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Step aboard and the diminutive 23-footer shies underfoot, tugging nervously at her mooring lines. Wind stirs the sales literature piled near the companionway, and, down below, her fiberglass hull amplifies the ripple of wavelets along the waterline as halyards beat a pleasant tattoo on the aluminum mast. Sunlight picks out highlights on sparkling chrome, and fresh October air ruddies the salesman's face. Fresh air? Wind? Water? Can this be a boat show? Yes, it can, and about time.
Consider the traditional indoor show that we have come to know and dread: boats rail to rail and hard aground on cold concrete; masts lopped off to fit beneath low ceilings; the dead feel of a deck locked fast in a cradled hull; the harsh lights and mechanical air; the drum of winter-shod hordes; sails filled by electric fans.
A year ago, at Annapolis, something came along called the United States Sailboat Show. Boats in water! It was a modest joy. By last week, second time around, it had become a major enticement. There were 340 cruising, racing and one-design sailboats from 15 countries in the water and at dock-side, making it the largest species of a burgeoning new breed. Of this fleet 140 boats were fender to fender around the Annapolis town dock, an ancient place usually crowded at this season not with fiber glass, aluminum and teak, but with squadrons of motorized oyster dredgers and the rakish sailing oystermen called Skipjacks.
The show was for sailboats exclusively, as its title says. Understandably, since Chesapeake Bay has a sailboat density second to none in the U.S. From Back Creek to the Tred Avon, cruise any shore or up any of the bay's countless navigable creeks and a forest of masts meets the eye. Oh, there was a motorboat salesman or two at Annapolis, but they looked as ill at ease as bookies at the Maryland Hunt Cup. They will get their innings next year, when a powerboat show will follow the sailboat act.
Last week the smallest vessel for sale was a six-foot Atlantic Pixie dinghy, the largest a 58-foot Alden Boothbay Challenger with a $200,000 price tag. In between lay everything from handsome little anachronisms with funny names like Crotch Island Pinkie to ultra-new racing machines like the Cuthbertson and Cassian 36-R. And besides the boats, there were fittings galore.
The biggest boat not for sale was a sweetheart named Southern Star, 75 feet from bow to transom, designed by Bill Tripp (who died Thursday in New Haven, Conn. of injuries suffered in an auto accident) as a "maximum" ocean racer for Dr. Jim Mullen II of Heathsville, Va. She served as a floating showcase for the Barient winch people. Ordinarily Barient displays its winches indoors, where they glitter impotently. Mounted Annapolis style, they looked the way they should: purposeful and tough. And not cheap. One coffee grinder cost as much as a fully rigged 16-foot sailboat. On its grips one could almost see the hand prints of some gasping crewman.
To brokers the loveliest thing about Annapolis was that it sold boats. Right off in 1970, Patrick Hornberger of Interyacht had done some $160,000 worth of business. John Ray of Alcort, molders of the ubiquitous little Sunfish, skipped 1970 in the belief that indoor shows served better. "We quickly reassessed that position after we heard what went on down here last year," said Ray last week. "We realized we couldn't afford not to be at Annapolis."
This year Canada's Cuthbertson and Cassian hooked their first customer in record time. Hardly had the C&C 39 been snugged down in her berth when a prospect clambered aboard for a look-see. To hear the salesman tell it, what happened next was this:
Prospect: "How much?"