Sandy who? FLIBS shrugs off storm impactPosted on Written by Richard Armstrong
Two-day brush with squalls was the only thing that prevented a true blowout show, says producer
Staying true to their can-do spirit, organizers of the bellwether Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show were rewarded for persevering through two days of Hurricane Sandys wind and rain with solid attendance buoyed by a fair and sunny weekend.
All things considered, I think we had an excellent show, says Efrem Skip Zimbalist III, chief executive of Active Interest Media and Show Management, producer of the show. The only thing that bothers me is how this could have been a blowout show.
Exhibitors may recall the 2005 show, which was postponed a week after Hurricane Wilma struck Fort Lauderdale. That years abbreviated show, held despite questions about whether it should be canceled, proved a success.
Zimbalist says he was pleasantly surprised by the number of tenacious show-goers who weathered the blustery, rainy conditions Thursday and Friday this year, considering them the serious buyers. Attendance was down 30 percent from 2011 during the first two days of the show, Zimbalist says, but came roaring back when the sun emerged and the wind subsided. In the end, overall attendance was down just 2 percent, he says.
No unsold space
Exhibitor space was sold out and that included slips that were added this year at the north end of Las Olas Marina. Zimbalist says the handful of exhibitors he spoke with immediately after the Oct. 25-29 show reported strong sales.
Viking Yachts says it sold at least seven, possibly 11, boats. MarineMax also reported strong sales.
Bill McGill Jr., MarineMax chairman, president and CEO, saw positive signs from the first day of the show. We had a very good day yesterday, despite the squalls that were blowing through, he said at a press conference Oct. 26. MarineMax had sold three Azimuts and some Whalers and Sea Rays in one day.
The activity was constant for the entire show, despite the weather Thursday and Friday, says A.J. Halavacs, pleasure craft product line manager for ZF Marine. The people that attended were there for a reason, and many seemed ready to buy, but you could still feel that people [were] waiting to see the results of the election. Traffic was surprisingly busy the final day of the show, with our salespeople meeting with customers until the days end.
Cobalt Boats, which had five of its dealerships exhibiting in the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, says sales doubled over last year. Our location was very busy on all days of the show, says Gavan Hunt, vice president of sales and marketing. Traffic count was definitely up for us, compared to the last two years.
Skip Braver, CEO and president of Cigarette Racing Team, says this years show was the best the performance powerboat builder has had in years. Our customers braved hurricane winds and rains to see our new boats, says Braver. The weekend brought nicer weather and more people, but we did business from the opening day through the close.
Keith Wansley, president of Lumishore USA, a U.K.-based underwater lighting specialist, expects overall sales to be better than they were in 2011, Lumishores first year at the show. Its certainly better than it has been. Theres no question about that, Wansley says of the overall mood of attendees. But I think its going to be a slow crawl to recovery. Consumers psyche has been shaken by what happened in 2008, and its going to take more time for them to get over it.
Our Super Bowl
Challenging weather or not, the largest in-water boat show in the world went on because of its long-standing appeal. Two boats [from Europe] just got here yesterday. It took them 23 days to cross the Atlantic, Kristina Hebert, president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show, said at a press breakfast on opening day. Weather slowed the delivery, but didnt stop the boats. When someone says theres going to be bad weather, just say, So it never stopped us before, she said.
Several events were delayed or relocated off the water, and the 400/500 tent was closed on the second day of the show because of wind damage, but FLIBS delivered everything it promised.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. Jack Seiler touted the importance of the show to the city. This is our Super Bowl, he said at the press breakfast. This event puts Fort Lauderdale on the map.
The economic impact of the show with 3 million square feet of exhibit space at six venues exceeds a half-billion dollars, compared with $300 million to $400 million for a Super Bowl, Seiler said.
More than 1,200 boats, from an 8-foot dinghy to the 281-foot superyacht Cakewalk, were on display, including 40 yachts of more than 100 feet along the Face Dock at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center. Those who came found plenty of inspiration from what organizers say was a record number of new-boat introductions, in addition to an array of innovative technologies designed to make boating easier and more enjoyable.
