FEATURE - Show action at Fort Lauderdale

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TONY MACKAY reports from FLIBS, the world's biggest boat show.

FEATURE - Show action at Fort Lauderdale

For those who have been searching for a boating heaven, I have hot news! The pearly gates or companionway, a gilded entrance to every conceivable boat, gadget or goodie associated with boats, is located once a year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the unquestioned mecca for the nautically enthused.

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) is the world’s largest — a remarkable five-day festival that will consume your life, exhaust your legs and send your brain into a form of overload. I loved it. Do not, for even a second, think that the Sanctuary Cove or Sydney shows can offer any sort of comparison. Just pack a bag and make sure you have a full four days to peruse the wondrous treats on display.

Ft Lauderdale and Miami are just like the Gold Coast but on steroids. As with all of the US, the vast population gives rise to all sorts of markets for a dazzling range of products, all of which find buyers who will travel from all parts to prowl through this amazing selection. The Fort Lauderdale show attracts more than 130,000 visitors and features more than $3 billion in merchandise, covering several acres of marinas and pavilions with every conceivable product and device from superyachts to snake-oil salesmen.

Those who tire of boats can peruse a selection of every type of Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce, Bentley or Mercedes, and unlike our car shows, all the windows are down and unlocked. There are luxury coaches decorated like a drug baron’s hideout, helicopters and even a miniature submarine. Everything is superbly organised and in sections for the likeminded, with six sites encompassing the various exhibits. A special iPhone app provided an interactive map to help navigate the show. For me, I just ploughed on from one end to the other, roaming aimlessly and getting aboard as many boats as I could manage. It was fabulous and I can’t wait for next year.

Entering the show, one is lead through the first of the pavilions with the usual gadgets and goodies — fender covers, embroidered mats, sheets and décor accessories, lines, chandlery, etc.

I have always enjoyed these stands, where the odd item attracts one’s attention such as a set of German knives that were so sharp that merely resting the blade against a ripe tomato and releasing the weight resulted in a perfect slice. (Too heavy for my luggage).

There was the water filter for washing down the boat, purifying the water and leaving a spot-free finish, while a misting machine squirts chilled spritzing mist to refresh the spirits. Folding custom mattresses, barometers and clocks, even collapsible carbon-fibre staircases that are much lighter than the aluminium competition and will also miraculously lighten your wallet by $18,000. (See www.bristolyachtcomponents.com)

One then battles through fishing lures, game poles, fighting chairs, deck fittings and into the relative sanctuary of the electronics pavilion. Radars, night vision, satellite domes, telephones and entertainment systems of every type and model. Some very large ones, too, but really designed for the larger yacht or ship.

Another pavilion featured the builders and designers, an international section that allowed government sponsored exhibits as to what was new from Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand or the US. Perhaps some bank repossession land in Costa Rica? Perhaps a charter jet to get you home from a boating holiday? Move on.

I particularly enjoyed the Engine Tent which had every manufacturer’s best efforts on display, from a MTU V20 diesel that was the size of an SUV, to generators, mufflers, refrigeration, stabilisers and air-conditioning. Caterpillar, Cummins, Volvo Penta, Detroit, John Deere, Onan, Kohler, Westerbeke, and on and on. Fabulous gear and always great to run your hands over this stuff. (I have got to get out more).

Springing into the heat and sunshine one finds acres of floating exhibits and it requires resolute patience to slowly move through them. I must confess, being a very seasoned shopper I tend to whoosh through everything and then return to make a closer inspection of the things that have piqued my interest. I have a finely tuned ability to sift out the rubbish and move on. Fortunately, they have organised everything in genres so if you wanted trawlers, game fishing, superyachts, speedboats, etc., you simply moved to the specific section and the full range was open for easy comparison.

This also made it a more efficient way of crowd control as it divided and separated many of the tourists away from sections that may have held little interest. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that this is not just a show for new boats. There are hundreds of used boats of every type on display and it was most interesting to see how things had changed — or not —
and also how some boats age in respect to the quality of their components.

Like the old adage, "Look at the mother and marry the daughter", I am now rather better informed about the prospects of some boats and how the ‘love affair’ may pan out. One particular brand had better be reliable, comfortable and a good sea boat as no amount of boating Botox will solve some of the ugly age issues that were evident in every nook and cranny.

Starting with the popular trawler genre, there was a large selection from respected names such as Fleming, Selene, Marlow, Outer Reef, Hampton, Kady-Krogen, Nordhavn, Grand Banks, and Cheoy Lee to name a few. The picnic boat stylists were also out in force with our own Palm Beach models having stolen the limelight at the previous Newport and Annapolis shows. The superb Hinckley Talaria range is outstanding for their quality finishes. The Vicem range, built in Turkey, have also embraced classic-boat styling and its models are attractive and worthy of a close inspection.

