The Biggest Show in Town
Annapolis may call itself the Sailing Capital of the World, but the United States Boat Shows make it the Boating Capital.
The Sailboat Show came first, introducing Chesapeake Country to in-the-water boat shows in 1970. The Powerboat Show came in 1972. For 40 years, the Sailboat Show has traditionally led, with the boats arriving the first full week of October.
This year the Sailboat Show takes second billing, at least on the calendar.
Powerboats get first booking this year, with opening day October 3. They reign through October 6. The quick turnaround that follows is a show in itself, as hundreds of powerboats speed out to make way for the arrival of hundreds more sailboats October 10.
Whichever you favor you’ll see an awesome show, with up to 360 boats in the water, tethered along a mile and a half of floating docks, all contained in an area of roughly five acres. Next to the boats are tented bazaars featuring hundreds of exhibitors of almost every known type of boating equipment, gadget and apparel. Food and drink are plentiful along the show’s peripheries as Annapolis restaurants race to feed 100,000 hungry boaters.
More than a means to sell boats, these big annual shows are spectacles in themselves.
On the Docks
A crew more than 150 strong assemble this city on the water, supported by 58 temporary, newly driven pilings, 600 bolts, 1,400 feet of fire hose supplying fresh water to boats, 350 tents, 600 wooden floor sections covering nearly an acre of land and six miles of wire for electrical power to land and sea.
Into this city hundreds of boats maneuver.
They’re waiting for you in foot-aching numbers and variety.
You’ll see catamarans, tugs and trawlers. Fishing machines and luxury yachts. Dozens of boats in the most popular range, 30 to 40 feet. From the little inflatable 3.2-meter Tiwal you can pack in your trunk to giants. Biggest of the Powerboat Show is the 63-foot Sunseeker, though a rare Trumpy 60-Chesapeake is not far behind. A 90-foot Orion dominates the Sailboat Show.
New boats come to the shows, especially the Sailboat Show, where you’ll see brand-new models from Archambeault, Beneteau, Dufour, Nordhavn and two new catamarans by Nautitech and Outremer.
Old boats debut this year at the Annapolis Brokerage Show simultaneous with and down the creek from the Powerboat Show. Ride to St. Mary’s Cove by water taxi or e-Cruisers from the U.S. Powerboat Show to see gently used and carefully maintained powerboats by manufacturers including Albin, Carver, Cruisers, Grady White, Grand Banks, Sea Ray, Silverton Tiara, plus such special-interest boats as a 46-foot Nordhavn motorsailer and a PDQ 34 Powercat. One ticket is good for both shows.
Most boats you can board to inspect at your own pace with plenty of face time with manufacturer reps who know and can explain their products.
All that’s missing is your chance to drive or sail the boat of your dreams. So if you’re serious about a boat, ask if there’ll be an opportunity to go out on it. Many of the boats stay in Annapolis for dealers to provide demonstrations in the weeks following the boat shows.
With so much to see, you’ll be glad there’s a program. Magazine-sized, it’s produced by Chesapeake Bay Magazine and included in the price of your ticket.
Under the Tents
To describe the tent exhibits as a gala array does not do them justice. You’ll find the latest electronic equipment on display as well as numerous gadgets, often at special Boat Show prices. This is a competitive environment, and many boat manufacturers and dealers offer discounts on boats and equipment. Some packages make it nearly irresistible to making a deposit on the boat while at the show.
Custom equipment such as furniture, rigging, sails and canvas can be ordered at reduced cost. You’ll find good prices on clothing for yachting and for foul weather conditions. Many other items, such as gold and other jewelry, are also displayed.
You’ll also find yachting charters and vacations in the islands and around the world.
Other valuable distractions are the seminars offered during the two shows. Find seminars on cruising near and far (including for couples), weather, rigging, power management, diesel engines, and iNavigation. (Sailboat show on the hour Friday to Sunday, 10am-4pm; Powerboat Show Friday and Saturday, 11am to 4pm.)
Sailboat Show visitors learn more at Cruising World Magazine’s seminars this Thursday through Sunday on subjects ranging from planning your dream voyage to parachute sea anchors and storm drogues. A Sailboat Show highlight is Gary Jobson’s celebration of sailing at 2pm Friday, October 11.
Presented by experts, seminars are free and open to all — until the room fills up — at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel.
When to Go?
The Powerboat Show is four days, Thursday through Sunday. The Sailboat Show runs five days, Thursday through Monday. Even so, docks are almost always crowded.
Is there a best day to visit?
You pay a premium to be an early bird, with $35 VIP opening day tickets costing twice the price of the $18 daily ticket for adults. On VIP days, lines to get on the boats are shorter. You get to see more, easier.
Others prefer the last day of each show. These days are often less crowded. Many of the exhibitors are packing up and may be amenable to haggling. No exhibitor wants to haul lots of unsold gear back home.
At about 6pm on the last day, each show offers a parting benefit, known as change over on October 6 and breakdown on October 14. These are the days that the show, dock and on-shore setup must be moved, changed or removed entirely. In a few hours, at the end of the last day, this boating city on the water suddenly disappears.
The spectator sport, viewed from shore side, is to watch the mayhem of strings of floating docks, boats under speed and workers detaching with high precision all of the many attachments. The boats maneuver adeptly to leave, often with a show of speed to please the cheering crowd.
Wear layers of clothing that can be tied around the waist. Non-scuffing boat shoes that are easy to slip on and off are a must because many boats sporting varnish and other sensitive surfaces do not allow shoes when you go aboard for a tour.
The boat shows are in their third year of going green, so you can recycle what you don’t want at eco-bins set up throughout the show by Green Annapolis and supported by grants from the BoatUS Foundation and Baltimore Gas & Electric.
A small amount of cash is useful for quick food purchases, but for the most part, credit cards will do — even for a deposit on a 70-footer.
Getting to the Annapolis boat shows is easy if you follow the well-planned program. Drive from U.S. Route 50 to Rowe Blvd., following signs for parking at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. Parking is $10, and a bus will transport you to the gates at Randall and Compromise streets.
In town, parking is tight and restricted to two hours if you can find a meter. Eastport Elementary School, a five-minute walk across the Spa Creek Bridge, offers parking for $20.
A bit farther on the Annapolis side of the bridge, try the Knighton and Park Place garages ($10), off West Street near the Westgate Circle. Both are served by the city’s free and frequent Circulator, which take you to the gates.
Navigate your way and buy your tickets with the Annapolis Boat Show Mobile App. Download at iTunes or Google Play; go to www.usboat.com; or call 410-268-8828.