Annapolis Sailboat Show – Walkin’ the Docks

I knew that it was going to be a great Annapolis Sailboat Show when I checked the Dow Jones Industrial Average on my cell phone on the opening day of the show.

In 2008, the United States Sailboat Show perfectly synchronized with one of the worst days in the stock market’s history. On that glum day, industry veterans and show goers alike walked around with dazed expressions, scarcely able to believe what was happening. Boat sales were sluggish, to put it kindly, and many sailors gazed upon the rows of beautiful new boats and tents full of new gear while silently calculating their retirement funds and net worth; tough questions to be asking in any environment, but downright horrible when you’re at a boat show.

But this year, it was a different story. The economy is far from healed, but there was an air of cautious optimism around the docks. Instead of overhearing snippets of conversation forecasting impending doom, this year’s scuttlebutt focused on more typical suspects, such as the hottest new boats at the show, the most interesting equipment, and-praise be-new-boat sales. For the first time since this economic meltdown started, industry and show goers alike started to realize that the sky isn’t going fall (at least not yet), and that there is a glimmer of light at the end of the deep, dark tunnel through which we have all been walking for the past two years. On the official opening day, Friday, the docks were low in the water under the weight of a crowd that’s one of the biggest I’ve seen at the show, and that story was repeated on Saturday and Sunday.

Back to the docks. New boats were on display, some 25 or so new models, ranging from the highly adaptable Topaz dinghy to the large, seven-figure offerings by Oyster, Hanse and Passport. In the medium-sized category, much talk revolved around the new J/97 and J/95, as well as the Summit 35 racer/cruiser. As far as eye candy, most show goers stopped and gawked for a few minutes (and perhaps did a bit more net-worth calculating, this time for all the right reasons) at the lovely new Morris 52, with her opulent teak decks, her graceful sheer line, and her clean-looking cockpit layout. Mmmmm.

And then there were the smaller boats. This years, perhaps due to the economy, this seemed to be the biggest growth sector of the show, with offerings from a variety of builders, some new, others old hats. The spicy-looking Sensei 9-meter was another showstopper. The K650, designed by Juan K of Volvo Ocean Race fame, was the go-fast girl of the show, and is suitably loaded up with carbon bits and a wide selection of Karver blocks. The new Eko 6.5 Classe Mini certainly took home “green” honors, as she is the perhaps the most progressive boat afloat as far as an environmentally friendly build process (recycled soda bottles make up her resin, and reused lead makes up the bulb on her keel strut, to name a few of her “green” initiatives) is concerned.

There was also plenty of action in the new catamaran market. Solid new models from Prout, Lagoon, Admiral, Leopard and Fountaine Pajot had the multi-hull crowd clamoring for better views of these fine boats. Many a multi-hull fan could be seen on the dock imagining sailing any one of these steeds around the Caribbean, loaded up with family and friends. (It’s possible that even devout monohullers such as myself were struck with these same sunshine daydreams while looking at these fine new offerings.)

So while the hangover from the recession is still thumping in many people’s heads, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that the DJIA closed on a high note exactly a year to the day of the big slide. This sentiment was certainly echoed by showgoers who found scorching deals on gear and boats. But one of the best bits of gossip floating around the show was that while deals abound today, they might not be here tomorrow. You certainly weren’t hearing that song in 2008. So if you are considering a new boat, act fast. Who knows-you just might find yourself sailing in paradise sooner than you had imagined a year ago.

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