Big boat shows are big business, and they’re essential to the success of most boatbuilders. Every brand pushes to get their latest gleaming offering in front of the amassed boat-buying crowd, even if it means burning the midnight oil in the days before the big show to make it happen. Last-minute boat arrivals are a regular occurrence at any large boat show, as builders invariably hustle to finish hull number one of their latest-and-greatest model in time to book sales on the red carpet or in temporary floating cubicles. I call this the “Lauderdale Launch” because a sale is most likely to happen at the single biggest show of the year, as opposed to one of the No-port International Boat Shows during the winter.
I’ve been involved in a few Lauderdale Launches over the years. One was a 43-foot, 75-knot carbon-fiber offshore sport yacht that was trailered from Southern California and arrived just hours before the final show setup. And then there was the 74-footer which had to make it from Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, to Ft. Lauderdale in two days, a journey of almost 600 nautical miles. I’ve even seen a Lauderdale Launch of a 60-foot yacht I had nothing to do with where the final wood joinery work was being done at the show with the public on board. Nothing to see here, folks.
But the most improbable Lauderdale Launch I ever witnessed was that of a 53-foot classic wooden commuter yacht from the 1930s. This was the Triple Lindy of Lauderdale Launches.
The wooden classic was owned by a friend of mine and had been selected to serve as the VIP tender for the most highbrow soirée of the week, an evening party at a waterfront mansion where the America’s Cup trophy would be right in the middle of the hors d’oeuvre table on the lawn. Fancy like Applebee’s on a date night.
It was going to be a great way to showcase this gleaming wooden yacht and to promote a new vessel we were designing, which was inspired by her. But there was a logistical issue. The boat was west of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line just three days before the big party. Two days before the big day, the news got worse. An axle on the boat’s steel trailer broke on I-57, nearly careening the classic vessel into the Illinois soybean fields.
With one day to showtime, the news grew ever more bleak. The boat was held up at a weigh station, not because she was fat, but because the backlog was so long. A crucial six hours of windshield time was lost for her driver.
I was resigned to the fact that this boat would never make it to Ft. Lauderdale, and never ferry any VIPs anywhere. It would be embarrassing for all involved. But there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
The next morning I plopped into a cab outside my hotel and headed to the show. With a busy day of appointments scattered around the waterfront, I reviewed my schedule as we fought the morning traffic. I looked up from my notes, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a shiny wooden 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 called my friend and volunteered to help prep the mahogany classic for the evening’s festivities. Our motley crew of owner, designer, broker and two female hosts divided the labor. The ladies charged off to West Marine to buy fresh fenders, dock lines and coolers for the champagne. The men stripped down to t-shirts and washed 1,200 miles’ worth of road grime off of all that varnish. This 8-hour process concluded with the sounds of engines firing and a Styrofoam cooler bursting. A dozen champagne bottles shattered on the teak sole moments before showtime. Engine hatch open. Glass shards and ice cubes shoveled into bilge. Engine hatch closed. Oh, the life. Exactly 87 seconds after this harrowing Lauderdale Launch, we picked up our first VIPs, and the America’s Cup.