Downeast models or the traditional ‘lobster boat’ derivatives that are popular up north included the Sabre, Back Cove, Hinckley, Atlantic, and Hacker models. Most are in navy blue, dark green or other classic colours.

A little farther around the marina and the mood turns to the serious business of fishing. This is the market which has possibly suffered the most during the GFC, particularly as most of these fabulous boats are powered by high-powered diesels with a big thirst. No problem when fuel was 50c per litre but things are rapidly changing in the US.

The cost of crews, marina berths and fuel, combined with long runs to the fishing grounds have seen this sector tail off during the recession. Nevertheless, the superb Viking 66 dazzled with slick styling and superior finishes, the trend being back to open flying bridges for a real sporty feel. At 42kts one would need to be sure that the morning’s application of wig glue was marked "recommended for use in typhoons". Some have 4000hp under the floor, so little wonder the fuel is an issue. They are, however, superbly styled and executed.

Hatteras had a huge stand with a variety of models, as did Bertram, Egg Harbor, Riviera, and Maritimo, plus a wide variety of custom builders. There was also a huge array of secondhand models even back to an old but gorgeous Rybovich from the 1960s. One becomes aware of the resale value with many gameboats being attractively priced.

One of the big problems for me with these boats is the distaste for portholes and even deck hatches as Americans have a passionate love affair for air-conditioning and icemakers. Generators start at the commencement of the trip and never turn off until back at the dock, and this will not suit those of us who enjoy silence and fresh air. Mind you, it was as hot and humid as Hong Kong on a vile afternoon so I was quite delighted to abandon my normal sentiment and scurry aboard anything cool and inviting, or drink anything cool and inviting.

Around another bend, one arrives at the more Euro-styled "floating sunbed and sex palace" themed boats. (You can be sure that this is exactly what is going on and I am simply bitter and twisted that I am missing out). Riva, Lazzara, Ferretti, Fairline, and Azimut comprise a few names. The new Lazzara looks fabulous as did their stand.

The new Riva 86 Domino is a lean and sinister looking vessel designed for the latter-day Dr No type character. The sleek, minimalistic interior is a little hard edged and cold for my taste but will suit a slick urban sophisticate creating an image of sorts. Whatever that may be? One could not deny that she was a fabulous and superbly crafted machine glistening in metallic anthracite grey. Twin MTU V16s with 2435hp will sprint you to 38kts and let us not be crass and enquire as to the fuel consumption.

Sitting among this august company was a small stand for a new range of tenders, which were quite dazzling in their conception, ingenuity and execution. The Carbon Craft 110T or 130T just knocked me out. An ultra-lightweight carbon fibre speedboat, it’s jet-powered with extraordinary versatility from a 140hp engine and had every conceivable feature from folding swimplatforms, hidden deck chairs, umbrellas and coolers, gangplank passarelle, a collapsible hardtop roof, GPS, battery charger, freshwater shower, and even a rubbish bin.

Teak decks and padded sides make the best inflatable tenders pale into inferior comparison. The only hitch was the One Thirty bills that’s slightly more than a Mercedes S class (which has poor floating ability) and that did dampen my ardour. However, one has to realise that money is a small concern for many who wander this show. I move on, but still brimming with admiration.

Along the main riverfront were a huge collection of superyachts (a designation for motorcruisers above 24m) and the big brand names of Feadship, Benetti, Lurssen, Perini Navi, Delta, Christensen, and Blohm & Voss to name a few. You could spend a billion on a new yacht if the reports of Roman Abramovich’s new Lurssen is to be believed.

A variety of luxury tent offices will welcome you to discuss your future build and another 50 or so vessels are on display. Getting aboard is another matter, through a maze of ropes and uniformed crew, however, Americans understand that all types will be wandering this show and even the unlikeliest may be buyers. "Push comes to shove", as they say and it is possible to get aboard, but this only dazzles and depresses the senses and makes it harder to be interested in fenders and lines later in the day.

Frankly, some of these boats become so big that they lose any real connective or personal touch. I expect one rolls over in a king-sized bed and must be confronted with the morning decision: Which chair and on which deck will I sit today?

The trials of the very rich. I would be more worried about the freeloading guests who have been up for hours and are currently ploughing resolutely through the morning’s Viennese buffet on the poop deck, ice cold champagne parked within arm’s reach.

If your great grandmother had left her jewels in a safe aboard Titanic and you were interested in a recovery mission, the Triton, a small glass-domed, two-seater submarine, was on display. The builder’s best model will descend to 35,800 feet in air-conditioned comfort with a panoramic glass sphere holding you safe and sound.

