Show reflects rising sails


According to most people in the boat business, the industry is making a comeback after several years of decline in the late 1980s and early years of this decade.

Boat sales, new and used, are up. And boat owners again are spending money to upgrade their vessels.

"It's not like it once was," said one boat shop owner in Annapolis. "But, then, the late 1970s and most of the 1980s were business years many of us may never see again."

It was a boom time in boating -- both powerboating and sailing.

Through the years, the U.S. Sailboat Show and U.S. Powerboat Show have mirrored the trends of boom and bust.

This year, the sailboat show, which opens Friday in Annapolis, reflects the increasing strength of the sailing portion of the business.

The power boat show, which runs Oct. 13-15, shows a similar strong trend among its manufacturers and retailers.

"Estimates have the business up overall about 13 percent over last year," said show official Jeff Holland, who has been involved with the power and sail shows in Annapolis since 1970. "This year started out great, but there are those who say it flattened out this summer."

The fall shows, however, are more directed toward boat models that would be delivered next year and, Holland said, the number of large boats on display may be indicative of faith in the long-term recovery of the economy and the availability of the recreational dollar.

More than 25 bluewater yachts from 45 to 60 feet are included in the show, including the Richleigh 63, the Bluewater 60 Pilothouse Cruiser and the Mystic 60, a fast, British-built cruiser designed by German Frers to be sailed easily by two persons.

Baltic, Alden, Little Harbor, Mason, Santa Cruz and Tartan all will have yachts over 45 feet on display, as will a dozen and a half other top builders and designers.

The sailboat show, in its 26th year in Annapolis, always has made its name as an in-the-water show, and again this year there will be as many as 200 yachts on display in the water -- and several hundred smaller boats on display on land, at the city docks.

The number of in-the-water boats is up 20 percent over last year, according to show officials.

"Our biggest show here was in 1987, when we had more than 500 boats in the water," Holland said. "Many, many of them were from foreign countries because the dollar was strong overseas. We had 26 countries represented, and many of them were funded by their embassies because of the strength of the U.S. dollar."

But in the later '80s and early '90s, the market bottomed out, said Holland, and the dollar's value dropped overseas.

"What happened was that the dollar dropped and then there was the luxury tax [on boats costing more than $100,000] and a lot of U.S. manufacturers went out of business because of it," Holland said.

"What we have now is a more compact industry and a show full of happy survivors -- companies that build good boats for the dollar, companies that people always have bought from and probably always will."

Most major builders will have one of every new model they are building at the show, either in the water or on land. Beneteau will have 10 boats at the show, Hunter Marine will have 10, Catalina will have 12 and Pacific Seacraft will have five, including Hull No. 1 of the builder's new 40-footer.

J/Boats, of course, will be well-represented, with its line of impressive racers and racing cruisers.

Multi-hulls have gained popularity and there will be more than two dozen at the show, including Island Packet's Packet Cat 35-footer; Jenneau's new Lagoon 34, making its world premier at the show; the Zefyr 43 from England, with its fixed Walker wing-sail rig, and the Norseman 400 from South Africa.

Among the most successful multi-hull manufacturers at the show will be Performance Cruising from Anne Arundel County, with its Gemini line, including the new Gemini 105M.

Among racing boats at the show, J/Boats will have all five of its models, from the J/80 to the J/42. Naval architecht Bruce Farr's Mumm 30 and Mumm 36 also will be on display, along with the Nelson Marek 43, Farr 39 ML, Lasers, Mega Byte and the Santana 2023 and the MX20, a pocket rocket designed by Vladislav Murnikov, who created the Soviet Whitbread boat Fazisi.

The popular Melges 30 and 24 also will be on hand, with a fleet of 24s scheduled to race in the Dupont Sailmaker Challenge within sight of the show all three days.

Among the other attractions at the show will be Steve Black of Newport, with his new, singlehanded 50-foot racing sloop designed by Bruce Marek.

America's Cup skipper Dennis Conner will be in town to inspect a 51-foot catamaran he reportedly has purchased. Dawn Riley, the America3 helmsman and round-the-world racer, will be at the show, too.

Vanguard will have a fleet of 15-foot daysailers available for sailing lessons and demonstrations, and the National Marine Manufacturer's Association will be promoting its Discover Sailing program with the newly launched schooner America, a replica of the original America's Cup yacht.

The 80-foot schooner Ocean Star will be at the show to demonstrate Ocean Navigator magazine's on-board navigation courses, and the Annapolis Sailing School will be promoting its learn-to-sail and learn-to-cruise programs, along with Kid Ship, a youth program.

Also, the Sailing Company and Fawcett Boat Supplies of Annapolis will run a series of free seminars on women's sailing, inshore and offshore cruising and maintaining and repairing diesel engines. Seminar seats must be reserved in advance. Call (410) 267-7205.

Boat show

What: U.S. Sailboat Show

Where: City dock and harbor, Annapolis

When: Friday-next Monday, 10 a.m. opening each day

Admission: Adults, $11. All children 12 and under, $5.

Parking: Available off Rowe Boulevard near Exit 24 south from Route 50. Shuttle buses will run continuously between show and parking areas.

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