The prevailing outlook among exhibitors was a growing confidence that consumers are ready to move beyond the economy and buy the boat theyve been eyeing. Industry observers say frugality fatigue is a factor as the economy shows modest signs of recovery, and consumer confidence and the housing market improve. Interest rates remain near record lows, and lenders are more willing to offer loans to people with good credit scores.
Many who want a boat and have the means are thinking its time to buy one. Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, has predicted a 10 percent uptick in new-boat sales this year.
Another good sign: For the first time since the recession, dozens of new models are debuting during the fall/winter show season boats big and small, luxury yachts and sportboats, fishing boats and cruisers. And the new boats arent just makeovers of previous models; theyre new from stem to stern and from the keel up, representing industry investment in new product and a wealth of choices for consumers.
Grand Banks debuted its 54 Heritage EU, a three-stateroom, semidisplacement trawler. Scout introduced the 320 LXF, a center console with a stand-up shower, a hardtop with a glass enclosure and molded-in spreader lights. Beneteau unveiled two new powerboats: the Barracuda 9 its first outboard boat a 29-foot fishing/cruising hybrid with a walkaround pilothouse, and the Swift Trawler 50, the second-largest trawler in its fleet and a versatile long-distance or liveaboard cruiser.
Sea Ray presented three boats that are new from the keel up: the 350 Sundancer, 370 Venture and 510 Sundancer. The 370 Venture is Sea Rays largest outboard-powered boat, with a pair of 300-hp Mercury Verados hidden in compartments that double as padded sun lounges. Boston Whaler launched a pair of dual consoles, 23- and 27-footers, the first boats in a new Vantage series of dual consoles that come on the heels of a half-dozen new-model launches during the past year.
Fairlines Targa 62 Gran Turismo made its U.S. premiere. The British builder also showed its Squadron 50 and Squadron 65. Another U.K. boatbuilder, Sealine, which has re-entered the U.S. market, had several models on display, including the SC42i, which features Volvo Penta IPS pods, an electrically operated full-top sliding sunroof, opening side windows and an open stern that can be enclosed with clip-on canvas screens.
Engine manufacturers showcased lighter, more efficient, quieter and cleaner diesel and gasoline inboard and inboard-outboard power at the show. Cummins, Mercury, Volvo Penta and Yanmar all introduced new product low- and high-horsepower gas and diesel inboards, outboards and sterndrives.
Another technology trend: more joystick helm controls. Joysticks are now available with a variety of power options, from outboards and sterndrives to pod drives and straight-shaft setups. Of note is Mercury Marines new Joystick Piloting for outboards a helm control system for its 250- and 300-hp Verado 4-strokes in twin, triple and quad installations. We are very excited because we are bringing our joystick technology that weve had for pods and sterndrives to the world of outboards, says Louis Miller, Mercurys product manager of digital rigging and the precision rigging group.
Pod drive propulsion continues to proliferate, and builders say its in response to customer desire. Sabre Yachts models range from 38 to 54 feet. Every model in the range is available with pods, says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing. The 38, 42, 48 and 54 Salon Express are only available with pod propulsion.
Villages and events
Perhaps the most notable addition to the show was a revamped layout that incorporated a theme-park model designed to make the mammoth event more accessible, with villages keyed to specific types of boats and lifestyles and featuring distinctive entertainment and foods. Set up at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, these areas included the high-performance village; a sportfishing village; PassageMaker magazines TrawlerPort, a show within a show for those interested in cruising under power; and the Superyacht Builders Association, or SYBAss, village.
When strong winds delayed erecting the tent for PassageMakers series of seminars, they were relocated to a modest-sized covered marina entranceway and still attracted standing-room-only audiences. Other seminars on a variety of topics from fishing and diving to cruising and buying your dream boat were held at the convention center, where smaller boats and a host of accessory vendors set up shop.
Another new event this year was Galley Wars. Celebrity chef Steve Martorano judged a competition among four yacht chefs who competed in a three-round cook-off at the Captains Den behind the Yachts International Pavilion at the Hall of Fame Marina. Martorano tested the chefs versatility by requiring them to include in their dishes some ingredients revealed just before each round.
