology, which even managed to impress this traditionalist sailor. It was a bit noisy, but the demo boat handled in tight quarters with ease. What this new technology did for boat sales is unknown to me, but it was a very impressive option.
The French-built Mystery 35 was a nice addition to a sailboat show that seemed overly vanilla. The Mystery, while costly at a base price of $235,000, was a well-designed, functional, sailor-friendly, tiller-driven boat. The on-deck layout was conceived with serious sailing in mind, and its large, functional and easy-to-access cockpit weakened any arguments regarding the space a tiller takes compared to a wheel. The boat’s interior was Spartan yet warm, comprising a clean, open interior, ample storage, nice stove-equipped galley, simple head and comfortable bunks. The boat was a hit with many of the sailors I spoke to.
From a traditionalist’s point of view, most of the sailboats I saw had little new to offer, and most seemed like monohulls that were trying to be like multihulls in terms of their look and feel. My other impression was that these well-appointed dreamboats were more like floating RVs.
Yes, the market has changed, and if that is what the market demands then so be it—not for me, but perhaps for others. The ultimate goal of all builders is to sell boats, and achieving that goal is based on fulfilling the buyer’s concerns and needs.
My own concern is simple: Will catering to too many “buyer needs” make a boat less seaworthy or weaken its ability to sail across all points of sail and in all kinds of weather? It was interesting, perhaps even revealing, that when I asked 5 sales reps if the boat I was viewing was a bluewater boat, only one—showing the Hallberg-Rassy 39—would give me a direct answer. Most danced around the question, offering vague responses such as, “Can you define bluewater sailing?” or, “Extended cruising is our specialty,” or “Sailing offshore in sight of land is what we recommend.” (Can someone please tell me what this last statement means?)
The mix of mono- and multihulls at the show was broad enough to interest a wide range of sailing devotees, and there was a very cool trimaran built by Aquidneck Custom making its debut at the show. While this part-graphite tri is limited in interior space, information from the sales rep and (I think) the owner suggests that the new technology provides a very fast boat at a cool $500,000 price tag.
Not All Work!
Ah, but my time at the show wasn’t all about staring at boats. Painkillers served on the dock by Pusser’s in light, medium and strong varieties had the run of the show as well. I openly wondered if the consumption of these rum-based potions increases or decreases with the strength of sales at a boat show. I can argue both points, although after a number of Painkillers I am not sure why I would argue abut anything.
Other show highlights included the seminar series offered by the show producers and Chesapeake Bay magazine. I feel that this type of interaction is critical in a weakened economy, allowing a soft-sell approach to take place and etch into attendees’ minds the sponsors, speakers and topics that make sailing enjoyable. Topics included A History of Navigation, Cruising Chesapeake Bay, Marine Weather and others. I liked the seminar on the Gulf Stream, since my own past crossings have always been an education. One very applicable and timely topic was Navigating the ICW, just in time for the many snowbirds to make their annual trek south.
Cruising World also offered a series of seminars, including a boat-buying guide hosted by the three 2012 Sailboat of the Year judges and moderated by world-class sailor Herb McCormick. I was surprised to hear many of my concerns echoed by the panel, and was very pleased by the amount of information gathered on new or used boat buying. The “takeaways”: make sure the boat fits your needs, whether you’re a weekender, coastal cruiser or offshore sailor. You—not the boat dealer—should to define your boating needs, and you should make your purchase based on those needs.
I also attended a seminar by McCormick that focused on his recently completed sail around the Americas. It was a grand adventure: McCormick set sail from the Northwest, sailed clockwise around North and South America via the famed Northwest Passage, around Cape Horn the “wrong” way and crossed his path back in the Northwest. It’s all detailed in Herb’s informative book, which provides a very personal look at the crew, the boat, the support and, yes, the trip. You can find “One Island, One Ocean” on amazon.com.
This is the second book I’ve read by McCormick, and both are a pleasure. He delivers his first-hand knowledge in a style that’s open and friendly. His first book, Gone to the Sea, is a great winter read.
View from the Docks
I did find a few interesting products that crossed over the sail/power divide. Among my favorites were the digital cameras. The ability to provide online streaming video and still imagery has become commonplace, but the delivery technology is superb. Many of the devices I saw offered direct-to-social-media uploads, on-camera video editing and fine image resolution. An added benefit of nearly all the cameras I saw is the ability to mount them on a horizon-steady base, which allows a nearly balanced view of landing a big fish or crossing a finish line. Some of these devices are so small that the tripod or mount is the only element visible.
Safety equipment was also a broad-based crossover product, with an extensive presentation from nearly every manufacturer. The simple take is that life rafts and personal safety devices are entering the next generation, and the proof is in the pudding. Past weaknesses such as rafts flipping or life jackets not inflating when needed seem to have been addressed and corrected.
I was impressed by the knowledge offered by the life raft manufacturer’s reps for when I ask pointed (pun intended) questions regarding righting capabilities, entry procedures and onboard survival kits. I was also impressed with the scope of inflated vests offered. As a sailor I rarely wear my inflatable during the day, but as more race committees require vests to be worn at the start and completion of a race, the need to reduce the bulkiness of these devices is being addressed. I am told that wearing a vest is becoming more and more common among fishermen too. It seems that many vests are designed to be fishing friendly, but what about those hooks?
I also liked the exhibit by Torqeedo, maker of electric-powered outboards. Whatever you might think of the global-warming theory (I am not big fan), I feel that we should all support a cleaner earth, clean water and generally be more aware of the environment. Torqeedo’s technology and products seem to be at the forefront of environmentally friendly boating technology. If you need more information, check out www.torqueedo.com.
Video games are not my pleasure, but seeing an application-based example of anchoring is. I like interaction, but not as a video game—multimedia yes, video games no. Manson Supreme Anchor had a display featuring 3 of their anchors (mini versions) in a sand box. Attendees could test the 3 anchors and really see (sans water of course) how well they worked. It was a fun, enjoyable and very educational break from the static exhibits.
Overall, the show was a very positive experience for me. I hope that the end-of-show report that follows will be positive too, and perhaps offer signs that the weakness of the economy has started to wane, at least in the boating world.
Want a more direct interaction with the show? E-mail me at email@example.com.