Boat Show Blahs   

Going to a boat show was an important part of our lives when we were dreaming of sailing away. Before we bought Take Two, I remember driving with Jay and his dad across Alligator Alley to the Miami Boat Show and carrying 9-month-old Sarah (now nearly eleven) in the baby backpack. I crawled on and off boats all day, went to inspiring seminars, talked to authors and bought their books, and looked longingly at all the vendors’ booths, selling things we would need “someday,” the names of which were part of a mysterious and romantic lexicon: foul weather gear, roller furlers, gensets, spinnaker snuffers, snatch-blocks, and drogues. These words have lost their luster through common use, and I recently discovered that the boat show holds no more magic for me.

We drove to Miami for the Strictly Sail part of the Boat Show last weekend and found the whole experience to be a bit disappointing. Aside from the purchase (at those fabulous boat show prices!) of a WinchRite, to make winching a cinch, and a few conversations with vendors like Winslow about re-certifying our life raft and Force 10 about what an oven replacement might look like, the whole show had a been-there-done-that feel to it. Jay was able to talk to several sailmakers about what kind of reaching sail we need to have made and whether it needs a sock or a furler on a bowsprit, but he could easily have done that without the family tagging along. The kids, who used to look forward to a Boat Show like the circus coming to town, looked extremely bored, surrounded by booths full of sailing gear as familiar to them as a toothbrush or a spoon. The highlight of the day, actually, was having a nice lunch out with “Skipper” (Jay’s dad), who had driven over to talk to the Moorings Company about their boat, which comes out of charter this year.

Sitting in Liza Copeland’s “Cruising in the Caribbean” seminar, I had an epiphany: I should be standing up front instead of sitting in back. I’m not boasting when I say I have now achieved “expert” status in areas like: Provisioning for the Bahamas, Organizing and Stowing Gear on Your Boat, Taking Small Children Cruising, Transitioning from Land-lubber to Full-time Live-aboard, Making Offshore Passages with a Family, Boat-Schooling, and What it Means to be a Good First Mate. There are plenty of things about which I have a lot left to learn, and Liza’s talk and slide show helped psyche me and the kids up for what is likely to be our next big adventure, but on the whole, we are in a different place than we were the last time we went to a boat show. We are, in effect, the people we used to look up to.

After lunch, we ran into some friends we met in the mooring field in Boot Key Harbor last year. Christina reminds me of myself not so long ago—pushing a toddler in a stroller out in front of her pregnant belly. I know what she feels like, at the beginning of the journey, still trying to figure out what raising a family on the water will look like, not sure how to proceed, but willing to take a shot at an unconventional life. The boat show crowd is full of retirees and childless couples with time and money to pursue their sailing dreams, but I feel excited when I see young families there with children in tow, hoping to break free.

While I have not lost my nostalgia for past boat shows that served to inspire us and help us reach our goals, and for the people we met there who have become close friends, I recognize that going back was a mistake. What we need to boost us into new adventures will not be found inside a tent, so perhaps going back for us should mean giving back—thinking seriously of what we could do to inspire more families to get out there and do it.