If you have never been to Ft. Lauderdale you probably can’t image the sea of boats that awaits you, docked in front of every house on every canal, as far as you can see. Lauderdale is the center of the yachting universe, far outstripping the Virgin Islands or the south of France or anywhere else on earth. It is also home to the annual Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show, known as FLIBS.
For many years I have attended boat shows all around the world, including Annapolis, Newport, Los Angeles, Miami, Dubai, Genoa, Monaco, and DÜsseldorf, but there is only one I dare never miss, because it is Mecca to our industry.
I have just returned from my 40th consecutive FLIBS, and this is certainly no record among my colleagues. Some quick math tells me that after 40 years and four days per show, walking the rows of boats for close to eight hours a day, at a slogging pace, I have logged something close to 2,000 miles on the docks of the Bahia Mar Hotel. Oh, what I would give for my own chair to rest on and some air conditioning to escape the South Florida heat, but I have never had my own booth. Instead I have relentlessly walked the show in proof that I was still alive. My feet are getting tired.
Failure to appear at FLIBS is to be assumed dead or at least out of business; the start of a rumor only too willingly spread by your adversaries. You go to this boat show to claim your territory and defend your place in the business. This is the show where we mingle with our peers and go to parties and hope to win awards. It is the only show that everybody in our industry attends, so we are obliged to exchange niceties with our competitors, as we plot their death. To be a no-show here is to put one’s foot in the grave.
In my younger days, I was quite impressionable and would take every contact with high hopes and add it to my list of prospects. But something must happen at the boat show, with its larger-than-life presence, like maybe a wild weekend in Vegas where the fantasy of owning a yacht feels real and lies are not lies, but simply drunken desire. People are caught up in the moment of the boat show and talk dreams of yachting, most of which evaporate with a dose of tryptophan and are all over by Thanksgiving.
The show was good for us this year, as we debuted a couple of new models with Viking and Hinckley and announced some new models with Bertram, Kadey-Krogen, and Mag Bay for the coming year.
We met with several builders to discuss new projects and I met with a captain representing a young client looking for a yacht by next summer. I told him we couldn’t build a boat that quickly, but I’m sure he looked at my gray hair and dismissed me as some old guy past his prime. I can’t actually name one single project that developed from an initial contact at the show. Zero, zip, nada—after 40 straight years!
But to not go is to be dead, so I join the annual pilgrimage to Ft. Lauderdale just like the rest of the boating industry. Just stayin’ alive.