A Painless End to a Really Big Show

Just another show in Annapolis, without the traditional gales or torrential rain. From John Burnham's blog for October 11, 2007

John Burnham 368

Annapolis, Maryland--Hot as hell throughout the five days it ran last weekend, the U.S. Sailboat Show in Maryland's capital proved once again it marches to its own extraordinary beat. Usually during the biggest in-water sailboat show in the country, at some point there's a gale blowing, knee-deep salt water in the tents, or a hurricane threatening. October 2007 will simply be remembered for the record temperatures and humidity that made duty inside the tents stifling, at best, and draped a curtain of heat on the upper reaches of the docks in Ego Alley, where the light breezes rarely penetrated. Yet thousands upon thousands of sailors still came to the show to ogle, poke, and prod the latest boats and equipment for sailing.

As the show closed, on Monday afternoon, hundreds were still gathered at Pusser's rooftop bar (aka the Waterfront Marriott's parking lot for the rest of the year), ready to watch the breakup of the web of docks and boats that extended well into the harbor. The mood on the rooftop was pleasant in the lowering sun, and there wasn't any aggressive behavior among the patrons as we each tried to find a decent view of the docks being unbolted and pushed aside by a variety of skiffs. Possibly the liberal dose of rum in the lower half of every Painkiller being distributed among the crowd had something to do with that.

I collected a friend or two as they wandered by. Sandy, for one, is a regular at this event, and told me to get ready to watch the boat dealers showing off their driving skills at high speed. The best accident she could remember was a pirouetting Island Packet that created a dramatic light show when it rammed its anchor roller into a temporary piling holding a live electrical junction box.

A cannon fired right at 5 p.m., signaling the show's end, and the schooner Virginia cast off her lines from one of the outer docks and hoisted all sail in the light westerly breeze. Once all the Lagoons, Fountaine-Pajots, Bavarias, Hunters, Beneteaus, Najads, and Dufours (among many other brands) had cleared out, the floating Boat US "bridge" at the narrow throat of Ego Alley, Annapolis's downtown basin was dismantled. This cleared the way for a pack of Jeanneaus and J/Boats. J/World's J/80 set its mainsail and spinnaker to big cheers, then promptly ran out of wind in the calm behind the Marriott, and when the breeze filled from ahead, they drifted down onto one of Beneteau's tented docks before dropping the chute and carrying on with the jib again.

About the time my friend Richard bought me a third Painkiller, it seemed as if the boat crews below us were getting revved up, too. A foredeck crew on one boat teased the crowd by beginning to lift her t-shirt. A couple Tartans came out at high speed, one in forward and the next in reverse. And then came the most applauded act of this sweltering day, a 40-footer towing a yacht broker equipped with life jacket, bathing suit, and a bottle of beer.

I admit I didn't wait on the roof for the final acts, nor the arrival of the powerboats due for the next show, opening Thursday. The crowd had thinned, but those remaining were getting further warmed up. The sun had set and as dusk fell heavy, I took the 500-yard hike around the show instead of the 60-yard walk across the show I'd been taking all weekend. As I passed the very end of Ego Alley, the last boat, a brand-new Island Packet 465, turned her stern to me, shifted into full ahead, and made a rapid escape; it was 10 minutes past seven, and, after 130 minutes, the biggest sailboat show in the United States was officially finished.