Press releases tell us that the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is the largest boat show on the planet. Global and American launches debut here. Manufacturers announce industry-changing products here.
I usually just dread the pain. My bag and camera are heavy so my shoulder hurts. The show is big so my feet hurt. The events are many so I’m always rushing around.
That was my mindset as the panel discussion at the annual boat show press breakfast on Thursday began. It was about what drives sales for boats under 60 feet, and I almost didn’t go. Triton readers earn their livings working on yachts, and smaller boats rarely have many hired crew.
But I did go, and now I’m glad I did because it kicked off a series of events that has changed me somehow.
The speakers were engaging and interesting, clearly knowledgeable about what they do.
They were heads of their companies, responsible for brands like Intrepid, Cobia, Boston Whaler; annual sales of tens of millions of dollars; and thousands of jobs. Real companies.
Despite that, they are still just seen as guys who play with boats. The major media weren’t there, and if they were, they weren’t taking notes. Jim Flannery of Soundings Trade Only was the only one I noticed scribbling like mad (while also taking photos). A reporter from the local metropolitan daily was there, but it felt like an afterthought.
(If you’ve ever had a friend or family member figuratively pat you on the head when you tell them you work with boats, you know what I mean.)
So I left breakfast, still not really thrilled about the upcoming five days, and started running around the show, talking to crew, taking photographs, catching meetings.
When I sat down for a break several hours later, I got to chatting with a captain. He told me he had left yachting for a few years, but came back when he couldn’t make a living ashore.
I’ve heard that story before, but I asked him about it anyway, and he told me a story I hadn’t heard.
He was in command of a gorgeous yacht with a large crew, serving ultra-high net worth owners, going to the best and most beautiful places in the world.
But he was jaded, bored of it much of the time, not real impressed with his crew’s efforts, no longer in awe of Caribbean sunsets, always sort of expecting more.
So he decided it was time to go home, and he sunk his life savings into launching a restaurant that initially tanked and then took off.
But two-and-a-half years later, he was working 100 hours a week and barely paying his bills. That’s when he told me the part of the story I’ve never heard any yachtie admit before.
“It was really an eye opener,” he said about how hard normal people onshore have to work to survive, not to mention succeed. So he came back to yachting, bringing that bit of humility with him.
“It’s made me a much better captain,” he said.
After we went our separate ways, I realized I take this industry for granted sometimes, too. I pass on offers to go aboard yachts and have a look around. They are all beautiful, I would say to myself, and justify declining a tour by saying I write about people, not boats. Besides, I’m in a hurry.
So I slowed down and took a tour of a new launch on Thursday, and got to meet a new crew member as a result.
Yesterday morning’s breakfast event featured a keynote presentation and conversation by Pat Healey, CEO of Viking Yachts.
Again, I almost didn’t go, but I was in a much better head-space yesterday after my experience with the captain and that tour, so I did go, and I am glad I did.
Here’s a guy who’s been playing with boats since he was 13. His father and uncle started the company, and he’s always worked there.
“This is an amazing industry,” he said with bright eyes and a smile on his face. “It’s all I know. … I don’t have any friends outside this industry. I work all week and go fishing on weekends. I’m all in.”
Walking out of that breakfast yesterday morning, I thought about all the things I’ve been through during this show and I felt a little less jaded, a little more grateful. I’m lucky – every day – to work in yachting.
Then I met a chef who says she loves our daily reports from the show, and I stood a little taller. Suddenly, my bag wasn’t quite so heavy.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of Triton Today, firstname.lastname@example.org.