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Are We Ready for the Future of Boating?

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Show and Tell?

I spent my first 16 years in the Motor City back when it was worthy of the name. Bonded to the iconography of the street racer, I obsessed over that unique American creation that could lay down two block-long black streaks at a flick of your foot.

Then, six months after qualifying to drive one of those missiles, my dad announced that we were moving to San Diego. And just like that my focus shifted from Pontiacs and Chevys to surfboards and bikinis.

But cars--American cars--were in my blood. And I made sure they stayed there by attending at least one car show every year. Now, car shows are like boat shows in that they give you a chance to see all the new models in one place while eating high-cholesterol food and ogling beautiful women. But car shows are way better because they offer something no boat show does: the concept vehicle. These purposely outrageous and utterly impractical design exercises are supposed to simultaneously give you a glimpse of the future and gauge your taste for it.

It'd be great if boatbuilders used boat shows to give us their ideas for the boats of the future--even if it were as wacky as what's depicted above. But of course they can't. They don't have anywhere near the resources of even a recently bankrupt U.S. automaker, so whatever they display is what's on sale. Consequently, boat shows are to car shows what the Sears catalog is to a work of science fiction.
It's mainly for a glimpse of the future that I go to car shows, which is what I did in April. I've attended the New York Auto Show for years, and among its most alluring enticements are the supercars, those absurdly overpowered and impractical vehicles we all lust over but would probably never buy even if we could.

But this New York Auto Show was different. Instead, of celebrating wretched excess, the show was, in the words of the New York Times, "a celebration of sippers." Everyone from the usual suspects like Honda and Toyota to the unusual ones like Porsche and Mercedes was touting at least one fuel-efficient model. "What's going on?" I asked an auto journalist pal.

"Haven't you heard?" he responded. "Excess is out and efficiency is in. You boat guys better get with the program or you're going to be left behind!" I looked around and realized that a lot of my fellow attendees were also potential boat buyers and wondered if I had indeed just gotten a glimpse of the future.