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Report from the Cannes Yachting Festival

As European boat shows make their return, the annual gathering on the French coast provides a glimpse into the post-pandemic sailboat market.

September 29, 2021
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X56
X-Yacht’s all new X56 flagship makes its premier appearance in Cannes. The performance cruiser features a central mainsheet arrangement, with all lines led aft to a pedestal winch between the twin wheels. With no traveler and a self-tacking jib, the cockpit layout is clean as a whistle. Herb McCormick

By any measure, the recently concluded 2021 Cannes Yachting Festival was a rousing success. Following a year’s absence, it was the first boat show in Europe in the post-pandemic era and was very well-attended: 575 exhibitors, 620 sail and power boats, and 54,000 visitors, half of whom were from abroad, including me. COVID restrictions were in place, with overseas exhibitors and visitors required to submit a fresh, negative COVID test every 72 hours (they were available at the show and also many local pharmacies).

En route to Cannes, I stopped in the United Kingdom and was treated to an afternoon of sailing aboard a brand-spanking-new Oyster 595 on the Solent, off the south coast of England. The boat was a joy to sail, but what I found remarkable was that the company had already taken orders on 16 boats, sight unseen! And in the seaside village of Hythe, near Southampton, an entirely new factory is being tricked out to build the next Oyster up in the line, the 495; no less than 10 orders have been placed for that boat, and the very first one is still under construction! Order books are now full a couple of years down the road, and this is by no means a success story that Oyster alone is enjoying.

Lagoon 55
The Lagoon 55 will be introduced in the US at this winter’s Miami Boat Show, but a sneak preview during the Cannes Yachting Festival indicates its one good looking cat, with an expansive flybridge topsides and cozy looking accommodations down below. Herb McCormick

Once in Cannes, I discovered the story being repeated time and time again from nearly all the world’s top builders (Swan, Contest, Grand Soleil, HH Catamarans, etc.). Order books for seemingly all the major players are full now through 2023 (at the very least), many for models that do not yet exist beyond design renderings and brochures.

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And this at least partially explains the dearth of new offerings from the perennial leading mid-size, mid-level, full-on production yards as well, like Hanse and Beneteau; who has time for innovative R&D when it’s taking all-hands-on-deck to fulfill the long list of vessels already committed to?

Oyster 59
The author takes it all in while enjoying his afternoon out sailing the Solent aboard the new Oyster 595. Herb McCormick

What in the world of boatbuilding is going on? The answer is both simple and complicated. Of the many surprises unleashed by the pandemic, surely one of the least predictable was many folks’ discovery (or re-discovery) of sailing. Yacht brokers reveled in one of their best years ever in 2020, to the point that the used-boat market has been ravished. But the pent-up demand has not abated, and now the new-boat market is on fire as well. It’s anybody’s guess how long this will last, but for the builders in the midst of this frenzy—like Oyster—there’s no time to ponder it anyway. Their biggest problem—again almost universal—is finding the armies of skilled labor necessary to produce what’s already been signed and sealed, but not delivered.

Cannes show
It’s been a spell, but slowly boat shows are coming to life, which makes seeing the many banners flying above sailboats in Cannes such a welcomed sight. Herb McCormick

The other big news from Cannes for US sailors—particularly those interested in catamarans and trimarans—is the number of new multihull models that will make their North American debut at the 2022 Miami International Boat Show, scheduled to take place next February 16-20. A quintet of fresh cats and tris will be on display: the Neel 43, Nautitech Open 44, Fountaine Pajot Tanna 47, Privilege 51 and Lagoon 55. Along with the full order books, the proliferation and popularity of yachts with multiple hulls is the continuation of a different trend, one that appears to have no inclination to slow down anytime soon.

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