Ever since I began sailing I have enjoyed attending boat shows. They have fed my fantasies and drained my pockets. I have sampled there varied themes and locations: sailboat, powerboat, small boat, wooden, metal, kayaks, used, indoor, outdoor. In fair weather and foul they have always made me feel at home.
The first one was the 1972 United States Sailboat show at Annapolis, Maryland. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Mind you it was a heaven I couldn’t afford. New boats have a talent for administering large doses of sticker shock. Still I attended that show most years until 1989 when I bought my Seaward23, Dragonsong, at the special boat show discount price. Maybe that was short of heaven but not by much. It represented a quantum leap from hauling a daysailor around on a trailer rattling along behind the old Chevy truck.
That left me with a daysailor to get rid of. Old Time Song was a 12 foot San Francisco Pelican that I bought in 1974 in Newport Rhode Island at the Yankee Trader Used Boat Show. The used boat show was a new idea and very appealing to me. I borrowed my dad’s van and drove up to Newport. I was first in line at the gate where I was able to watch the ribbon cutting ceremony. I was the first potential customer through the gate and the first to buy a boat. Also exhibiting their new magazine was a group of enterprising young boat builders with the first several issues of WoodenBoat magazine. Naturally I signed up for a charter subscription. Sixteen years later Yankee traders was still around and they were holding a used boat show in Annapolis. So that is where I sold her to a man from Washington D.C.
Other boat shows I have known are the winter boat shows in Philadelphia and Baltimore. These always struck me as interesting novelties with large fully rigged sail boats stuffed inside of buildings like Ships-in-bottles taken to absurd levels. Winter shows are essential in certain areas of the country. They help a sailor get through the boatyard lay up season without getting crazed too badly.
Some shows are notable for their novelty themes. Back in the day, the truly excellent Small Boat magazine held an annual show in Newport, R.I. called, appropriately, the Small Boat Show. It was a fun show with lots of hands-on activities. It’s the first place I got a chance to paddle a sea kayak which were kind of a newly emerging genre. I also saw the first kit boat with CNC cut parts. I went to shows in Newport on several occasions and it was always worth he drive from central Pennsylvania. It was the ultimate sailor’s party town. Probably still is.
The first WoodenBoat show put on by the magazine of the same name was also in Newport. I was privileged to attend that one as a vendor. I had been trying to make a living as a woodcarver for several years but settled into a paying job as the economy of the late 1970’s put the squeeze on me. The show was good medicine for the soul. It featured some beautiful vessels ranging from the exquisite 72 foot Ticonderoga to the 24 foot Fenwick Williams yawl Annie. And of course there were schooners, an addiction I will never kick.
I spent an especially enjoyable weekend along about 1988 at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland. That was when I was still hauling the Pelican along behind the Chevy. The Traditional Small Craft Association put together something that was more like a camp out for small boat sailors than a boat show. The first night was a social gathering with steamed oysters and chat around a camp fire complete with s’mores and lots of boat talk. the rest of the weekend we had our boats judged, ate good food, took each other sailing and rowing, ate good food, raced our boats and ate some more. I made some good friends and memories that are like medicine to my hard aground lifestyle.
Now that I reside on the left coast the boat show scene has changed. I am in driving range of Port Townsend, Washington which is the location of the oldest wooden boat festival in the country. I went on about it in my previous post and will just say that if you are anywhere with the means to be there then you should go there! It has the greatest variety of sailing vessels you will see anywhere without inventing a time machine. Did I mention schooners?
The most recent boat show I attended, sort of, was in my home port, Port Angeles, Washington this past weekend. I was at the pier downtown which is a sort of local attraction and beach area. The Calvary Chapel church that I attend was having an open air, “Church on the Pier” event. As I was walking around the area after the service I saw a banner stretched across the pier that read, “Metal Boat festival.” I remembered seeing a small story in the local newspaper the previous year and had been disappointed that I wasn’t able to check it out.
The municipal pier has about ten slips tucked in along the landward side. Five of them were occupied by sure enough metallic vessels. Each one had a sign bearing information about the designer, builder, place and time of ownership. It might have been nice to tour one or more boats or talk to a vessel’s owner but their was nobody to be seen on deck. I settled for interviewing a young man who is living on a converted navy motor whaleboat. His boat was wooden and he wasn’t part of the “festival.”
Boat shows, festivals, gatherings, or whatever you call them have a charm you can’t find at the mall. There is a variation from social to commercial. I find both to be educational and entertaining.