Together Through Life

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It was a routine activity — dining indoors at a local trattoria — that marked a sea change in my family’s behavior during the past 16 or so months.

Warmed by the wood-fired oven on a blustery, late spring evening, I sat back and took in the scene. Couples sat at the zinc-topped bar, giving the other clusters of patrons some elbow room. A skilled bartender alternated between filling drink and takeout orders. And more than a few customers greeted the burly proprietor with fist bumps and boisterous words.

I’ve missed this routine, a regular activity for millions of American families: the “Friday feeling” as parents and kids ring in the weekend by stepping out for pizza from a local favorite, with perhaps a well-earned adult beverage for mom and dad.

As we collectively start to turn the page from the pandemic, boat and trade show organizers are also hoping to return events to their former splendor. March’s Palm Beach International Boat Show and April’s Bay Bridge Boat Show were both successful, with the latter hosting sold-out crowds all weekend. To quote National Marine Manufacturers Association senior vice president of boat and sport shows Jennifer Thompson, “There’s nothing really like a boat show.”

In-person events are the topic of this month’s Q&A by staff editor Joe Healy, who interviewed Thompson and five other show directors of stateside and international events to discuss the powerful effect these gatherings have on our industry. In Healy’s story, “The Future of Shows”, organizers talk of lessons learned, safety protocols and the relative success of virtual shows in lieu of traditional events.

Everyone interviewed shared Thompson’s enthusiasm and welcomed the return to normalcy that will allow for safe events to be held for customers and industry players alike. And while virtual shows were pressed into service this past year — and may remain as a part of an event’s overall programming — everyone we talked with agreed that a Zoom meeting cannot hold a candle to a walk on the docks or the trade floor.

“The value of actually seeing and trying products in real time cannot be overemphasized,” American Sportfishing Association president Glenn Hughes says of ICAST, the world’s largest fishing tackle trade event. “In these settings, we build relationships, share ideas and work together for the betterment of our industry.”

Show director Nancy Piffard agrees. She saw her premier event, the Newport International Boat Show, canceled last year at the eleventh hour, and is looking forward to an in-person event this year. “There is energy on the docks and on land, excitement you can feel. You can’t get that virtually,” she says. “There is no comparison when it comes to the human connection.”

The importance of these events to their communities also cannot be overstated, with annual economic and labor impacts in the billions of dollars. The leaders of each event are working diligently so that all can return.

It’s that same approach to inclusiveness that’s driving others to lead in their respective fields. In “Teaching the Trades”, a cluster of Pacific Northwest institutions are working to train the next generation of marine industry professionals through maritime-based curriculum and nonprofit organizations, hoping to fill the void of qualified labor to replace those aging out of the industry.

In another feature, we talk with a marine industry veteran I first connected with nearly two decades back. Today, broker Dave Mallach is looking at blue carbon — which focuses on coastal vegetation such as mangroves and seagrass, both of which are in dire need of more protection — as a way for boaters to offset their carbon emissions for a fraction of the overall costs of boat ownership. Read more about Mallach’s efforts in “Blue is the New Green”.

Contributor Diane Byrne reports on the power of diversity and inclusion behind She of the Sea, an organization founded three years ago by marine professionals who saw a gender imbalance in the workplace. They note that high performance and proficiency in yachting is irrespective of gender, race or any other dynamics. See “Innovation Through Inclusion” for their story.

The work these leaders are doing is imaginative and groundbreaking, and seeks to address concerns that have plagued the industry for some time. Those kinds of efforts, along with continued openings as the pandemic eases, will propel us forward together. 

This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.


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