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Walking the docks, taking in the shows - Soundings Online

Walking the docks, taking in the shows

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A helper who was detailing the glistening, all-white center cockpit ketch — tied up on Ego Alley beside Fawcett Boat Supplies the day before the United States Sailboat Show opened in Annapolis — scrawled a hasty sign and posted it on a piling. “Yes Virginia it’s a Westsail,” proclaimed the sign, an obvious response to a steady stream of curious pre-show gawkers.

A helper who was detailing the glistening, all-white center cockpit ketch — tied up on Ego Alley beside Fawcett Boat Supplies the day before the United States Sailboat Show opened in Annapolis — scrawled a hasty sign and posted it on a piling. “Yes Virginia it’s a Westsail,” proclaimed the sign, an obvious response to a steady stream of curious pre-show gawkers.

The restored 42-foot 1979 sailboat was, unlike almost every other boat on display the first week of October, not for sale. Instead, it was being used as a rather clever “booth” at which a local rigging company was displaying its wares. And when the four-day show was over, the rigger was pleased with the stream of gawkers that stopped and talked.

“It went down very well,” says Steve Madden, owner of Madden Spars & Rigging, a company started in 1999 that had never before been represented at the show. “I felt there were a lot of people there,” he says. “I was talking with quite a few people that were just feeling the market and were undecided what boat to buy.”

As has become a tradition with the sailboat show, this one was beset by rain and strong winds on Friday, keeping attendance down that second day, but offering short or no lines for those braving the weather to look at a collection of 250 boats in the water and 200 small boats on land. Good weather returned for the weekend and show organizers say attendance was 10 percent better than in 2005, when the weather was even more foul. (Typically, the sail- and powerboat shows bring 40,000 to 50,000 visitors to Annapolis and generate $51 million in the area economy, according to Jim Barthold, general manager of the shows.) The powerboat show the following week, held in perfect autumn weather, recorded a 9-percent increase in attendance, Barthold says. That show had 500 boats in the water and 250 smaller powerboats on land, he says.

Competing for attention at the sailboat show were the 20-foot Open 5.70, a French one-design racing sailboat, and the recently spawned school of mega-daysailers, the most alluring of which had to be the Ted Fontaine-designed Friendship 40, whose curves blend with harmony equal to a great gospel choir. The 5.70 is from Group Finot, which has designed numerous winning Open 60s. It has a lifting bulb keel, twin rudders and a telescopic boomsprit for a 387-1/2-square-foot asymmetric spinnaker. The Friendship 40 has teak decks, a centerboard, a little joystick for controlling the power assists that raise, lower and sheet the mainsail. It also has a not-so-little price tag of an amount that could purchase the average home in the better San Francisco suburbs.

These jewels were up against a 27-year-old boat undergoing a refit. Patrick Thompson had bought the Westsail 42 hull and deck moldings in 1979 as a kit and took 11 years to launch it on the West Coast. When work brought him east, he shipped the boat to his home in Arnold, Md., where he moors it on the Severn River. Two years ago he decided it was time for a refit. The work started as a paint job but has escalated. At the 2005 sailboat show Thompson began shopping for a new rigging. He eventually discovered Madden, who installed new roller furling booms on the main and mizzen masts.

“Just as he was creative in his use of the boat for the show, he’s a creative guy in helping his customers find the best way to improve their boats,” Thompson says.

Madden says that while doing the work on Thompson’s ketch, he decided to change the course of his company, focusing not on a large number of small jobs but on a few large projects. Getting a good spot at the boat show was a priority aimed at reaching this new market.

“It’s very difficult to get into a booth the first time in any of the good areas,” Madden says. “I ended up with a very prime location. I thought this might be a different way to get to people. I had a good relationship with Profurl [which makes the roller furling systems used on the Westsail.] They helped out with the cost.”

In the course of the show, Madden says he found that “most people were totally amazed at the age of the boat. I think a lot of people were very surprised at what you can do with an older boat. We were getting a lot of people discussing their boats,” and the potential that an older boat represents, he says.

Madden’s work on Thompson’s boat includes a new deck layout and painting of the masts. The cost of the project is about $50,000, he says. He hopes the boat show will provide several similar projects for next season. He’s not sure he got his “booth” quite right this time, though.

“It didn’t really come across as a rigging company as much as I would like,” Madden says. “Next year, I’m going to do the same thing ... but put more emphasis on the rigging side of the business.”

He did like the way the show ended. On Monday, when the gates closed, a crowd gathered to watch the show break-down operations. It was dark when the boats and docks that blocked the Westsail into Ego Alley were removed. Madden began moving the boat slowly away from the dock. When he was under way, he pushed a button and, under the glare of flood lights, the mainsail began rising from its boom.

“I think it was a successful show all around,” says Madden.