Why go to a boat show? For me, it’s not about the boats or the gear. It’s all about the people.
Boat shows are ubiquitous, at least at certain times of year in certain parts of the country. This past weekend, April 20-22, there were at least 2 I know of and more I’m sure I’m totally oblivious to.
I went to the one in Annapolis, Maryland, on the east coast of the US.
Unlike the fall show, where there are hundreds of boats and thousands of vendors, with deals on everything from foul weather gear to anchors to autopilots, this one was far more intimate. Last spring I made it a point to get on every single boat at the show; this year, I wasn’t interested at all in stepping on board boats but made the rounds of talking to vendors and seeing what interesting stuff might be out there. At first glance, it was a bit of a let down.
If you like jewelry, or clothing, or overpriced hand lotion, you’d be in luck. Lots of those spots. They competed with charter companies and boat insurance and refinancing booths.
Among those, though, I found a few really interesting places selling niche products that the people had created because of a lack they found in their own cruising experience. There is Ugo, for example, that sells a waterproof wallet/purse so waterproof they fill it with cash, cards, phone, and more – and float it in a water tank from which they fish it to show off the truth in advertising.
There was Weems and Plath, the navigation tool people, who I talked to about our old compass that needs a new dome. They couldn’t do it – but they steered me right across the way to J. Gordon and company, who talked to me refurbishing antique compasses and took a guess about what kind ours is, a guess that was confirmed as correct by Jeremy when I reached him on the phone.
The spring show at Annapolis may be tiny, but the bonus with tiny is that you can spend all the time you want talking to people. You can poke on boats without a salesperson trying to show you every nook and cranny (which gets old in a house; imagine on a 40’ sailboat!). You can get boat cards, be referred across the way, hear about how someone came up with the idea they now are selling. There’s no worry on either side about the fact that you might not be buying – it’s not like there are 10 people lined up behind you, credit card in hand, making both the seller and you nervous about spending too much time just shooting the breeze.
Even if it’s fall, though, if you want a collection of people selling boat stuff all in one place at your fingertips to chat with? Go to a show.
So one reason to go to a show? You can see a lot of boats and boat products, all in one space. You can talk to other people about why they’re looking at that particular one, and what else they’ve considered.
Another reason to take you and your wallet and your feet to a boat show is in the realm of ideas. Every time I step on a boat, I get an idea about layout, or storage, or even fittings down below. When I have 400 boats at my disposal, I may only step on 50 of them, but that’s more than I get on during the course of a season. I take lots of pictures, bring home lots of brochures, and spend lots of time dreaming. My preference is to focus on one certain thing – I’m currently on a sink kick, since we will be replacing ours – and look for options and different ways to think about the problem.
But by far the best reason to go to a boat show is the people. There are the people who are selling things, of course, who are generally incredibly knowledgeable about their products and being on the water with them. There are the other people at the show, people who don’t think this boating lifestyle is weird or different or out of the ordinary. When you are surrounded by a society that tends to think in terms of the “norm” (which includes a ranch 3:2 with a white picket fence and the minivan parked out front), the energy you gain from a group of people who at the very least are investigating the possibility of life on board . . . it’s impossible to underestimate that value. And finally, there are the friends you see at the show. These might be friends you’ve met online, or friends from previous shows. They might be people you start talking to while waiting in line at the portapotties or for painkillers, and it turns out you’re simpatico and actually keep your boats 2 marinas apart.
Three reasons to go to a boat show? The people. The ideas. And the people. Sounds about right to me.
I’ll be at the Annapolis Boat Show in the fall, working at a booth we call the Hugs and Smiles booth (officially Lin Pardey's booth, L&L Pardey Publications). If you’ll be there, stop by – it’s next to the Hendricks Gin Barge and the line for hugs will be unmistakable. And if you want even more of dose of cruising information, sign up for Cruiser’s University; I'm teaching a seminar on provisioning as well as one on the myths and realities of cruising.
Hope to see you out there!