Boot Düsseldorf—The World’s Biggest Boat Show Turned 50

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The gorgeous new Swan 65 was one of the stars of the show; bowsprits like this were all the rage, but none was done as well as this one

The gorgeous new Swan 65 was one of the stars of the show; bowsprits like this were all the rage, but none was done as well as this one

In the 50 years since its inception, Boot Düsseldorf, the indoor extravaganza held each January on the banks of Germany’s Rhine River, has grown to become the 1,000lb gorilla of boat shows. The demise this year of the competing London Boat show and the slow slide into obscurity of December’s Paris show has further cemented its status. If you’re serious about building and selling boats, you have to be at Düsseldorf, period. The 17 halls in this massive complex hold not just boats, but everything from kayaks to 100ft motor yachts, swimming goggles to submarines, fishhooks to sport fishing boats and everything in between. It’s not just the world’s biggest boat show, it’s the world’s biggest watersports show.

As always, the sailing halls were dominated by the big production builders with their full ranges on display. Jeanneau showed off its new 410 and 490, both of which American audiences saw at the 2018 Annapolis boat show. Pride of place on the Beneteau stand went to the smallest of the new Oceanis line, the 30.1, backed up by the impressive new 46.1, also introduced a few months ago. The 46-footer is a Conq design that employs a stepped hull form like those seen on many modern catamarans. This, in turn, increases hull volume while minimizing the performance penalties that come with a wide waterline beam. The “step” also permits fuller bow sections allowing Beneteau to offer a four-cabin, four-head layout.

Dufour came to the party with its new Grand Large 390 and 430 models, both with new hulls and deck layouts by Umberto Felci. There’s no departure, though, from the Dufour tradition of handsome, sailor-friendly boats; the interiors are nicely laid out with some good styling work and concealed lighting that makes the most of the wood trim.

After a tough year, Bavaria Yachts was back in town with new financing and a full range of models ranging from its baby 707 starter boat to the C57, a new design from Mario Cossutti.

The boat that caught my eye on the Hanse display was the all-new 548, a sleekly styled head-turner of a yacht. In the Hanse tradition she has a self-tacking headsail, and if you tick the boxes for the in-mast furling and bow thruster options you could handle her by yourself with no issues.

In fact, big is really big these days, and size-wise the 548 was nothing out of the ordinary. You could navigate your way around the show by the size of the boats, looking all the more impressive out of the water and towering above the pedestrian traffic—among them the Hanse 675, Oyster 675, Jeanneau 65, Solaris 68, Beneteau 57, Dufour 63, Contest 58, X-Yachts Xp 55, Bavaria 55, Grand Soleil 52, Garcia Exploration 52, CNB 78, Bavaria C57, Hallberg Rassy 57, Swan 65, Euphoria 58—and I suspect I’ve missed a few.

Some of these have been around for a while, others were brand-new. The Swan 65 stood out for its excellent finish and construction. With its blend of luxury and commonsense cruising features, Hallberg Rassy’s new 57 will also be a circumnavigator’s dreamboat. Were I bound for high latitudes, I would not be able to walk past the aluminum-hulled Exploration 52, a very well-crafted big sister to the Exploration 45 that snagged a SAIL Best Boats Award a few years ago.

One noticeable change from previous years was the number of multihulls on display. Not so long ago you’d be lucky to see one or two big cruising cats at the show—this year there were catamarans from Lagoon, Bali, Fountaine Pajot and Nautitech, along with variable-beam trimarans from Corsair, Dragonfly and French builders TriCat and Astus.

One of the delights of European boat shows is the number of boats from builders who are either unknown or barely known in the United States: from idiosyncratic one-offs to classy limited-production models from builders who sell their annual quotas within Europe. Düsseldorf never disappoints in this regard. If you’ve ever suffered from no-boat blues in mid-January, a quick trip across the Pond may be just the thing for you. Join the other quarter-million or so visitors from all around the globe and catch up with the very latest in things aquatic. 

Photos by Peter Nielsen

April 2019

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