The essence of boating transcends cultural barriers—and language itself.
Thousands poured through the turnstiles, trading the cold, gray German winter for 17 halls of the sprawling Boot Düsseldorf show. The largest indoor show in the world, it has become a popular pilgrimage for boating enthusiasts the world over. Whether you were looking for a superyacht from Italy or a bilge cleaner from Texas, if you had enough time, and you were wearing comfortable shoes, you were bound to find it here.
Once the shock of the vast number of boats on display wore off (it’s not every day you see 100-plus-foot yachts inside a convention center), I began to pick up on the great variety of nationalities present and the many different languages spoken. Düsseldorf had become a melting pot of epic proportions.
One second I would be sipping espresso at the Azimut booth with our European Sales Rep Elena Patriarca and Publisher Bob Bauer, and the next we were—thanks to the unnecessary caffeine boost—sprinting off to drink French champagne with the team at Fountaine Pajot, only to conclude the day drinking German beer in the basement of a Lebanese restaurant with the Slovenia-based builders at Greenline yachts, or eating Italian with the Fairline team from England. It was like Epcot, but for boatbuilders.
At times during the show, communicating could be a challenge. Thankfully, Elena speaks five languages, and thus was able to pick up the slack for Bob and me, who are very American in our poor foreign language skills. ( Bier, Ja, tall was about the extent of our German.)
Once we stumbled through introductions a funny thing happened. After a few beers, everyone would relax, gripe about politics for a while, and then talk about what we had in common: a love for boats and being on the water. Stories of a remarkable cruise to Croatia on a Sunseeker, or anchoring up in an aqueduct in the middle of England aboard a small fishing boat, or a memorable first trip to Block Island passed across the table like an appetizer. There is something about sharing adventures on the water that is universally entertaining.
We’d also spend a lot of time discussing the new boats, the products, and innovations we’d seen. A number of trends became evident. The first is that hull windows are becoming more and more common, even in smaller boats. I saw wraparound glass transoms, hulls polka-dotted with circular windows, and other boats with windows so large they seemed to take up more real estate than the fiberglass. Then there were the floor-to-ceiling interior windows on midsize boats such as the Sealine fleet, and enormous sunroofs on models throughout the range.
There’s also a growing acceptance for multihull boats. Once the black sheep of major shows, serious boaters seem to be acknowledging the efficiency and volume benefits they possess, and builders are responding.
Another obvious trend I saw is the desire to bring all the comforts of home aboard. That means standard Seakeepers, full-size appliances, and an emphasis on single-level (or as close to it as possible) living. It also means an increased desire for multiple social spaces. Fold-down transom seating and comfortable bow lounges are two evolutions that have burst onto the scene and are likely to continue improving in the foreseeable future.
There’s a lesson in all this, I remember thinking after a long night of beers and laughing. All of these people, with so many different backgrounds, speaking God knows how many languages, and it was a single, shared interest that bound us together. In what other sport would something like this be possible? Soccer? Golf ? Maybe, but for some reason I don’t think it would be the same.
If my time in Düsseldorf proved anything, it was that there are some exciting trends and boats bound for our shores in the coming year. But perhaps more importantly, I learned that boating has the ability to transcend language and cultural barriers and allows you to form friendships with anyone who feels most at home on the sea.