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Annapolis 2012: Innovation and then Some

If the recent Annapolis Boat Show were to have a theme song it would have to be Dylan’s “Times they are a Changing”—and not just because of the weather, which went from semi-tropical to polar in the space of only a few hours Saturday afternoon.
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If the recent Annapolis Boat Show were to have a theme song it would have to be Dylan’s “Times they are a Changing”—and not just because of the weather, which went from semi-tropical to polar in the space of only a few hours Saturday afternoon.

It’s no secret that the boatbuilding industry has been experiencing rough times ever since the economic crash of 2008. But after years of waiting, things are finally looking up—for real this time. Major builders like Beneteau and Fontaine Pajot reported strong sales, good traffic and plenty of prospects for the future. Lower-volume builders reportedly had a good show as well.

“We’re optimistic that the conversations we started with people in Annapolis will result in sales down the road,” said Michael Beers of Maroneck-based McMichael Yachts Brokers, which deals in a number of brands including J/Boats, C&C, Tartan and, most recently, Hanse. “The mood is definitely better. I don’t know if we’ve ‘turned the corner’ yet, but we’ve definitely made a ‘soft right.’”

From an attendee’s perspective, the show also offered plenty of changes to chew on—especially with respect to new boats. According to Beers, with dealer’s inventories falling, new models are very much in the driver’s seat with respect to sales, and the result has been a plethora of boats to choose from.

The ongoing “innovation arms race” taking place within the industry was particularly in evidence along Dock C in the multihull area, which featured such cutting edge designs as the Neel 45 performance cruiser, the SeaRail 19 and Motive 25R performance trimarans, the spunky little Zen 24 sloop and even a bright yellow 31-foot proa design from Chesapeake Light Craft.

Other standouts included two blisteringly fast carbon fiber racing machines—the MC38 one-design and the Ker 40 —from Australia’s McConaghy and the Farr-designed B/One.

On the less radical end of the spectrum were Tartan’s new Fantail, the first of the new Vision series from Bavaria and a brand-new 40-footer from Hunter that reportedly went from a blank sheet of paper stage to sailing in around eight weeks. Despite having only recently passed through bankruptcy, the 40-year-old Hunter clearly has its eyes on remaining a force in the industry for years to come.

In all, there were some two-dozen new boats to choose from, not to mention dozens more models that are “nearly new” having been introduced within the past couple of years. The optimism and industry that has been displayed by builders and designers during the course of the current economic slowdown has been nothing less than incredible.

In the gear area, new products included everything from the latest in gee-whizz wireless, like Simrad’s new GoFree wireless system, which allows you to access your chartplotter remotely via a tablet or smartphone, to more basic, but no less innovative items like the Hook & Moor boat hook from New England Ropes.

I especially liked McLube’s new Antifoul Alternative Speed Polish, a citrus-based, environmentally friendly antifouling for dinghies, sport boats and other dry-sailed racers that keeps bottoms race ready without additional scrubbing for the duration of even the longest regatta.

Also getting into the organics business was Forespar, which is unveiled its new Tea Tree Power mold and mildew odor eliminator, which harnesses the power of Australian tea tree oil to keep your boat smelling fresh.

Last but not least, SAIL magazine unveiled an all new tent-and-booth combination, complete with a set of comfy new chairs for staff, subscribers and friends to rest their weary feet after a long day walking the docks. If you missed it this time around, be sure to stop by next year!

For the record, despite a cold front that came through Saturday afternoon and resulted in a cold, rainy Sunday, a reported 50,000 people and 600 vendors attended this year’s show, which took place Oct. 4-8. For more information on both the 2012 show as well as the next show, scheduled for Oct. 10-14, 2013, visit usboat.com

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