For more than two decades, Maine Boatbuilders Show has drawn a very knowledgeable and loyal crowd
Every year there is a special place in the boating world where beauty meets seaworthiness, mahogany rails nestle against brass fittings and experienced craftsmanship is everywhere you look.
"There is no better place to be for a boater," says Phineas Sprague about the Maine Boatbuilders Show. The show draws thousands of visitors every year to Portland, Maine. Sprague and his wife, Joanna, own Portland Yacht Services and have run the Maine Boatbuilders Show since its inception in 1987.
What you will not find March 19-21 inside an old foundry on Portland's historic waterfront is a dearth of high-quality boaters. "They're everywhere," Sprague says. "Everyone imparts knowledge and that really makes it worthwhile to come." Despite the current economic climate - not to mention fickle Maine winters - Sprague believes last year's show was a strong one: attendance was estimated at around 10,000, and he looks for a repeat in 2010. "We had a good number of boats sold last year and my sense is this year will be better," Sprague says.
What truly makes the Maine Boatbuilders Show distinctive, however, is the unwavering sense of camaraderie among the builders, vendors and those who come simply to take in the scene. "It really is a gathering of the clan," Sprague says. While times remain tough, the industry is resilient and the show continues to be an important part of the year. "We want to see people do well and the show is a significant mechanism for this ... it's proven to be strong," Sprague says.
The show has ballooned from just 12 exhibitors at its inception to nearly 200 today. "We could have had even more," Sprague adds, "but the boats have gotten bigger." Vendors are attracted to the show because it's a good investment, he says.
Once you're inside, it's easy to lose track of the hours. From small, human-powered wooden dinghies to antique tools and marine insurance, the show has something for everyone. "The dynamic between business and boating is exceptional and it feeds on itself," Sprague says.
The show is also a learning experience for all who attend, and the many seminars that take place during the weekend are free with admission to the show. "The brains in the building are just astounding," Sprague says. On this year's docket are presentations on how to handle corrosion, use EPIRBs, and the restoration and preservation of a historic schooner, among many others.
And one more thing: don't expect the show to be canceled on account of a late-winter storm. "We've never closed due to weather," Sprague says. Visitors travel from all over to attend and a little snow has yet to stop them. "People have even cross-country-skied to the show."
The Maine Boatbuilders Show will take place at the Portland Company Complex on 58 Fore St. in Portland. For information, call (207) 775-4403 or visit www.portlandcompany.com/boatShow.
To watch a slideshow on the event narrated by Soundings editor William Sisson, go to www.SoundingsOnline.com; keywords: Maine slideshow.
This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the March 2010 issue.