Apparently, the glass becomes stronger with greater compression. I will take their word for it, but she is certainly a snappy little unit. Battery powered, it also comes with a robotic arm to collect treasures from the seabed. I do hope your great grandmother had big bling in the safe to help defray the $3 million purchase price. I could imagine scooting about the Great Barrier Reef, though, and it is a wondrous little machine. As stated in the show’s brochure, "Something for everyone".

Another marina complex opens and one can move to a more sedate pace with Duffy electric boats, a large table somewhat ambitiously set for lunch for about 10. Hopefully, a passing wash will not fling the contents to the floor.

Speedboats, jetboats, rubber duck tenders, centre console fishing machines (walkarounds, as they call them), multihulls and a few sailboats. Indeed, this is not really a show for those who sail; everything is geared to the powerboat enthusiast.

All these exhibits have something to offer, particularly if you have an interest in design solutions. Unfortunately, some of the sales staff were less than enthusiastic and one group sat in deckchairs and fielded questions to standing clients. No sales there, Mr Nautica dinghies. I have encountered the same at Australian boat shows as some of the staff holds customers in contempt, until they sign the order. Pay attention to this, gentlemen!

New becomes used in a flash these days, and liking classically styled things, I really enjoyed the vast range of secondhand (pre-loved husband, pre-hated wife) models of all types. There were some classic restorations. Some expedition yachts (Billy Joel’s for sale with an interior that was not nice!), a ‘Green Hybrid Eco Friendly Carbon Neutral’ model that looked delightful but the marketing along these lines was truly rubbish. Who was going to mention the petro chemicals used to make the boat or the diesel fuel used to power it? I did, caused a ruction and moved on. The dreaded red cap strikes again. They are probably still bickering.

Of course, some boats are plagued by the styling efforts of other decades and look horribly out of place among the newer styling efforts. One classic Feadship, though, bucked this trend in her glorious and elegant splendour, and one awaited Elizabeth Taylor or Ava Gardner’s appearance down the gangplank. As they are both dead, it would have been a long wait. Move on.

One 92ft Citadel Expedition Yacht Miss Lisa was a most entrancing vessel and the guided tour was simply astounding. You should have seen the winches and the 28ft bulbous bow! Cheap at $12 million (secondhand) but a wondrous amalgam of the very best equipment and superb finishes. The owners use her twice a year for a fortnight each time, never cook aboard and when they arrive, the crew move to an apartment ashore, only returning to service the boat and pour drinks. Sounds great! Which is my cabin?

Three other marinas had more used boats up to 350 feet and the Ft Lauderdale Exhibition Centre housed another massive hall of exhibits. I never got there. It was all too much for this little black duck. Three days was simply not enough.

Oh, and another tip from my vast range of clichés, "He travels fastest who travels alone." Go with friends but have the first day without being burdened by looking at what others enjoy. I go shopping the same way. Take friends back to revisit and enjoy the conversation it brings but parry forth alone. You will be far from bored.

I flew on the Qantas A380, which is a superb experience in itself, the service and entertainment being arguably second to none. It flies direct daily to LA to break the trip and for some retail therapy. Then it’s via Virgin America, with a direct flight from LAX to Ft Lauderdale. It’s another superb service without the tedium of transfer through multiple hubs.

Don’t get too excited by the prospect of too much scenery or tourist attractions outside of the boating sphere — or too much high-brow culture. It is dead flat and just like the Gold Coast. Luscious beaches, but no surf. Gamefishing, big houses, canals and high-rise hotels and apartments. Miami, about 50nm south, is similar but bigger with more exciting nightlife along Ocean Drive at South Beach (See the movie The Birdcage).

However, if you love boats and are happiest pottering around this show, you will want for nothing. The outlet shopping is also quite staggering at Sawgrass Mills, one of the largest in the world. Rent a truck to bring back the goodies. I came for the show and loved every minute of it. You need a car. Full stop.

The author took a liking to this impressive pair of winches onboard the Citadel Yachts 92ft expedition Miss Lisa at this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Miss Lisa
From the air you get an appreciation of the size of FLIBS, making it the world’s biggest.
FLIBS is more than just stuff that the floats, the Triton submersible was there and will set you back $3 million, but imagine all those wrecks you can loot down to 1000m.
Bertram’s 50 and the trio here sport the builder’s new celebratory logo.
Superyachts to fuel the imagination or curry admiration.
Some of the world’s best sportscar brands found space alongside their marine equivalents.
The beautiful model display from German superyacht builder Nobiskrug.
Domes and masts fill the skyline as showgoers swarm the boardwalk.
More submersibles, this one is from U-Boat Worx.
An imposing sight, MTU’s V20 diesel produces 2850hp, an impressive output.
Australia’s Palm Beach Motor Yachts have been popular with the locals for a couple of seasons now.


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