Caution: Boat Show in Progress

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:15PM - Comments: (3)

Enter if you dare. Yellow tape cordoned off large sections of the docks at this year's Miami Strictly Sail event in downtown Miami.

I’ve always argued that boat shows should be cordoned off with caution tape, warning all of the temptations that lie within, but I never expected anyone to take me seriously. However, the organizers of this year’s Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show and Strictly Sail, which wrapped up Monday after four days of fine South Florida weather, did just that. Miami is in a the midst of a ground-trembling building boom as apartment-shaped financial instruments (once known as condominiums) sprout like dandelions. This year the construction projects spilled over into the Bayside Marina, the longtime home of the sailboat show. Caution tape wrapped like Christmas garland across the docks and seawalls, and more than a few attendees on autopilot (myself included) dead-ended into a jackhammered parking lot where the gear tents used to be.

The disorganized scene had at least one excellent side-effect that future boat show organizers might want to note: trailer sailors and pocket cruisers, robbed of their usual location, were spread out along the front of the marina/show grounds for anyone to explore. No ticket required. Too frequently sailing is an activity that takes place behind the walls and fences of yacht clubs; it was fun to watch reactions as the day-workers and residents in downtown Miami got what what appeared to be their first closeup look at a production sailboat

The reconfigured layout gave local Miamians got an up close look at the trailerable sailboats like the Catalina Capri 22. The resulting curiosity was a healthy side-effect in my book.

For those who have been unable to visit a Strictly Sail show this season; below are some photo highlights. I posted a similar report last autumn after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis.

Miami is one of the most popular multihull shows in the country, and one thing I noticed this year was the convoluted, multi-tier deck layouts on many of these catamarans. While many monohulls are also strewn with hurdles, some of the mulithulls at this years show featured incredibly tortuous deck plans. High narrow steps, decks strewn with toe stubbers, mazes leading to the foredeck—you name it, these boats had it.

Because multihulls are relatively stable, flat (and expensive) platforms, they are a popular choice among older sailors who are chasing the retirement dream portrayed in IRA investment brochures. Yet nearly all of the boats featured the sort of obstacles that would challenge a parkour athlete. It continues to shock me that so few multihull designers have incorporated some of the more sensible, hurdle-free elements showcased in the fully-accessible catamaran, Impossible Dream.

Another impressive sight (even without the dramatic context) was the Gunboat 55, Toccata. The 55-foot carbon fiber speedster is sistership to the $2.5 million Rainmaker, which was dismasted and abandoned off of Cape Hatteras two weeks before the start of the show. The dismasting made international news in part because the owner, prominent investor Brian Cohen (of Pinterest fame) and his son were on board. The two were rescued along with the captain and crew.

Peter Johnstone, Gunboat's owner and founder, was in Miami to receive an award for the Gunboat 55, making it the second award-winning catamaran that has lost its mast shortly after being named best in its class by a popular magazine. (Chris White's Mastfoil Atlantic 47 suffered a similar fate last year.) Since Rainmaker is featured in many of the Gunboat 55's marketing materials, I couldn't help but wonder how many visitors asked Johnstone—who was aboard during the show—where the boat was now. Toccata was docked not far from veteran circumnavigator Jimmy Cornell's high-latitude voyager, the Garcia Exploration 45, presenting a stark contrast in approaches to taming the sea.

While Miami remains the biggest event for those interested in multihulls, the in-the-water sailboat show in downtown Miami is only a small part of the sprawling enterprise, most of which is housed in the convention center on Miami Beach. The show has become the defacto debut event for new marine electronics, and this year the biggest news was introduction of forward scanning depth sounders—Garmin Panoptix and Simrad Forwardscan. Both of manufacturers are making pretty bold claims about their products, and although I remain skeptical about how effective they might be for collision avoidance, the devices appear to be a great leap forward from the technology used by Interphase, which we tested back in April of 2008.


Teak deck substitutes have taken a firm share of the market, especially among the multihull builders. Several boats sported cork decks (show here). We will be testing cork and other deck substitutes this year.

Many boat designers still don't have a firm grasp of ergonomic design. Getting out of the cockpit of the Mondo 40 calls for stretch pants and the flexibility of a Pilates teacher.

Seeing the Gunboat 55 "Toccata" (above) on the same dock as the Garcia Exploration 45 (below) starkly contrasted two approaches to taming the sea.

At about $650,000, the Garcia 45 costs about three times less than the Gunboat 55. Which boat would you want to take you around the world?

Comments (3)

Re the award-winning temporary Gunboat, mysteriously snapping carbon is now part of daily experience and is barely remarked. A strange form of relativistic travel: "So fast, it goes nowhere!"

Pretty much the same deal as with bicycles and carbon. Ephemeral expediency. Carbon's terrific but is finding its way into silly places.

Posted by: Douglas B | February 18, 2015 5:20 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Jonathan. I'd say Garcia is around 3 to 4 times cheaper. Both involve a lot of customization, so that multiplier isn't firm. Aluminum construction is a lot cheaper than carbon fiber, so it's easier to bring the Garcia number down.

Posted by: DARRELL N | February 17, 2015 4:09 PM    Report this comment

I think you missed a word. "Garcia 45 costs about times less" is missing the multiplier.

(For some reason, the first time I read it, I assumed 3?)

Posted by: Jonathan B | February 17, 2015 4:01 PM    Report this comment

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