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Memory Lane

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s Miami boat show time again (February 11-15). I realized this show is going to be my 21st annual pilgrimage to Miami where I get to deep-dive into all things boating. For me, it’s a wonderful time to learn about new boats, products, and equipment while catching up with old friends. 

Over the years a lot has changed with this boat show, from evolving locations to the Miami skyline, and, of course, the boats themselves. While recently preparing for an office move, I came across boxes of my old reporter notebooks and day planners. I’m not sure why I hold onto this stuff. Perhaps it’s because I maintain the illusion that someday they will be a necessary component to creating my captivating memoir. Do I harbor a secret belief that future generations will discover them buried in the attic and exclaim, “Ahh, it’s the George Sass lost notebooks! We can’t believe it! Why are we blessed with such good fortune?” 

I’ll be the first to admit that’s there’s certainly nothing too interesting amongst this collection of faded pages with penmanship that looks like the lost Dead Sea scrolls. Nonetheless, I poured myself a glass of wine and sat back on a cold, gray Sunday to flip through the pages. A few memories from assignments along with those 20 Miami boat shows began to percolate to the surface. I thought I’d share a few with you here in no particular order.

First of all, after dissecting my day planner, it became abundantly clear that I had a different level of stamina working the show in my mid-20s than I do now in my mid-40s. There were a lot of late-night “meetings.” Back then, I couldn’t wait to get on down to Ocean Drive, squeeze in around the pool at the Clevelander. 

Today, I maintain that nothing good happens after midnight. I now find an incredible amount of joy in heading back to my room with some takeout sushi and a good book. I’m known for my “Irish Goodbye” move—an innate ability to disappear in a crowd without a peep.

Last year I took this practice to the graduate level. I drove my in-laws’ Sabre 36 down from Ft. Lauderdale and found a slip at the Sunset Harbor Yacht Club in Miami Beach off 20th Street. Oh sweet joy! I had various dinner meetings and even a speaking obligation, but taking my rented Vespa back to the boat at the end of the night and its little pocket of calmness almost made me feel guilty. 

Almost. Every morning was like a vacation—away from the popular show hotels and able to sit and have an uninterrupted cup of coffee with the paper. 

During these past 20 boat shows it’s been wonderful to witness the formation of different companies and their evolution. For instance, my notes from the Miami debut of the first Marlow Explorer read, “David nailed it.” The David I refer to, of course, is David Marlow and he’s gone on to build an incredibly successful company. David and I reminisced about that moment a few years back and, after being overserved, I’m not sure who put whom into the cab at the end of the night. There are few people that I enjoy speaking with more about boats than David and Miami has provided a backdrop for many of these sessions.

I also discovered my notes about a new Silverton 43 and my lunch with the company’s marketing director, the late Chip Shea. Chip is up there as one of the most honest, righteous, and gracious individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. During the 2000 Miami show, I took a tour of the 43 at the Miami Convention Center. A week later as we wrapped up our sea test, I was struggling to back her into a slip at the Miami Beach Marina. I looked at Chip with a look of mild bewilderment. “What do you expect, George? She’s a little slab-sided and her props are the size of pancakes.” Certainly no spin there!

Speaking of docking, Sabre’s Bentley Collins and I have enjoyed more than a few boat tests during shows. Bentley operates boats with the calmness of a Buddhist monk. One year, I was about to make a rookie mistake and push off a piling from our port side. “Hey, George, that’s what rubrails are for.” Bentley said calmly and then pivoted perfectly using the wind and current to his advantage. Lesson learned. 

Over the years, I’ve discovered and observed a lot in Miami. I’ve seen a fistfight over a customer, a wife buying her husband a boat for Valentine’s Day, one magazine publisher pushing another into a pool, and even a boat tester falling off the sidedecks, immortalized by what’s now become a review cliché; “boat could use more grabrails.” But above all, I’ve seen incredible boats and products, and a lot of people realizing their boating dreams. That’s what it’s all about. I’ll see you on the docks in Miami … as long as it’s not too late.