More than three dozen boatbuilders were honored at the first AIM Marine Group Editors Choice Awards gala, which was moved because of the storm from an outdoor venue to the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. The awards, which recognize individual achievement, best boats and more, were handed out at a banquet benefiting Nova Southeastern Universitys Oceanographic Center.
The Editors Choice Awards were developed to recognize the best of the best in production and semicustom yachts, says AIM Marine Group publisher Gary DeSanctis. It is the only event of its kind that honors these builders on a global perspective.
Americas Cup fans got a special treat when the Auld Mug went on display with the Louis Vuitton Cup at the U.S. Superyacht Associations annual meeting. It arrived in the care and custody of two guards. Those who attended the meeting had an opportunity to be photographed next to the Cup with the guards standing close by.
On the Docks with Chris Landry
The number of boats at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this year and the innovation they incorporate impressed the heck out of me, from Mercurys joystick for outboards to Intrepids aerodynamic center console with power windows to Sea Rays express cruiser that conceals twin 300-hp 4-strokes.
Fort Lauderdale is the largest in-water boat show in the world, with 3 million square feet of exhibit space at six venues. Of course, I wasnt able to see every new boat or piece of gear, but I covered a lot of ground, inspecting boats, interviewing people and attending press events from Tuesday night through Saturday afternoon. Here are some of the highlights.
Sea Ray introduced an impressive and very different boat: the twin-outboard 370 Venture, which conceals a pair of 300-hp Mercury Verado 4-strokes in two compartments that double as padded sun lounges. The fiberglass compartments are well ventilated, with a hose attached to each engine funneling exhaust outside.
I drove the express cruiser a few weeks before the show. Engine noise levels are low as youd expect and the Mercs provide plenty of punch. Another plus: a huge midcabin, thanks to the outboard installation.
When it comes to propulsion innovation, Mercury made a splash. The engine maker displayed its new Joystick Piloting for outboards due out next spring on a Boston Whaler 320 Outrage. The system allows boats with new Verado 250- or 300-hp outboards (twin, triple and quad installations) to be driven at low speeds with a joystick.
I tried it on the second day of the show. The outboards have a 30-degree range of motion, which allows for prompt and powerful helm response using the joystick. I walked the boat sideways to get out of the way of an approaching boat in the narrow canal. Shifting response is quick, and I neither heard nor felt any clunking as the engines kicked into and out of gear. Joystick Piloting operates without bow or stern thrusters and can be installed on boats with new Verados or those being repowered with new Verados.
Ive written a lot about Intrepid Powerboats during the past three years because the Florida builder has been pumping out new boats with innovative technology and designs stuff that makes sense. Company president Ken Clinton and chief operating officer Mark Beaver had another boat for me to check out a 32-foot center console with powered, aerodynamic front and side windshields. All three open and close with the push of a button, and the glass is curved to improve airflow. The front windshield includes a separate top pane that opens outboard. Its also powered and can be stopped at the optimum angle to direct airflow. Visibility is excellent. Intrepid calls the boat the 327 Enclosed Center Console.
Heres the scoop on the console design. After getting several requests for a three-sided helm console, Clinton and Beaver studied the idea but were turned off by the boxy look many of them had. To me, they look like youre driving in a telephone booth, so we stayed away from it, Clinton says. But then we had several more requests, and we said, OK, lets do something. But we took it up a notch. Its like having a captains enclosure that you dont have to roll up, unsnap, unzip and put away. You push a button and youre enclosed.
The boat should be popular in the Northeast and Great Lakes, where an enclosed helm extends the boating season, Clinton says.
Beaver and Clinton also showed me renderings of the new 375 Walkaround, which they hope to have completed for display at the Miami International Boat Show in February. We have created a nice cabin that gives you 6 feet, 3 inches of headroom, but weve maintained the sleek, low profile of a cuddy cabin model, Beaver says.
Some design tricks allowed them to do this. Weve taken the head out of the cabin and moved it into the console, Beaver says. And this is a big head. It has a separate shower with bifolding doors, a full vanity with a nice basin and a seat, lighted mirrors and air conditioning.
Also, the marine head disappears (its electrically actuated) behind a bulkhead when not in use an impressive way to free up space.
