Putting Wind In Your Sails, Power In Your Engine

Folks around Annapolis have for years debated the differences between sail boaters and power boaters. Every October, the annual United States Sailboat and Powerboat Shows intensify the debate by bringing thousands of both to town back to back.

Sail boaters take over Annapolis October 7 to 11. The sailboat show draws the Topsiders crew with their bright foul weather gear and sporty sunglasses on a string. Sailing is more cerebral and tactical. It’s serious business, and everyone has a story. In addition, sailors don’t complain about the rain. Of course as a sailor, I’m biased.

Power boaters roll in the following week. Power boating is more about simple recreation and fun in the sun. So the powerboat show attracts a less nautical-looking bunch. They are a little older, richer and more jovial. It’s upscale, but slightly gritty, because, to be honest, driving a boat is kind of like driving a truck or any other motorized vehicle. It isn’t an elite club, and its members are not pretentious or aloof. Think Rodney Dangerfield powering around in Caddy Shack, and you are getting close to the type of people who like to come to the powerboat show.

Ask almost any local store owner who they like best, they will always tell you it’s the power boaters: They are very friendly, and they like to spend money.

The boat shows are ultimately about making money. They impact Annapolis and beyond in lots of ways besides the obvious boost to the local maritime and food businesses. Many people feed off the boat shows.

My old buddy Pip Moyer used to live in Eastport near the bridge. The lot next to his house was vacant. He and his boys would park cars for $10, and pay their property tax with the money they made.

Local schools like Germantown Elementary raise money for student activities each year by parking cars on the surrounding playgrounds.

Many people rent their homes out for the boat shows. A nice place near downtown can fetch at least five grand.

Taxis, tour groups, printers, caterers, hotels, shopping centers, grocery stores and businesses large and small benefit mightily by the Annapolis boat shows. For many it’s the difference between profit and loss for the year.

That said, most Annapolitans steer clear of the boat shows. They complain about parking and crowded streets. They’re missing a great show, and it starts way before VIP Day, October 7.

Biggest, Best? Whatever, It’s a Great Show

Heading down to Port Annapolis Marina to go sailing, I bumped into the owner of the show, 83-year-old Ed Hartman. Hartman and his merry band were scurrying around the staging area at Back Creek Nature Park, putting together all the floating docks and other contraptions that make the United States Sailboat and Powerboat Shows the biggest floating boat show on earth.

I wonder who measures these things? A quick search of the Internet shows that Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, the Great Lakes and even Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, all claim to have the biggest on-water boat shows. I guess we’ll have to ask the Guinness Book of World Records to make the final ruling.

The staging of such a complex event, getting all the boats docked in their proper sequence and location, is like ballet. There is a precise order to the grand mix of vessels. You can’t have a Boston Whaler next to a Grand Banks or a Comet next to a large catamaran. The folks who put on the boat show each year have the whole thing down to a science. As I stopped along Edgewood Road to watch the gear assembled for transport by land and sea, I was reminded of a carnival coming together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Like a carnival, the boat shows must be put up and taken down quickly. On the Monday after the first weekend, boat show organizers have to remove all the sailboats safely and as quickly as possible, while the myriad vendors who sell clothes, cleaning products, electronics, navigation devices — and whatever else some clever soul has dreamed up to use on a sailboat — shut down their tents to make way for the powerboat sales people and their must-have gear.

Once the sailboats have been motored or trucked away, in come the powerboats, little ones first, biggest ones last. By Thursday, they look like they have been here all the time. It’s a show in itself to watch the intricate maritime maneuvering.

As a true Annapolitan — meaning I was lucky enough to be born here — I promise you haven’t seen the real Annapolis until you have wandered to the end of the floating docks and looked back at the hundreds of brand new boats of all shapes and sizes sitting side-by-side along Spa Creek with their flags streaming in the blue sky as the sun sets behind the capitol dome. There’s nothing like it in the world.