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Boat-Show Bag

An expert reflects on his personal collection of industry crap.

January 28, 2011
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Boat-Show Bag

Now that the boat-show season is in full bloom, I have turned my attention to seeking out true innovation in marine design. In keeping with my strict boat show regimen, I will execute my editorial duties and then go civilian. Like most show-goers, I will have a few beers and look at a few boats. The couple of sales folks that don’t hide when they see me coming will tell me that my aged 37-foot sled isn’t worth the price of an inflatable water toy. Then, like so many of my frustrated boating brethren, I will consume more beer and work the tchotchkes line, filling my free bag with crap that I’ll never use — I can’t wait!

My dad was a boat-show enthusiast. In his long history of attendance, he spent a fortune but never once bought a new boat. His particular passion was any sort of miracle polish or wonder rag. If it was the sort of stuff the astronauts used, even better — he was a forward thinker! He was also a big believer in homeopathic remedies for gas guzzling. Over the years he invested in a tanker load of fuel additives that I imagine saved him about a tanker load of fuel. His most memorable finds included a useless fender shaped like a mermaid and a collection of “Captain” and “First Mate” tumblers — I still have a few. I believe he found his prized portable Christmas tree at a show too.

I began my own collection at his side as soon as I was tall enough to handle a free bag. I made it my mission to clear exhibitors’ displays of as much pricey four-color marketing literature and as many nifty premiums as I could carry. My mother made me throw out everything but the hats and shirts — she was very practical. In fact, I believe that the marine industry provided most of my clothing during my formative years. Once, as I worked a boat show and stared down a little brat rifling my own table of brochures, key fobs and hats, it occurred to me that such prepubescent plundering had likely set the marine industry back 50 years.

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When I was old enough to carry a wallet with a bit of green, I became an investor. My thinking was that if I couldn’t buy a new boat at the show I wasn’t going to leave empty-handed. Like my dad, I specialized in “practical stuff ” that I “needed” for my boat. I had high hopes for an “easy-to-apply” fiberglass sealer that “lasts a lifetime in the South Florida sun.” It looked a lot like greasy water and worked about as well. There was a scented metal cleaner that was supposed to drive salt out of hard-to-reach places. The stuff smelled so good I was tempted to taste-test my cleaning rag.

I’ll never forget my first effort at pitching yacht design at a boat show in the early 1980s. This was long before upscale, superyacht VIP venues. Imagine camping in an overstuffed, overheated circus tent packed with Billy Mays wannabes. To my left — a gal in a thong with bolt-ons carving turkey with an electric knife. To my right — a fellow with a microphone strapped to his head, busy sucking motor oil from a carpet. A happy herd of show-goers shuffled blindly past my brilliant design work, lured by the irresistible siren call of “buy one get one free.” I was jealous!

After 30 years as a marine professional, my boat show bag booty has spilled out of Anhinga’s bilge into our garage. Last month the Admiral (wife, Nelia) held me accountable after discovering a stash of “accessories” I had invested in for a boat that we sold 10 years ago. I was compelled to load my treasure into four lawn-and-garden-size garbage bags and take the lot to the dump. No worries…I will just “work” harder at the boat shows this year!

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