Three Northeast builders at the show also are doing an excellent job of using space. Hinckley, Sabre and Hunt displayed new models, all designed with open living space that creates a social atmosphere on board. I looked at the Hinckley T34, the Sabre 38 Salon Express and the Hunt 44.
The helm, saloon and cockpit on these boats are connected and so are the passengers. These builders value good visibility and ample natural light for example, with their use of glass pilothouse doors aft and large windows.
Were not just pushing out old product with a fresh paint job, says Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing for Sabre Yachts and Back Cove Yachts. People want something fresh and exciting that also suits their tastes and needs, and I think weve given that to them.
Natural light and ventilation are a top priority on the Volvo Penta IPS pod-powered Sealine SC42i Sports Coupe. The soft top opens to expose the entire bridge deck to the great outdoors, and side windows open for more fresh air. Skylights over the galley brighten the area. Itll be hard to find a more versatile deck seating arrangement than the SC42is.
The twin L-shaped settees in the cockpit are positioned to port and starboard, and there is a centerline stern walk-through. With the push of a button the port settee slides inboard and meets the other settee, creating a wide port side deck. Very cool.
And that brings me to the new Yellowfin RHIB 40. Its a rigid-hull inflatable custom yacht tender with triple 300-hp Mercury Verados, a low-profile helm with back-to-back seating, and a large forward seating area. Its a completely different boat for Yellowfin, which is known for its high-end deep-vee center consoles.
Regulator Marine had a new center console to show off: the 34 Sportfisher. Its a more open version of the builders 34SS thats designed more for fishing than day boating.
Boston Whaler held a press event to introduce its Vantage series of dual consoles. The first boats in the series the 230 Vantage and 270 Vantage were at the show. Like the other boats Ive mentioned, these Whalers are packed with smart, innovative features. For instance, the companion console on the 230 folds into a variety of positions so that passengers can face forward or aft and partially or fully recline. It also can be used as a leaning post.
My dock walking also brought me face to face with megayachts. The Benetti Group showed its Azimut Grande 100 and Delfino 93. What can I say about these megayachts, other than that theyre big and beautiful? The Grande 100 features a new flybridge with a more open layout.
On the Docks with Jim Flannery
The tide is turning, said NMMA president Tom Dammrich in an interview at show. Yes it is, but there are a lot of currents coming in from different directions. With some of those currents come challenges that weve got to deal with if were going to grow.
Dammrich is projecting a 10 percent uptick in boat and engine sales in 2012 and again in 2013, based on a gradual turnaround in the economy, However, to achieve 300,000 boat sales a year the annual average from 1992 to 2004 dealers and manufacturers will have to woo more women and youth and minorities. That means reaching more Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians just as Americas political parties are learning. And the industry will have to work hard to teach boating handling and safety to demographic groups that have not been exposed to boating, as well as preserve access to the water, he said.
The 250-member U.S. Superyacht Association has launched its Come Sea U.S. campaign, a first step toward encouraging superyachts from abroad to visit the United States on extended cruises and to participate in big events, chairman John Mann III told the associations membership at its annual meeting at the show. Its first big push will be to sell superyacht owners on visiting the West Coast in 2013 for the 34th Americas Cup on San Francisco Bay. To help promote that, Mann invited Tom Ehman, spokesman for the Americas Cup Event Authority and vice commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, to the meeting, along with the Cup itself. Jeff Holland, sales and technical director for Alexseal Yacht Coatings, and others had their photos taken next to the Auld Mug. Ill have something to show my grandkids, Holland says. This is probably a high point of my career right now.
Moving forward with their strategic partnership, Paolo Vitelli, president of the Azimut Benetti Group, and William McGill Jr., CEO of MarineMax, announced that MarineMax is now the exclusive dealer for the 40- to 100-foot Azimut line for all of the continental United States. MarineMax also will represent Azimut-Benettis Atlantis line in the United States, except in Florida. Vitelli says Azimut is the No. 1 import to America in the 50- to 65-foot range. Our goal is to become No. 1 overall for imports, he says.
