Like the voice heard by the owner of the Iowa cornfield in "Field of Dreams," someone must have been telling the organizers of the first Sail Expo last Thursday through Sunday at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J., that if you build it, they will come.
And when it was put together, come they did, by the thousands, through cold and snow, from all across the nation and even overseas, to an event that turned out to be a great deal more than just another boat show.
The throngs also included a good number of folks from right here, as both exhibitors and show visitors.
A creature of the recently formed non-profit sailing industry group, the American Sail Advancement Program, Sail Expo was a unique winter rendezvous for sailors and potential sailors.
It represented a substantial effort from virtually all sectors of the sailing industry to create a pervading sense of excitement, provide unique opportunities for networking and brainstorming and produce a well-rounded, broad-spectrum public showcase.
Public interest and enthusiasm levels appeared high across the board, but most significantly, so did sailing-industry optimism -- a refreshing development for a portion of the economy that has suffered in recent years.
Sail Expo was part boat show, part industry insiders' trade show and convention, part public outreach. It also was all about celebrating sailing in all of its permutations -- from the smallest one-design or day sailor to the America's Cup.
The Cup itself was an Expo centerpiece on display in the center of the main hall next to Jayhawk, the first of the Cup-winning America3 Syndicate's five IACC contenders.
In keeping with one of Sail Expo's main sub-themes, "Yes, You Can Sail," people of all ages and all levels of experience, including none at all, lined up in droves to try the new
Garry Hoyt-designed 13-foot Expo Solar Sailor sail trainer in the 100 x 40-foot indoor sailing pool, powered by breezes from a series of huge industrial fans. This aspect of the event, which has been used at the Paris Boat Show, was so successful in Atlantic City, it is likely to become a more regular feature of future U.S. sailing expositions and boat shows.
For other Expo-goers, the non-stop series of hourlong seminars all four days offered instruction and insights into subjects as diverse as exotic cruising destinations and diesel maintenance, the new changes to the racing rules and bareboat chartering, air conditioning for sailboats and traditional marlinspike seamanship, and sailing with children and the repair and maintenance of reinforced plastic composites.
In the main hall, most of the major North American sailboat manufacturers displayed fully rigged versions of their latest models for firsthand inspection.
In the West Hall, surrounding the sailing pool, the number of smaller boats was staggering, ranging from traditional small boats, such as Optimist Prams, Comets, Snipes and Flying Scots, to American Aerodyne's bizarre-looking, new high-tech winged speedsters and other innovative vessels.
Also in the West Hall, sailing schools and publications, class associations, equipment dealers and manufacturers and cutting-edge manufacturing technology were represented to answer questions.
There was even a marine art gallery featuring the work of several artists, including Dennis Conner.
Sail Expo provided a platform for a few exciting new announcements, including the news that a new Level 40 racing class is being formed in cooperation with about a dozen manufacturers, who will produce boats designed to a specific rating for what will amount to one-design type competition.
It also was the scene for Sailing World annual Boat of the Year announcements.
This year the winners were the Beneteau 210, as the best daysailer/weekender; Holby Marine's Clearwater 36, as the best coastal cruiser; J/92, as the best PHRF performance boat; Hinckley Sou'wester 52, as the best offshore cruiser; Freedom 45 Aft Cockpit, as the best modified design; and Hobie Sport Cruiser, as the best multihull.
The J/92 was both the judges' choice as overall Boat of the Year and the Readers' Choice selection.
Although not as enormous as the annual U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, with its hundreds of boats in the water, Sail Expo was nonetheless a major and important sailing event, particularly in terms of communication and interaction.
It will be at least a couple of months before an analysis of Sail Expo's success can be made, but plans are already in the works to do it again next year, perhaps in an eight- to 10-day format, with the weekends devoted to public exposition and the weekday portion more focused on internal industry concerns.
For 1993, however, all appearances would seem to be that Sail Expo, and its parent organization, ASAP, are providing a much-needed shot in the arm for the industry as a whole, and for sailing in general.