For almost a quarter century, the United States Sailboat Show that opens to the general public Friday at the city docks and harbor in Annapolis has been something of an economic barometer for the sailboat industry.
And if this year's show is a valid indication, then the industry may be on the upswing after several years of severe decline.
This year the show, which during the mid-1980s had more than 500 boats on display in the water, will have almost 170 yachts in the water for inspection.
While the number of boats is well off the peak years, according to show organizers, it represents an increase of nearly 20 percent over last year's show.
One of the reasons for the renewed interest by builders and buyers is that the 10 percent luxury tax on the portion of new boat sales over $100,000 has been repealed.
Another reason is that the national economy seems to be strengthening -- and as the economy levels out boaters traditionally have begun to think about improving the size or quality of their boats.
In this year's show, multihull manufacturers will make an especially strong appearance, with at least eight new models on display from builders from South Africa to Denmark.
Monohulls to 63 feet also will be represented by a wide range of builders from Costa Rica to Taiwan.
But multihulls -- catamarans and trimarans -- seem to have captured an increasing segment of the market. Among the multihulls, which again will be gathered in one section of the show, are the 34-foot Parallax II, Australia's boat of the year last year; the Archipelago 400 from South Africa; the PDQ 36 Mark II Long Range Cruiser; the unsinkable Freebird 50 from Britain; the new Kronos 45 built by Wauquiez S.A. of France; the C-Cat 30 from Hutchins and Symons Choice; the new trailerable Dragonfly 1000 from Denmark; and a 34-foot Gemini from Performance Cruising in Anne Arundel County.
The Geminis, built by Tony and Sue Smith's company in Mayo, are roomy, stable, fast and especially well-suited to Chesapeake Bay cruising.
Among the new monohulls on display will be the Royal Passport 44, a performance cruiser designed by Robert Perry for IMS racing and luxury cruising. Morris yachts will display a new 44-foot offshore cruiser. Tartan will have its new 3800 at the show.
Freedom Yachts will have a new 35-foot aft cockpit model and the first showing of its 40/40, which it proclaims will provide "quick comfort."
Among yachts making their North American debuts will be the Wauquiz 60 from France, the Christina 48 from Hans Christian Yachts, the Richleigh 63 performance cruiser from Richleigh Yachts of South Africa, and the C&C; 51 from Canada.
In addition to the big boats, of course, there will be scores of one-design racers, daysailers, dinghies, inflatables, rowing shells and some 500 exhibitors of sails, rigging, electronics, maintenance and financial services, yacht brokers and nautical clothiers.
Part of the allure of boat shows is the prospect of finding a boat that might some day take one offshore to the Caribbean, the South Pacific or around the world.
This year the show has booked a number of special guests who have been offshore to tell of their voyages and to show the boats that took them or will take them in the near future.
From the BOC Solo around the world field are three American entrants and their boats, Michael Carr of Norfolk aboard Imagine; Andrew Upjohn of Massachusetts aboard his new racer built by Concordia Custom Yachts; and Timothy Troy of Baltimore aboard Margaret Anna.
Long-range cruiser Tony James of Pennsylvania, who retraced Columbus' first voyage in the America 500 race also will be on hand aboard his custom Vagabond 52.
Also at this year's show, a series of seminars on boat selection, gear, sail trim, maintenance and trouble-shooting will be given by the Sailing Company, which publishes Cruising World and Sailing World magazines.
The free seminars will run Friday through Monday at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel. Advance registration is required. Call (800) 638-9192.
BOAT SHOW AT A GLANCE
What: 24th annual United States Sailboat Show, largest in-the-water fall show in the world.
Where: City dock and harbor, Annapolis.
When: Thursday (media, trades and VIPs), Friday through Monday. Show opens at 10 a.m. each day.
Admission: $9 for adults and $4 for all children under 12, including infants. VIP tickets may be available at $20 each for Thursday.
Information: (410) 268-8828