Stayin’ Alive



If you have never been to Ft. Laud­erdale you prob­a­bly can’t im­age the sea of boats that awaits you, docked in front of ev­ery house on ev­ery canal, as far as you can see. Laud­erdale is the cen­ter of the yacht­ing uni­verse, far out­strip­ping the Vir­gin Is­lands or the south of France or any­where else on earth. It is also home to the an­nual Ft. Laud­erdale In­ter­na­tional Boat Show, known as FLIBS.

For many years I have at­tended boat shows all around the world, in­clud­ing An­napo­lis, New­port, Los An­ge­les, Mi­ami, Dubai, Genoa, Monaco, and DÜs­sel­dorf, but there is only one I dare never miss, be­cause it is Mecca to our in­dus­try.

I have just re­turned from my 40th con­sec­u­tive FLIBS, and this is cer­tainly no record among my col­leagues. Some quick math tells me that af­ter 40 years and four days per show, walk­ing the rows of boats for close to eight hours a day, at a slog­ging pace, I have logged some­thing close to 2,000 miles on the docks of the Bahia Mar Ho­tel. Oh, what I would give for my own chair to rest on and some air con­di­tion­ing to es­cape the South Florida heat, but I have never had my own booth. In­stead I have re­lent­lessly walked the show in proof that I was still alive. My feet are get­ting tired.

Fail­ure to ap­pear at FLIBS is to be as­sumed dead or at least out of busi­ness; the start of a ru­mor only too will­ingly spread by your ad­ver­saries. You go to this boat show to claim your ter­ri­tory and de­fend your place in the busi­ness. This is the show where we min­gle with our peers and go to par­ties and hope to win awards. It is the only show that every­body in our in­dus­try at­tends, so we are obliged to ex­change niceties with our com­peti­tors, as we plot their death. To be a noshow here is to put one’s foot in the grave.

In my younger days, I was quite im­pres­sion­able and would take ev­ery con­tact with high hopes and add it to my list of prospects. But some­thing must hap­pen at the boat show, with its larger-than-life pres­ence, like maybe a wild week­end in Ve­gas where the fan­tasy of own­ing a yacht feels real and lies are not lies, but sim­ply drunken de­sire. Peo­ple are caught up in the mo­ment of the boat show and talk dreams of yacht­ing, most of which evap­o­rate with a dose of tryp­to­phan and are all over by Thanks­giv­ing.

The show was good for us this year, as we de­buted a cou­ple of new mod­els with Vik­ing and Hinck­ley and an­nounced some new mod­els with Ber­tram, Kadey-Kro­gen, and Mag Bay for the com­ing year.

We met with sev­eral builders to dis­cuss new projects and I met with a cap­tain rep­re­sent­ing a young client look­ing for a yacht by next sum­mer. I told him we couldn’t build a boat that quickly, but I’m sure he looked at my gray hair and dis­missed me as some old guy past his prime. I can’t ac­tu­ally name one sin­gle project that de­vel­oped from an ini­tial con­tact at the show. Zero, zip, nada—af­ter 40 straight years!

But to not go is to be dead, so I join the an­nual pilgrimage to Ft. Laud­erdale just like the rest of the boat­ing in­dus­try. Just stayin’ alive.

The beach and the boat show, so close, yet so far away.

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