Volume 13, Issue 40 ~ October 6 - 12, 2005


The U.S. Boat Shows: The Lasting Power of a Good Idea

For two weeks every October, the U.S. Boat Shows demonstrate how lively commerce transforms a town.

A new village rises in five or so acres centered on Annnapolis’ City Dock. It’s a miniature Venice constructed on 1.1 miles of floating docks, where hundreds of brand-new boats — some 200 sailboats and 500 powerboats — crowd together.

Surrounding these stars of the show, a bazaar hundreds of tents strong accommodates exhibitors of almost every known type of boating equipment, gadget and apparel. Food and drink are plentiful along the show’s peripheries at open kiosks and restaurants.

The village was created by a crew more than 150 strong. Two water teams, each with its own dock master, configure and assemble floating docks, which are supported by 50 temporary, newly driven pilings. Holding it all together are hundreds of bolts. It stand on 500 wooden floor sections covering nearly an acre of land. It’s serviced by 1,400 feet of fire hose supplying fresh water to boats for cleaning and 57 miles of wire for electrical power to land and sea.

Building, selling, browsing and buying are thousands more people than Annapolis is used to. From a capital city of about 36,000 people, it grows to a commercial center two or three times as populous over the two weeks. Every room and every boat in town is rented.

Auto, truck, bus and scooter traffic snarls the city’s 18th century streets, where jostling pedestrians overflowing from the narrow sidewalks add to the throng.

All those boats and all those people mean money. The economy gets some $50 million richer in travel and tourism dollars over that two-week period. And that’s not counting the main course, boat sales. City coffers get richer by about $50,000.

That the United States Sailboat and Powerboat shows cause as big a splash as ever this year is tribute to the enduring power of creative entrepreneurship. That’s a big word for a good idea landed in the right place at the right time and backed by plenty of energy.

If you need a picture to illustrate that force, you couldn’t do better than the boat shows. The United States Sail Boat Show began in 1970. Two years later, the United States Power Boat Show followed. Together, the shows laid the foundation for modern boat shows. Worldwide in-water boat shows have successfully followed their example helping to make recreational boating a more popular and attainable dream.

That force is worth noting this year, when, in a sense, the shows are orphans. Founder Jerry Wood died in 2003; his wife and successor, Kathryn, died this year.

Of course they didn’t raise these nomadic extravaganzas alone. From the beginning, there were co-conspirators. Ed Hartman and Bennett Crain were and remain partners. Together, they build a team so strong that it’s made them replaceable.

That’s the ultimate testament to a good idea: It lives beyond the people who imagined it.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.