By Lucy Chabot Reed and Dorie Cox
Initially a small boat show held in a parking lot in 1982, this year’s Palm Beach International Boat Show has grown to include more than 700 boats in-water. The show now encompasses most of the downtown West Palm Beach waterfront including all but two docks at Palm Harbor Marina.
“I remember when this show was on the fairgrounds and at the Palm Beach Auditorium,” said John Smundin, marina manager at Palm Harbor. “The way it continues to grow feels like it may absorb the complete Palm Harbor Marina. It is quite amazing.”
Owned by the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County, the show was cancelled in 1990 due to the economic recession. Show Management took over production and management in 1995.
Smundin has seen the changes first hand, especially since his marina welcomed yachts in 2010.
“January 2010 was the official marina opening and we gave the show our southernmost dock,” Smundin said. “The next year they used two docks and in 2016 they used three docks.”
The slips normally house about 100 boats, but with added temporary docks, there are 175 boats.
In total, this year’s show has 717 boats on exhibit in the water, including everything from 10-foot tenders to superyachts. About 120 yachts over 80 feet are listed in attendance. About 78 are larger than 100 feet, and 23 are larger than 150 feet.
That total of 717 is 6 percent more than last year, according to Skip Zimbalist, former CEO of Show Management, which produces the show. (Show Management was purchased by Informa plc, producers of the Monaco Yacht Show. Zimbalist has resigned as CEO but still spoke at the annual media briefing on Friday.)
While the number of brokerage boats were down about 4 percent, he said, new boats are up 12 percent.
M/Y Solandge, a 279-foot (85m) Lurssen, was supposed to be the largest yacht in the show this week, but it sold before it could pull into its slip. She was listed with Moran Yacht & Ship at 155 million euros. And Heesen Yachts announced the sale of a 180-foot (55m) new build, Project Alida, at the show.
Now the largest yacht in the show is the 230-foot Lurssen (70m) charter yacht M/Y Martha Ann, which is docked at nearby Rybovich Superyacht Marina because of her draft. The largest yacht in the show downtown is M/Y Double Down, a 213-foot (65m) Codecasa.
This show is gaining credibility among South Florida’s three shows: Ft. Lauderdale in November, Miami in February, and Palm Beach in March. It’s international reputation is building and its ease of location, parking and flow keeps gaining fans.
“It seems like, before, a lot of the brokers didn’t have a booth or they just had a small booth,” said Capt. Steve Hubbard of M/Y Indigo. “Now they are all bigger and have a larger presence, and with that comes more clients. I feel like the show is looked at as an international show now. … And I think it’s a good show for people to buy.”
Johan Dubbelman, sales manager with Moonen, feels like the show is a good fit for his company, a Dutch shipyard that builds semi-custom yachts up to 160 feet.
“I think this is a good bridge between Europe and the United States,” Dubbelman said. “It feels like the clientele here are representative of the U.S. upper class who have experience in boating. They are more at ease and are experienced boat owners.
“If we have the opportunity, we will do Palm Beach first, Ft. Lauderdale second and Miami third.”
Informa Group Chief Executive Stephen Carter allayed fears that a seemingly unknown company was taking over the boat show. Informa owns about 210 brands around the world and is listed on the London stock exchange. It also produces the Monaco Yacht Show.
“What we try to pride ourselves on is being an owner of companies that are themselves well known,” Carter told assembled reporters at a media briefing on Friday. “We’ve been building and growing over the past few years, primarily in the United States. Sixty percent of our business is here, and it’s growing.”
Informa understands the power of the marine industry, Carter said, and it understands the role of boat shows as brands in and of themselves as well as tools to drive business to local communities. The company is committed to the growth of the international yachting industry, he said.
When asked what changes might be in store for the Palm Beach show, he was cautious.
“I don’t dare, after two weeks, to offer my top 10 improvements,” he said. “In the first instance, we don’t want the show to be disturbed or suffer from the change of ownership.”