By most accounts, the relocated Progressive Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key was a winner — a lovely venue overlooking Miami’s downtown skyline and Biscayne Bay, easy-to-find exhibits under air-conditioned tents and sea trials on boats tied up at temporary docks just a few minutes’ walk from the upland sales displays.
“It’s a beautiful show. Who can say anything bad about it?” asks Marianne Bilyeu, who with husband Howard came all the way from southern Illinois, where the weather was freezing cold, to attend the show’s 75th edition Feb.11-15.
“This morning we had a wonderful boat ride over in the sunshine,” Bilyeu says. “Yesterday, not so much. The boat was cold (the morning air was in the low 60s),” but the couple were among the lucky ones: They only waited “about one beer” to catch the water taxi from downtown Miami to Virginia Key. “In the end, I’m impressed,” she says
After a coolish start on opening day, the temperatures rose into the 70s for a classic Miami show weekend, but neither the sunshine nor glistening blue water — National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich calls Virginia Key “paradise” — could tamp down the fussing over waits for park-and-ride shuttle buses and water taxis, which were supposed to reduce traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway. The causeway is the only road from mainland Miami to the show on Virginia Key and beyond there to Key Biscayne, whose residents had lost a court action against moving the show there after alleging that traffic would be intolerable.
Dammrich said at one point during the show that 85 percent of the visitors were using park-and-ride, alleviating causeway traffic. Though waits at peak hours were typically 15 to 30 minutes for a shuttle bus, Bill Peterson, of Marco Island, Florida, says his water taxi ride from American Airlines Arena took 40 minutes, which he thought was too long.
“It’s hard to get here,” he says.
On the second day of the show the wait also grew to 40 minutes or longer for a water taxi from Virginia Key to Miami Beach, where Yachts Miami Beach, a separate show, was going on, and some show-goers waited 2½ hours for a water taxi to their hotel on Miami Beach at the endof opening day, says Chris Davidson, publisher of Speedboat magazine.
“Access is a real problem,” he says. So were waits for food stands and portable bathrooms.
“We welcome suggestions for improvements,” Dammrich says on opening day. And he meant it. No sooner had he said it than Frank Marciano, president of Dometic Marine, walked up and told Dammrich that folks were complaining about big backups at the shuttle bus pickup stop at one of the downtown hotels. “We need more buses,” he says.
Dammrich says a transportation coordination center was set up to monitor traffic and shuttle service and could shift resources as needed. Meanwhile, back in the media tent, a traffic analyst was monitoring live computer video feeds of traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway. At mid-morning, traffic was moving nicely.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Dammrich says. “We’re going to continue to learn a lot. We expected glitches. We’ll fix what we can now. What we can’t, we’ll fix next year.”
He acknowledged that there were too few water taxis, but there were plenty of water taxi and shuttle bus stops — 16 altogether. He deployed 70 buses to run the Miami-Virginia Key routes and later added another six to carry show-goers from the show to Miami Beach to shorten the line for water taxis.
Many Miami veterans, shedding habits shaped by years of attending the show at the Miami Beach Convention Center, cruised the new venue with a sense of adventure.
“I think the location is very exciting, especially with the weather we’re getting,” says Marcia Kull, Volvo Penta of the Americas’ vice president for sales. “You can be in a tent and look out at the docks and get a real sense of the lifestyle that you couldn’t get at the convention center. Could the traffic be better? Absolutely. Could the lines for hamburgers be shorter? Sure. But both these things can be worked out.”
She says her clients were giving the new venue a thumbs-up, as was she. Yet for Kull the logistics of meeting customers at both the Virginia Key and Collins Avenue shows — Volvo Penta had product at both — were daunting, given the long commute time between Virginia Key and Miami Beach. Including an hour’s wait for the water taxi, her commute took an hour and a half on the morning of the second day of the show.
She said she’d rather be in one place or the other, not both.
“Everyone’s going to go back and do some soul searching and ask themselves, ‘What is the best place for me to be?’ ” she says.
The NMMA had begun working on the move to Virginia Key 13 months earlier after the Miami Beach Convention Center, the show’s home for years, said that it would close for a three-year, half-billion-dollar renovation and expansion. Dammrich is confident that the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin on Virginia Key will be the show’s permanent home.The city of Miami spent $30 million preparing the neglected property, not just for the boat show, but also for other events throughout the year. Dammrich, however, is a realist. He is pretty sure that Key Biscayne will renew its legal assault on the show after it’s over, again on the grounds that it generates too much traffic.
The Virginia Key show put 1,200 new boats on display — 400 of them in the water, including a 62-foot Viking. There is room for expansion in the tents and on the water. Kull is hoping the sturdy, though temporary docks and 7-foot-plus water depth in the marine stadium basin will attract more large boats to the show in coming years.
French boatbuilder Groupe Beneteau descended on Miami in strength with three sail lines — Beneteau, Jeanneau and Lagoon — and seven powerboat lines — Beneteau, Jeanneau, Prestige and four American motorboat brands (Four Winns, Glastron, Scarab and Wellcraft) that it recently acquired from Rec Boat Holding.
“We’ve got a lot of new products coming into the U.S.,” said Beneteau CEO Hervé Gastinel. He said Beneteau already is a U.S. market leader in sail and the French company aims to grow its presence here in power with French- and U.S.-made boats.