Vitelli says Azimut came to the United States 32 years ago with two models. Azimut and Atlantis showed 16 models at Fort Lauderdale.
Half of Azimut-Benettis total sales are in the Americas a quarter of them in the U.S., Vitelli says. He says hed like to increase the U.S. share of total sales to 30 to 35 percent. He says the Italian builder has learned about quality and reliability from selling in the U.S. market and has brought to the market Italian styling, luxury and economical use of space. The two markets [Italian and U.S.] are getting closer, he says.
Fossati Group, of Homestead, Fla., introduced to the South Florida market a Chinese-built Highfield tender an ultralight inflatable with a powder-coated aluminum hull. An 8.5-foot Highland weighs in at 60 pounds, compared with 103 for a comparably sized RIB with a fiberglass hull, says president Domenico Fossati, who also sells fiberglass Caribe inflatables. Lighter-weight inflatables are in demand as tenders because they lighten the yachts load and are easier for older boaters to handle, Fossati says. The boating population is getting older, he says. Lifting 50 less pounds is important. Im an old fiberglass guy, he says, so it took some time to convince him that an aluminum hull is durable enough for dinghy duty. He says the powder-coat helps prevent corrosion. The Highfields range in size from 6.5 to 17 feet.
Baja Marine spiffed up its offerings at the show with the 30 Outlaw GT, the first in its GT high-performance series with distinctive DesignTECH graphics. Its a totally different look for Baja, says Craig Barrie, vice president of sales and marketing. The boat is powered by a pair of 430-hp Mercury 8.2 HOs, XR drives and Latham steering, as well as has a head, refrigerator, sink, V-berth, two settees, and a swim platform. By the shows second day, Barrie had sold one of the GTs to a couple, and another couple was interested. Today we signed up two new dealers for Baja, he said. For us, there has been a silver lining in Hurricane Sandy.
New Miami Lakes, Fla., builder Belzona Marine debuted its Belzona 325, a center console with sliding port and starboard hull-side doors manually or pushbutton controlled so the boat is handicapped-accessible. Its powered by twin 250- or 300-hp Mercury Verado 4-strokes and has a custom tackle center, live well, rigging station and hardtop rod holders. Were a brand-new company, says marketing coordinator, Lauren Doval. We started our first boat 11 months ago. The company plans to work with Shake-A-Leg, Miamis waterfront non-profit that gets disadvantaged youth and people with disabilities out on the water.
On the conservation front, Jim Jacoby, an Atlanta real estate developer, was recognized at the International SeaKeepers Society founders dinner for lending his 62-foot sportfisherman, Miss Phebe II, a 1971 wooden Whitaker, to scientists for a week to study coral reefs in the Dry Tortugas off Florida. Jacoby, a Miami native, is a participant in SeaKeepers scientific missions program, which recruits its yacht owners/members to loan their boats for ocean research projects. SeaKeepers is an ocean research and conservation group whose membership is made up primarily of yacht owners.
On the Docks with Reagan Haynes
Scout Boats is bringing the concept of high-end luxury to its center consoles with the 320 LXF, which debuted at the show. Years ago, center consoles were looked at like workboats, with mass appeal like SUVs or pickup trucks, Scout owner Steve Potts said during the media introduction of the pearlescent azure blue model at the Convention Center. Now most of the SUVs and pickups are very stylish and luxurious. We feel fishing boats need to follow that concept. This is just a cool-looking boat.
The layout features plush seating forward, and a digitized key fob brings the electronics and power alive with the press of a button. The design seems consistent with a trend I found throughout the show. We hear a lot about OEMs focusing on entry-level offerings, but several companies are stepping up their high-end products and their levels of service and customization to capture a growing luxury market.
This is a quarter-million-dollar boat, says Potts. We have to deliver to the expectations of the consumer.
The 320 LXF really has a sexy, retro look, but its not just flash, he says. Were very driven to have the best ride in all categories.
Actuant is a leader in digital switching network systems, featuring the CZone system by its BEP brand and the MasterBus system by Mastervolt. Scout is using the CZone system to control and monitor on-board circuits. In fact, Scout is able to control the circuits with a simple key fob. The system is feature-rich, easy to operate and simplifies installation for the builder, saving time, labor and wire costs.
Show organizers say theyll continue to cater to the superyacht and megayacht community and beef up the some of the other offerings in response to growing demand. Active Interest Media and Show Management CEO Efrem Skip Zimbalist III spoke with me Thursday morning after the kickoff of the show. He said Show Management is not only increasing the size of the yachts it can handle in Fort Lauderdale but is also looking to turn the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach into a major megayacht event.
We are doing some dredging because we would like to have the megayachts finally at the Port of Miami, Zimbalist says. There are a lot of boats that cant get in because of bridge heights and the depth of channels, so this is something we can do, and we hope it will become a major megayacht show. The process will be gradual but is already in the works, he says.
The Yacht & Brokerage Show scheduled for Feb. 14-18 is also produced by Show Management and runs concurrently with the NMMAs Miami International Boat Show.
Also at the breakfast, Crocs celebrated its 10th anniversary. The footwear company had its official launch at FLIBS in 2002. The company sponsored this years media breakfast and gave those who attended some dry footwear options that were much appreciated.
Northern Marine is being featured in the Travel Channel miniseries Extreme Yachts. The show, which was to air Nov. 18, focuses on Andrew McDonalds business and his passagemaking yachts. They came out at different phases of construction, toured the facility, toured boats, interviewed staff and became familiar with the process, which Im very proud of, concentrating on the 95 Atlas, McDonald says.
The yacht features a hot tub on the flybridge and a concealed dumb waiter that travels three levels, McDonald says. It has a 48-inch barbecue and a 60-inch 3D TV that drops down from the overhead on the sundeck. Theres also a treadmill on board thats been modified so it folds out of site. The yacht costs about $12 million. Its a 95-foot pleasure craft, a fully customized toy, McDonald says. Its not a production boat. Its something [my client] couldnt find, so we built it. We dont say no to anything. Unless its a safety issue, we will build anything. There are no bad ideas.
Id been told by my editor that there would be no time to test-drive boats at FLIBS. He would have been right had I not spent three extra days in Fort Lauderdale because of Superstorm Sandys pending collision with the Northeast.
My silver lining was helming a Tiara 3600 Open with ZF Marine pod drives and a joystick. Martin Meissner, marketing manager for ZF Marine North America, and Capt. Billy Smeltzer let me take a quick spin on the Intracoastal Waterway. I got a nice view of the show, and we got to drop the virtual anchor. Anchor mode is super-cool for nerds like me.
Executives at Pompano Beach., Fla.-based Elite Carpet Workroom travel the world to install high-end carpeting on yachts. We had a call recently, saying, We have a carpet emergency, sales consultant Bob Rose said at the show. We had someone on a plane the next day.
Rose cant emphasize enough the importance of being on time, delivering on schedule and having the appropriate licensing. People have an expectation, and if were giving great service theyre willing to compensate, Rose says.
Beneteau held a media event for its Barracuda 9, a 29-footer and the builders first outboard boat that was initially presented at shows in Norwalk, Conn., Newport, R.I., and Annapolis, Md., but was formally unveiled in Fort Lauderdale with its designer, Patrice Sarrazin, and product manager Rosalie Le Gall. We sold several Barracuda at the show, says Beneteau America president Laurent Fabre.
The company plans to launch a 23-foot version in Europe this fall before unveiling the vessel in the United States, where the pilothouse boats are gaining traction, Fabre says.
Sunstream Boat Lifts southern regional sales manager Rich Ritzema reports that the company had its best show in five years, selling until the last moment of the show. Our product is pretty innovative, Ritzema says.
MasterCraft Boats had a good show and took home several leads to follow, says Southeast sales and marketing manager Zane Schwenk. I think people are finally getting it into their heads that we do a saltwater series now, Schwenk says. We started that in 04.
There were more families seeking out the brand this year, which Schwenk says was a good thing because the younger generation gave parents a push toward the high-performance craft. We heard more families saying they wanted to get their kids behind the boat, Schwenk says.
The X-30 and X-Star models that came out this year have been a draw. We cant build them fast enough, Schwenk says.
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue.