New boats draw crowds to Norfolk docks

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It could have been the recent up-and-down economy, or maybe the effect of double-digit increases in housing appraisals in the Hampton Roads area for three years running or some other reason.

It could have been the recent up-and-down economy, or maybe the effect of double-digit increases in housing appraisals in the Hampton Roads area for three years running or some other reason.

Whatever the cause, from my day on the docks, the third annual Virginia In-Water Boat Expo did not appear to keep its rising attendance momentum going from last year. It was pretty quiet at times on the docks in Norfolk, which is a shame because it’s shaping up to be a fine annual event on the local waterfront.

Show-goers lingered aboard yachts like a 54-foot Hatteras sportfisherman (marked down from $2.1 to $1.7 million) and took advantage of the smaller crowds to more thoroughly pick the brains of engine reps on hand to get nagging problems diagnosed a little more deeply.

Held under fair skies over the weekend of Sept. 14-16, several hundred boats of varying sizes and styles were on display, both in and out of the water and stretching from the Waterside Docks through TownPointPark and up to the new Half Moon passenger terminal at Nauticus.

Boat dealers joined an army of vendors — nautical and not so — to provide a good representation of what the boating industry has to offer. The largest crowds seemed to congregate in the sailboat area, newly added this year under the SailFest banner.

Norton’s Yacht Sales, from Deltaville, Va., had a strong fleet of sailboats on display, and between them and their fellow brokers from Deltaville, traffic seemed to be pretty steady.

Capt. Dave Wilbar and his crew from SailTime Fractional Sailing were kept busy answering questions about their program, as well as giving seminars on the fairly new concept of “time sharing on the water.”

At the other end of the carbon-footprint spectrum, the go-fast crowd was lined up on the grass to see the Sunsation F4, a 43-foot rocket powered by twin 700-hp Merc engines that guzzles high-test gas at up to 60 gph under full throttle and can top 100 mph (they don’t measure in knots within the go-fast world).

The chrome and high-gloss finish of the offset engines is reflected on mirrors attached to the underside of the hatch cover. Any motorhead worth his salt had to be impressed with this sleek, green beauty. The F4 obviously succeeded at getting folks into the display area, as the exhibitor (Harbor Marine, from the Oceanview section of Norfolk) reported selling two boats at the show, with several other “solid leads.”

Rich Gahan, a broker for the Oriental, N.C., dealer Deaton Yacht Sales also appeared to have the key to strong crowd appeal with two attractive lobster boat-inspired yachts he displayed in the water in front of Waterside.

Manufactured by Atlas Boat Works of Cape Coral, Fla., the Pompano 21 and Acadia 25 are both equipped with Yanmar diesels and are trailerable. Their small size and salty good looks had many stopping by for a closer inspection.

Meanwhile, Sandy Bass and his wife recently started their own business, appropriately named “Sandy Bass Detailing,” and they were hard at work the night before as well as the morning of the show opening getting several boats shipshape for display.

There will be a Boat Expo in 2008, according to Melissa Gaffney, show manager for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

As a boater who has been to each show, I think it’s a special show, well put together with a wide variety of boats and nautical gear in an easily accessible, clean, relaxed setting by the ElizabethRiver at a time of year that almost guarantees excellent weather. What more could a boater ask for? www.virginiaboatexpo.com