Bill Prince looks back on 25 years of attending the largest in-water boat show in the world: Ft. Lauderdale.
This year marks my 25th Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show. Over the past quarter-century, I’ve seen the show grow, evolve and get pushed around by hurricanes and global pandemics. I have a routine after all these years. I stay in the same hotel. I know the water taxi schedule and where the quiet hideaways are at the Bahia Mar. My memories are moored all over this square mile anchored by 17th street, the ICW, the New River and the Atlantic. A flotilla of them greeted me this year on a simple ride to dinner.
Long before anyone started calling the show “FLIBS” I came here as a kid to see the yachts and tour a few boatyards. It was the first time I had eyed the mammoth Feadships and soaked up the miles of outriggers pointed to the sky. Like the fish those outriggers help catch, I was hooked.
On the eve of this show, I bolted from the hotel lobby to catch a car to a restaurant less than 300 feet away. Why a ride? Ft. Lauderdale is called “the Venice of America” for a reason; the countless waterways often require circuitous land routes to nearby locations. I could swim to dinner in less time than it takes to wait for a Lyft.
My ride in the dark was only a mile around the canal but packed with memories. A block from the hotel is the old home of Hatteras of Lauderdale, the preeminent Hatteras dealer in the 1980s back when they ruled the American motoryacht market. I peer out the window to the docks I walked 35 years ago. I remember the 72-foot Lauderdale Lady I toured as a kid. We keep moving.
Off to the left is a sparkling 28-foot Chris-Craft Launch, a boat I helped design before opening my own design office 15 years ago. A block later we pass the Bimini Boat House, where in 2017 a new client peppered me with so many questions I had no time to eat my meal during our 2-hour meeting. I feigned no protest when he offered to pick up the tab.
Soon, we’re passing through Lauderdale Marina, the scene of the funniest boat launch fiasco I’ve ever been part of. I was to be spending some time on board the VIP tender to a party where the America’s Cup would be the centerpiece at a table of hours d’oeuvres in the lawn of a home. But the classic wooden 52-foot commuter yacht was still en route on a trailer the morning of the affair. The owner and I thought it was going to be a no-show until what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a shiny wood yacht floating across the South Federal Highway overpass at 595, visible from the cab I was in at that precise moment.
“Follow that boat!” I yelled to the cabbie. My schedule scuttled; I volunteered to help prep the mahogany classic for the evening’s festivities. This 8-hour process concluded with the sound of a dozen champagne bottles shattering on the teak sole moments before showtime. Engine hatch open. Glass shards and ice shoveled into bilge. Engine hatch closed. Oh, the life. Exactly 87 seconds later we picked up our first VIPs. Welcome aboard!
The short car ride complete, I take a seat at one of Ft. Lauderdale’s better perches, the bar at the 15th Street Fisheries, for a quiet meal. I see a U.S. Customs boat idle by, a boat I had a hand in designing years ago. Across the ICW is the old home of Sonny and Cher, where my wife and I had a client’s 78-foot sportfisherman to ourselves for a night in the ‘90s. The motion never stops on this busy stretch of the ICW; an Island Packet I designed motors by as the bartender arrives.
Like many who work in the yachting industry, this tiny geographical area north of the 17th St. Bridge isn’t home, but I know every inch of it. The memories keep a’ making, and they’re moored here forever.