Touch Wood


I guess I’ve always held boat shows in a kind of grass-is-always-greener regard, but in a decidedly healthy way. Regular boaters—that is, people who don’t work in the marine industry—get to go to boat shows exclusively for fun. Sure there are boat-buying decisions to be considered, now or in the future. But I sometimes envy their freedom (and the anonymity of not wearing a name tag), as they compare the latest models, running their hands over sleek fiberglass surfaces and oiled-teak covering boards. They live in the moment and don’t have to hit all the press conferences and events editors do.

And yet, at those press conferences, industry folks cluster on the docks, listening intently to CEOs holding forth from the cockpits of new models, talking about aspects of the business that give insight into, say, the whys of bringing hardware production in-house or the wherefores of some new propulsion system. A bully pulpit, to be sure, yet you often notice passionate boaters on the fringes, quietly paying attention. Just plain interested.

I chose my side of the fence years ago when I first took a red pen to a paragraph about lines of sight from a helm. Working in a business that’s also a passion has the dual effect of getting me out of bed during the week and keeping my critical eye aimed at every boat I encounter all weekend long. It’s quite a job. Friends invite you aboard, only to wait politely for you to share your opinion of their boat or what their next boat should be.

But to spend all that time at boat shows looking at remarkable new boats without actually going anywhere is a special kind of torture. Fortunately for all the boats in the show there’s usually another event on the calendar and a delivery cruise in the offing. I took advantage of just such an opportunity recently.

It’s an elixir, actually. As I stepped aboard the 50-foot cruiser from the fuel dock, kicking off my shoes (a habit of mine at certain times of the year) and dropping my seabag and briefcase in the cockpit to tend to docklines and fenders, the sun-warmed teak touched the soles of my feet and I felt a smile steal across my face. The crew and I made our introductions, all of us casually dressed (no name tags) and ready for our jaunt down the coast. Work and passion become closely interlinked on these coastal voyages, as the preponderance of smartphone e-mail means I’m not out of touch for long.

That’s because the nature of work today for many of us means we don’t get to turn it off too often, particularly when colleagues are still on the job. Decisions loom, plans must be made, and the economy and the marketplace draw constant attention. As I write this, the government is on the verge of a shutdown, summarily erasing any gains in consumer confidence reaped from recent Fed announcements and positive labor reports. These metrics are on a large scale, but they creep into every corner of our reality. We’re all in this together is the catchphrase of the global economy.

A few years ago I attended the London International Boat Show for the first time, and a colleague was showing me the ropes. We’d had some good meetings despite recent reversals in the U.S. (later to be known generally as the Financial Crisis). One afternoon we ran into an editor from a British boating magazine who led us to a convivial industry malt-whiskey tasting on the show floor after hours. As we discussed our plans for the coming months he nodded in agreement and quietly said, “Touch wood.” This is a uniquely English version of our “knock on wood”—a somewhat pagan benediction to ward off the jinx of positive thinking.

At any rate, things seem to be getting back to normal—knock on wood—even if it’s a “new normal.” And that’s okay. We want to know what you’re seeing at boat shows—new boats, cool gear, and game-changing electronics—and why it’s interesting. Send me an e-mail or look for us on Facebook and share what you’ve seen, what you like, and why. Let’s start a conversation.

Have a great boat-show season, and I’ll see you on the docks—just look for my name tag.

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