In the end, even Mother Nature decided to pay a little respect to the Maine Boatbuilders Show, which ushered in the first day of Spring on what will perhaps be the final day of the nearly three-decades-old expo — at least as we’ve come to know it. A much talked about nor’easter held off its march up the East Coast until late Sunday night, giving vendors and attendees plenty of time to get on their way before the driving turned nasty.
Instead of snow, sleet and misery, attendees who made the trek — some might call it an annual pilgrimage — to Portland over the weekend were greeted with just about perfect weather and a lively show, thanks to more than 150 exhibitors who showcased their wares in the familiar old brick buildings that until recently were home to Portland Yacht Services, which sponsors both the boat show and, until this year, the Portland Flower Show.
Despite an uncertain future, most of the show goers I encountered were quite pleased by the present display of sail and powerboats from an array of yards across the state and region. There were a number of new gear and equipment vendors alongside the many builders and boatyards that have been mainstays over the years. My personal favorite (besides the mandatory bowl of chili and bottle of Shipyard Ale)? It was probably the lovely Herreshoff Fish Class sloop Sculpin, from Artisan Boatworks. Think exquisite varnished artwork that floats.
Three years ago, Portland Yacht Services owner Phin Sprague announced he was selling the property, a former locomotive factory, to developers and would move his service and marina business to a new location on the Portland waterfront. Those plans called for a new building to house the popular springtime shows on a portion of a 23-acre brownfield site, which Sprague cleaned up. A proverbial wrench, though, was tossed into the works when the Maine Department of Transportation took 18 of those acres by eminent domain for a container port. Sprague and the state have been at odds since over claims that he didn’t receive a fair price for the land. (Read that full story here.)
Sprague said Saturday that it’s certain this would be the last year for the show at the Fore Street location, as the new owner is eager to get on with his waterfront development project. He added that he’s not aware of another building big enough to house the exhibits elsewhere in Portland, and because of the ongoing dispute with the state, he’s lacked the funds to build a replacement.
The crowd in Maine, though, is a resourceful bunch, with lots to celebrate when it comes to building and outfitting lovely and purposeful vessels. If I were the betting sort, I’d wager they’d conclude that one way or another, the show must go on.