Big crowds fill annual Maine boat show

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Rockland’s three-day waterfront exhibition displays work by more than 300 builders from the region

Rockland’s three-day waterfront exhibition displays work by more than 300 builders from the region

More than 10,000 visitors browsed among yachts, nautical gear, furniture, arts and crafts, and all the accoutrements and services of Maine coastal life, including food and live music, displayed by 300 exhibitors at the sixth annual Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show, held Aug. 8-10 in Rockland, Maine.

“Our show brings together Maine’s amazingly talented boatbuilders in one place, making it easy for customers to compare their work,” says John Hanson, the show’s founder and publisher of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine. “Our 300-plus exhibitors include Maine’s largest gathering of furniture makers.”

Downpours on the opening day didn’t dim the craftsmanship, vessels’ varnish and chrome, or deter serious foulies-clad boaters who crowded the eight exhibit tents and examined the $100 million worth of boats displayed in the water and on land. Sunny skies over the weekend brought almost-record crowds.

Luxurious sail and power yachts by The Hinckley Co., Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding, Morris Yachts, Rockport Marine, Sabre Yachts, John Williams Boat Company and smaller Maine and regional firms dominated the 70 boats on the waterfront. Visitors doffed their shoes to board ‘dreamboats’ (among them a 62-foot motoryacht, 52-foot Salon Express, 52-foot lobster yacht and 65-foot Alden schooner). From dockside, they admired the three 1902 Herreshoff-designed Buzzards Bay 30 Sloops, restored by French & Webb, and the W-Class 76-foot sloop White Horses.

Dozens of Down East lobster yachts and other powerboats lined the docks, while some 30 smaller sail, power and paddle craft attracted attention on shore.

“The $500,000-plus segment of the boating market is holding up best in this economic climate,” says Bentley Collins of Sabre Yachts, which is also benefiting from its international sales. Maine Built Boats, a 60-member (and growing) consortium of Maine boatbuilders, capitalizes on their reputation for fine craftsmanship in marketing Maine-built yachts worldwide.

Reflecting the shift in customer interest, several exhibitors featured their boats’ fuel economy and their yard’s capability to upgrade existing boats through repairs, restorations or repowering with 4-stroke engines. Other exhibitors mentioned a resurgence of interest in sailboats — from the Morris 36 and other high end daysailers to older sailboats needing a facelift. That interest extends to sailing lessons — 10 power boaters recently signed up for lessons with Bay Sailing in Rockland.

“There are signs of life in the old economy yet,” says Hanson. “Several service yards reported receiving repowering and storage orders, one builder delivered a peapod and another is conducting sea trials for a serious customer. Despite Friday’s rain, a furniture maker reported a “spectacular” day, Hamilton Marine sold lots of foul weather gear, and Village Farm Alpaca sold out their alpaca vests.”

In BuoyPark, colorful sails of three traditional vessels built by students of Lance Lee’s Apprenticeshops here and in Indonesia, honored their mentor. Lee, a proponent of experiential education, founded a succession of Maine boatbuilding schools as a way to teach young people self-reliance, teamwork, a sense of community and international understanding in addition to seamanship and boatbuilding. Tremolino, on display, is a representation of the boat author Joseph Conrad sailed in 1900.

Smiling faces and bulging shopping bags indicated the show achieved its goal of presenting the best in coastal Maine living, afloat and ashore. Kids heard stories, painted, made fish prints, built lighthouses and raced model boats they built (including some from zucchini squash).

Spectators applauded the antics of the World Championship Boatyard Dog Trials’ seven canine competitors and their handlers Sunday morning. Mystery Mutt (a.k.a. Agent K-9), trained by teen members of Youthlinks, a Rockland community service group, won the annual event. The dog awaits adoption at the Rockland Humane Society.

The next show will be held Aug. 7-9, 2009, on the Rockland waterfront. As in 2008, downtown concerts, films, art events, sales and more during Coastal Creativity Week, will supplement the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show events. www.maineboats.com