Among its U.S. debuts at Miami: the 60-foot Monte Carlo 6, Gran Turismo 46 and Gran Turismo 40 motoryachts; the Ocean 41.1, Jeanneau 54, First 35 and First 22 sailboats; the Lagoon 52S and Lagoon 42 catamaran sailboats; the Prestige 680 and Leader 46 motoryachts; a Jeanneau Merry-Fisher 855 powerboat; and a Swift Trawler 30. It also showed a Four Winns HB 240 and 190 Freedom; Scarab 165 G; and Wellcraft 222.
Soundings executive editor Chris Landry found some solid advances in sonar technology at the Raymarine, Garmin and Furuno booths. Garmin’s GMR Fantom series solid-state radar with MotionScope Doppler technology and 40 watts of power is available in a 4- to 6-foot open array and uses the Doppler to detect and highlight moving targets.
Raymarine’s Quantum CHIRP radar is the first recreational boating radar dome using CHIRP pulse compression technology. Developed for boats under 35 feet, it delivers imaging from 9 feet to 24 miles and uses multiple compressed radar pulses for enhanced separation of boats, landmarks, rocks, buoys and weather cells.
Furuno’s new solid-state radar, the DRS4D-NXT, uses pulse compression and Doppler technology with its Target Analyzer function to identify and color targets based on their speed — green if the target is stationary or approaching at less than 3 knots, red when the target is approaching at 3 knots or faster.
There also were a lot of new center consoles, several of them reflecting the trend toward bigger and faster. Mako introduced its largest center console yet, the Mako 334 CC, powered by twin Mercury Verado 400R outboards that the builder says can deliver a speed of 60 mph. Pursuit Boats unveiled its S 408 Sport center console — the largest it has built. Pursuit retail sales are up 36 percent from last year, says Tom Slikkers, president of S2 Yachts, Pursuit’s parent company.
“That’s affirmation that our new product is aligning with what customers want and how they want to use their boats,” he says.
Other new center consoles: a deep-vee 31-footer from Sportsman Boats, of Summerville, South Carolina, with twin Yamaha F350s that can power the 31 to 60 mph; the Cobia 261 CC with deluxe twin helm seats, replacing the first Cobia, a 256 CC, built under Maverick Boat Co.’s ownership; and Boston Whaler’s 280 Outrage, with more flare at the bow, increased freeboard and a deeper cockpit than earlier models.
An NMMA 2016 Innovation Award winner, Weems & Plath, of Annapolis, Maryland, maker of nautical charting and weather instruments, debuted the first and as yet only LED visual distress signal device that meets Coast Guard requirements for night visual distress signals. It can completely replace the traditional pyrotechnic flare, says company president Peter Trogdon. A floating electronic flare, it can be hand-held, tethered or hoisted aloft and it operates for as long as 60 hours.
“We’ve been at this for 88 years,” Trogdon says. “This is our first product in the safety category. It looks like it’s going to be a pretty big deal for us.”
Across the bay on Miami Beach a second show, Yachts Miami Beach, formerly the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach, ran concurrently with the Virginia Key show but remained at its traditional location — a mile-long stretch of Indian Creek Waterway along Collins Avenue from 41st to 54th streets. Co-owned by the Florida Yacht Brokers Association and Show Management, the show was the largest in its 28-year history and displayed 500 new and used yachts valued at more than $1 billion.
Builders come from around the world to introduce their yachts to the U.S. market. Among the international debuts at Collins Avenue: Riviera’s 5400 Sport Yacht from Australia; Princess S68 from England; Azimut 66 from Italy; Grand Banks 44 East Bay SX from Malaysia; Astondoa Century 110 from Spain; and the U.S.-made Carver C50 and Sabre 66 Dirigo.
New this year at Yachts Miami Beach was Superyachts Miami at Island Gardens Deep Harbour Marina on Watson Island, where about 18 superyachts were berthed away from the crowds that were descending on Collins Avenue and Virginia Key.
The largest and most luxurious of the yachts at Deep Harbour was Silver Fast, a 252-foot silver beauty selling for a cool $90 million. “She’s very efficient, very eco-friendly, very fast,” says Rick Morales, senior sales broker for Burgess, a brokerage with offices in Miami, New York, London, Monaco, Singapore and seven other locations.
Attendance at Superyachts Miami was by invitation-only, with the invitation typically coming from a broker. The 50-slip marina, the first stage of a billion-dollar yachting resort project that includes two hotel towers, 105 fractional living units, 18 restaurants, cafes and nightclubs and 60-plus shops, has a lounge, restrooms, outdoor dining and a cocktail deck overlooking the water and the captivating view of Miami’s skyline.
The marina, which can accommodate an 18-foot draft inside the harbor and a 25-foot draft outside it, has opened the Collins Avenue show to larger yachts whose draft was too deep to go up Indian Creek, Morales says.
Aboard Gravitas, a 1995 Feadship that circumnavigated the globe several times under the name Battered Bull, chief engineer George Bittles was leading tours of the $20 million yacht. “We’re listed for sale and for charter,” Bittle says. “This gives us the exposure for both those things.”
Bittles didn’t expect any tire-kickers. “The only people who come here are serious people, which is good for us.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue.