On a damp gray morning in September, I left a dry room in a B&B on Bellevue Avenue to walk down to Bannister’s Wharf, smack in the middle of the harbor front, ground zero for the town’s seafaring past. I hadn’t been to Newport in a couple of years and there were signs of change along the historic streets: ambitious upstart restaurants and cars with boards lashed to the roofs—an undercurrent of surf culture. Or, perhaps, subtle hints of rebellion among the blue blazers.
At the waterfront were more signs of rebellion. It was opening day of the Newport International Boat Show and builders had filled the slips with their latest designs. At Hinckley, the docks creaked and groaned as waves of people came through the exhibit to get a close look at the new releases from this Downeast builder. And yet to their surprise, a buzzed-about launch, the Sport Boat 40c [see “Blurring the Lines” on page 54] had not a lick of teak on deck. A boat built in Maine without wood to varnish? You bet. This day cruiser was made for the time-pressed exec who’d prefer to just wash it down and go.
Over at Back Cove, there was more disruption. A pair of ghost-white outboards sat on the transom of the new 34O. Highhorsepower motors were on a lot of new boats at this show, but their presence on the Back Cove seemed more striking as this company is best known for craft powered by single diesel propulsion. And yet the topsider crowd gathered to check out the 34O seemed to embrace the change. The big grins were a clue.
I met a fun couple in the cockpit of that Back Cove. They had come to the Newport show to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary and gift themselves a replacement for their old Sea Ray, which was the same model my family had owned for years. This couple, however, had cruised far more nautical miles around Long Island’s East End than we had. Now, they were eyeing the Great Loop— renegades in the eyes of their adult children who wanted them to put the anchor down and spend more time at home.
Conversations like that one were happening all over the show. On the fishing dock, a group of guys were building a bucket list of the remote places they wanted to go to troll for billfish. Over near the sailboats, plans were being made for an offshore passage to Bermuda. And because Hurricane Florence was in the news that day, there was talk of storms and survival (see “Slow, Steady & Deadly” on page 12).
People swapped hurricane stories as they made their way off the docks and into town when the show closed at 6 p.m. When dusk fell, their voices carried over the harbor as old friends and new acquaintances hunkered down at stools in waterfront restaurants, slurping oysters and martinis, clinking glasses and making enthusiastic plans for the next offshore adventure. They were rebels one and all.