Fort Laud­erdale boat show sales rip­ple into South­west Florida

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY DOUG THOMP­SON

You visit the Fort Laud­erdale In­ter­na­tional Boat Show for the same rea­son you go to the world’s great cir­cuses—―to see the ex­otic, the li­ons, tigers and bears. Two-hun­dred-foot yachts sit chock­ablock along the In­tra­coastal, cast­ing shad­ows on mere 150-foot­ers, while nat­tily at­tired crew cast a dis­cern­ing eye, dis­creetly low­er­ing the passerelles for po­ten­tial buy­ers to board.

I’m in for a work­out, I’m think­ing, ad­just­ing my Fit­bit to count my steps at the Novem­ber show, pre­par­ing to board the North­ern Star, a 248-foot Lürssen mo­tor yacht avail­able for a cool $114 mil­lion. Moored at the Bahia Mar Re­sort and Yachting Cen­ter, the head­quar­ters for the show, the North­ern Star has a 44-foot-wide tran­som and is the largest yacht. My goal is to board as many of what I deem the most amaz­ing yachts as I could in two days; yet with 137 yachts on dis­play longer than 100 feet, even set­ting foot on 25 of them means see­ing only 18 per­cent of the fleet.

I face two chal­lenges. The first is easy to fol­low―—the show is only open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day—and there’s only so much vis­it­ing one can do in nine hours. The sec­ond chal­lenge is trick­ier: How to get an in­vi­ta­tion to board as some­one

clearly not in the mar­ket to buy. I, how­ever, em­ploy a “Se­cret Weapon.”

My com­pe­ti­tion in­cludes a por­tion of the to­tal 100,000 vis­i­tors to the show who are also looky-loos; not even tire-kick­ers. We ad­mit straight up we were not real play­ers. The high-net-worth buy­ers may look like us, yet they hide in plain sight—and usu­ally have bet­ter shoes. They are the Saudi prince, the Sil­i­con Val­ley tech start-up gi­ant, the can­dle­maker Michael Kit­tredge who founded Yan­kee Can­dle Com­pany, then built a 197-foot mega yacht named Paraf­fin at the Dutch ship­yard Fead­ship. These are the peo­ple who can buy a $25 mil­lion (or $50 mil­lion or more) boat.

On the docks, peo­ple just like me who des­per­ately want to get on board dis­cuss the yachts with the dis­cern­ing wit of a vaunted art critic. “She’s pleas­ing to the senses but none too sea­wor­thy,” is over­heard, and the fact is most peo­ple spend thou­sands of dol­lars to get to Fort Laud­erdale, but must al­ways be chat­ter­ing in mil­lions. That’s be­cause there are five yachts larger than 200 feet at Fort Laud­erdale—each $50 mil­lion or more. As Efrem “Skip” Zim­bal­ist III, pres­i­dent of Show Man­age­ment, which pro­duces the show, says to a me­dia throng on open­ing day: “We’ve got the big boys here, too. This is the Su­per Bowl of boat shows, and it’s held ev­ery year here in Fort Laud­erdale.” Sweep­ing his arms to­ward the wa­ter, Zim­bal­ist says: “There’s $4 bil­lion in prod­ucts out there and it is spread over 3 mil­lion square feet.”

The power of the Fort Laud­erdale Boat Show im­pacts the en­tire world, and South­west Florida acutely ben­e­fits from the show’s suc­cess. While large yachts may grab head­lines, there are only 3,500 over 100 feet long in the world. It’s said that 30 per­cent of boat builders’ an­nual sales oc­cur at the Fort Laud­erdale Boat Show, and that in­cludes some of the most ex­pen­sive high-per­for­mance and cen­ter-con­sole boats in the world, the boats we of­ten see on South­west Florida wa­ters. You know the ones, the Cig­a­rettes, the Nor-Techs, the Foun­tains, the generic “go-fast” boats that run non­stop on nice week­ends from Sani­bel to Boca Grande. We’ve all heard them, seen them, per­haps rode in them or been an­noyed by them, and they are here to stay.

That’s why my vis­its—and per­haps your vis­its if you went to the show—to boats both large and small are so im­por­tant. For the most part, those 3,500 yachts over 100 feet only have only one owner. Put all those men and women to­gether and they won’t even fill half of the Ger­main Arena for a hockey game. But the teem­ing mul­ti­tude of peo­ple con­nected to these yachts—and to all the boats run­ning off Fort My­ers Beach—is as­tound­ing. It in­cludes the builders, crews, fuel-dock work­ers, sales­peo­ple, bro­kers, ser­vice peo­ple and du­ti­ful scribes like me who ooh and ahh over ev­ery grace­ful curve and sharp an­chor. The list is long when de­not­ing who earns a liv­ing off the ex­is­tence of boats large and small, and there’s a lot of pride and money at stake.

And that’s where my “Se­cret Weapon” comes in. Ev­ery boat owner—whether it’s a 20-foot run­about or a 200-foot mega yacht—― LOVES to talk about his or her boat. Boats, yachts, dinghies, whether you own one or build one, they are fun. They are cool. My “Se­cret Weapon” to get on board is just a sim­ple ques­tion: “Tell me about your boat.” Even at Fort Laud­erdale, it never fails.

Doug Thomp­son was the ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of Show Boats In­ter­na­tional, a lead­ing lux­ury yacht mag­a­zine, and cur­rently re­ports on the yachting and ma­rine in­dus­try.

Ev­ery boat owner—whether it’s a 20-foot run­about or a 200-foot mega yacht―LOVES to talk about his or her boat.

Sun­set is a rare few mo­ments of quiet at the Fort Laud­erdale

In­ter­na­tional Boat Show.

The boat show spread over 3 mil­lion square feet fea­tures wa­ter­craft, ac­ces­sories and toys of ev­ery shape and size. The largest yacht priced out at more than $100 mil­lion.

Guests board­ing Spring­time as dusk set­tles over the In­tra­coastal.

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