Rhode Island Marine Trades Association president Wendy Mackie wanted to step up content at this year’s Providence Boat Show, which the group had owned for about three months before its Jan. 31 opening, so she added interactive seminars and demonstrations.
A new pavilion was introduced as a hub, Mackie says. It featured a tiki bar-style demonstration area and stage, surrounded by tiki bar tables. A backdrop featured a snippet of Rhode Island’s shoreline. “There’s definitely a different feel from the show this year,” Mackie said on opening day. “We had so much help from the Newport Exhibition Group — the former owners — and it was really nice to hear exhibitors be so excited for the show. I’ve never heard that before. We’ve worked really hard.”
It paid off. The show sold out and had a 15 percent increase in exhibition space sales, Mackie says. “You hate to turn people away, but it was great to have so much interest.” The show attracted 9,600 visitors, and ticket revenue was up 20 percent from last year.
The pavilion — a “place to go and relax, a show hub” — housed the stage where Rhode Island native Rome Kirby, at 23 the youngest member of America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA, received the John H. Chafee Boater of the Year Award from RIMTA.
On hand was former America’s Cup sailor and current commentator Andy Green, who emceed the event, and Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport. “We all know that these kinds of events lift all boats, so to speak,” says Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
Coit won the award last year. “What an honor to be on the same plaque as people like Rome Kirby,” she says.
Kirby recounted some of the challenges of the U.S. team’s come-from-behind win. “We weren’t sailing that well to begin with, but we turned it around and got a bit lucky to not make a mistake,” he says.
Kirby was also on hand for the new H20 Zone, designed to present interactive boating activities to youngsters. The Boats Work for Rhode Island center showcased small one-design sailboats with experts and was a go-to destination for sailing fans.
RIMTA wanted to draw attention to the state’s deep sailing history, a component that had all but disappeared at prior shows. The powerboats, outboards and fishing equipment that have been a staple of the show returned, but RIMTA made a point of adding more sailboats, more activities and an area where visitors could learn to surf.
Doug Wielhouwer, senior vice president at Eastern Yacht Sales in Hingham, Mass., says it was nice to see more attention paid to sailing. “Rhode Island is known for sailing, and we’ve had a good increase of sailboat exhibitors over last year. It was all but dead at this show,” he says. “There’s been a lot of sailing in the general media, and we’ve just got more young people coming in for the first time in years.”
Wielhouwer thinks that shift is attributable to several factors. “It’s nice to see so much attention paid to sail in the trades and overall,” he says. “I think there’s more awareness of it, in part because of the America’s Cup boats being run here” in 2012, before heading to San Francisco in 2013. “There’s a higher percentage of sailboats here in Rhode Island.”
Attendees had a chance to see the 22-foot J/70 sportboat designed and marketed by J/Boats of Newport. The boat is less than two years old, but show organizers say 19 fleets have been established in the United States, and some J/70s have been sold internationally.
The interactive events, such as the Surfset pavilion, were a hit. The demonstration, put on by FloorTime Studios of Middletown, R.I., featured surfboard simulators that are part of a growing exercise trend. “There weren’t as many interactive sites last year,” says Ann Hampson of the Paul Cuffee Charter School, who brought a group of students to try the surfboards on the first day of the show. “There has been a lot more for the kids to do this year. This is really fun.”
Two “Boats Work for Rhode Island” areas, sponsored by Jamestown Distributors, showcased the state’s marine career-training resources, including high school programs at Chariho, Warwick and Tiverton and trades courses at the International Yacht Restoration School and the New England Institute of Technology. The show also featured two seminar series: sportfishing, and navigation and seamanship.
Sea to table
The show pavilion hosted another unusual event for the gastronomically inclined: no-heat, sea-to-table hors d’oeuvre preparation by Rhode Island chefs from the Ocean House in Watch Hill, the Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown and the Blaze Restaurant in Providence.
The locavore chefs demonstrated how to combine seasonal ingredients with fresh fluke, creating crudo samplers they passed out to visitors. The recipe included jalapeno, blood orange, fennel, saffron, fresh orange juice, cherry tomatoes, piquillo pepper puree and dried kalamata olives. “I don’t like raw or cured fish, but that was really good,” one attendee said.
Rhode Island boating
On opening day Don Helger, of Don’s Marine, sold a 247 Robalo, a brand he took on in the fall. He also carries Parker, and he sold a 25-footer to Capt. Bruce Borges, who was featured on the cover of the premiere edition of Anglers Journal magazine, which was created by editors and writers from Active Interest Media’s Marine Group, including Soundings and Power & Motoryacht magazines.
“The saltwater fish segment is slowly climbing,” Helger says. “We have an advantage with Parker because nobody builds a boat like Parker. It’s in a class by itself. And now with Robalo, I’m learning that because of the pricing and workmanship and quality, we may have an advantage there, too. Anglers are anglers, and there’s pent-up demand. And a lot of people are getting out of cruisers.”
Rob Lyons, of Ocean House Marina, walked out of the show having sold six new powerboats in the 20-foot range — four to new customers he met for the first time at the show. Bill Burke, of Lakeview Marine, tallied nine boat sales — eight of them to new customers. Steve Arnold, of MarineMax, had several boat sales, all to new customers.
On opening day Shawn Rogan, of Sterling Associates, wrote some deals, saying the show was “not bad for a Friday.”
Rogan says he has been working the show for 15 years. “There are a lot of the same faces that come by,” he says. “The average number of years people keep their boat is around four years, so I’ve had people who’ve bought three or four boats from me.” Sterling had a “great year in 2013,” he says. “January is typically a slow month, but the phones have been ringing, so we’re optimistic for a good year.”
Mackie was happy with RIMTA’s first effort at producing the show, but she says the group will continue to work closely with the marine industry to improve it from year to year. “It really was a goal of ours to not only breathe some new life into the show but to give people a flavor of what Rhode Island has to offer boaters,” she says.
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.