We went to the Seattle Boat Show this weekend. This always serves for me as a barometer on the state of boating under sail here on Puget Sound (aka 'The Salish Sea' - subject for another post). Now our boat show here is really two boat shows, run by two different organizations, held simultaneously - one inside in the Exposition Center, and one in-the-water, held at South Lake Union - an interesting idea.
I felt pretty good about things afterwards. In the indoor show, the number of sailboats (not counting Macgregor or the Hobies and other sit-on small boats) increased by 100% over last year. That is, this year Beneteau had 2 boats inside - a nice showing. For Beneteau anyway. (Last year I ranted on this some, because we had taken our daughter and son in law and their very young kids to the show, hoping to get them aboard a couple of smaller sailboats.)
The outdoor show also was an improvement over last year - there were a total of 16 sail boats available for boarding. Catalina had 2 boats (35' and 38'), Hunter had 2 (27' and 33' - and by the way, that Hunter 27 is the only boat in the entire show that would have been suitable our kids...), Jenneau had 5 (33'-45'), there was a Nauticat 37 and there was 1 catamaran (Lagoon 40). The remainder were older used boats.
And I feel I must say this here - Jane and I prefer the older boats - where wood is used, it is teak - and there is lots of wood. The modern boats, in an effort to stay just within reach financially have eschewed teak, and in the most budget-conscious boats, have even substituted laminates for wood entirely. The charm of a traditional teak interior is impossible to beat.
As I say, I felt pretty good about the show. And then I read this report by friends TJ & Deb of their visit to the Chicago boat show. This is an indoor-only show (Chicago; winter). And yet they had a much larger representation of sail boats than Seattle. Look at the pictures!
And that got me thinking. In my rant last year, I laid this problem at the feet of the Boat Show organizers. But that is unfair - they simply bring the boats to the show that will sell. Instead, it appears that it is simply the case that sailing is becoming less popular in Puget Sound.
As additional evidence, I offer these two observations:
- When we first moved onto G Dock in 2000, it was pretty much a sail-only dock. Oh sure, there were a few of the 2-story tall power boats, but they were scattered widely between the masts. Today, the dock is almost entirely power boats, with a small enclave of sail out here on the very end, and a thin scattering of 4 or 5 masts towards shore.
- There used to be three sailboat-only brokerages out here at Shilshole. Now there is only one brokerage, and they deal with both sail and power.
What's happening? Well, for one thing, I see no tangible interest on the part of the manufactures and dealers in selling the small boats - the ones that get folks hooked on sailing. The 21' - 28' class boats - most are trailerable - are the size that folks will be buying when they are just entering the sail marketplace. I submit that a long-viewed manufacturer would sell boats in this size range almost at cost, knowing that he would be creating sales in the decades to come. Two-foot-itus is a real thing, and young families outgrow smaller boats as kids appear.
But maybe today's business climate does not allow unlimited loss-leaders. OK, then how about Catalina or Hunter sponsor annual contests (500 words on "My dream under sail"?) with 5-boat giveaways in the 21-25 foot class. That would whip up some interest.
And it should be possible to do something with the used boat marketplace as well. Most used boats in the introductory size range now sell on craigslist. Could a Catalina or Hunter dealer somehow sponsor a contest linked to craigslist sales? Or perhaps they could partner with the sellers to offer boats as "dealer inspected and certified"? This could be done with an at-cost charge to the seller, collected at the time of sale.
But I am not a businessman; perhaps these are impractical ideas. But you businessmen out there, you need to work on this. I mean, come on. How hard can it be to sell boats that move for free, when diesel is selling for $5 on the docks?