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Navigating the 2009 Toronto Boat Show

Don't know if I've mentioned this, but I edit my yacht club's newsletter and contribute when I can. I usually go to the Toronto International Boat Show with the idea of getting a story out of it, and figured I might as well edit out the stuff of interest (and perhaps limited interest, at that) to my club newsletter readership and package my impressions as a "feature". The fact is, I'm working on a big project, the weather is terrible and about the biggest accomplishment I've had since the last post is lashing down a new tarp over the pilothouse that is keeping most of the snow out.

I am also arranging to stay out of the water this year for all the big jobs I have to do (see below). The most positive thing about this is that the looming recession might free up welders and likely will lower the price of things like heavy-gauge tinned conductors, i.e. boat and battery wire. Anyway, here's my take on Canada's biggest boat show:

There were a few things a little different this year about the Toronto International Boat Show. For one thing, the absence of Derek Hatfield ( from his customary post soliciting support for his Spirit of Canada Open 60 bid was noted, and even though this massive effort of fundraising and boat building ended off Tasmania with Derek and his vessel damaged, but unbowed, rumour has we haven’t seen the last of Spirit of Canada…so please consider helping Derek and his team get the boat back to Nova Scotia to keep that dream alive.

While I noticed that crowds seemed a little thinner the two days I visited, this was not the case at the big power cruisers. Recession? $1.50/litre fuel? Not for these folk, for whom a 10-minute line-up to go see a bathtub on a boat was all part of the dream. That and a few SOLD signs on some truly vast vessels made me wonder if the new 45 foot docks my club voted to install this year will suffice.

The sailboat section appeared smaller than usual to my eyes, and as I stepped aboard a couple of examples of the production boat builders' art with friend and fellow steel yacht owner Cap'n Matt Phillips, we concurred that we weren't the marketing department's target, and that these boats (I liked the Hanse the best of an uninspiring, under-built lot) were geared for coastal stuff and might be a handful in a real blow.

A lot of these boats have a combination of clever or overdue ideas (like great access to the engines, clever electronics and good stowage) with things like few handholds, iffy lifelines and missing positive locks on floorboards and some cabinetry. The front-loading fridge on a port galley was about it for me. The Fruitopia would hit the fan on a 20 degree heel, I suppose. It would also hit the starboard settee. On the upside, we did see a smaller Island Packet that looked more rugged, but the line-up was long and I didn't see the inside. We also saw a lot of clever dinghies and smaller jump in and go boats.

On a personal note, I was happy to see a few new names at this year’s show, particularly New Found Metals, makers of reasonably priced and beefy portlights, and several more “industrial marine” firms that featured the kind of gear I fancy or who aren’t the kind of trades people who can’t work a day timer. Again, the unadorned Garhauer display featured idle eyes widening in shock as they read prices that appeared to be misprints, and again, I found something in a size 13 at the Sperry place and a ten-dollar future painting hat that, if you squint, looks like a Tilley. And some readers will recall the name of Robert Hess, Atomic 4 guru out of Vancouver. Well, he’s in Toronto now, and works for Eastern Marine and is a very helpful fellow who may know even more about diesels. Consider this a plug.

Lastly, I note that all the advances in recreational marine electronics I keep reading about in Ocean Navigator magazine and on are producing even more market-ready products to turn one’s sailboat into the helm of a space ship. New standards, such as NMEA 2000, are further integrating all manner of devices, from bilge sensors to engine controls to reef-spotting cameras up the mast into centralized displays that give the tech-savvy skipper more information than the average paramedic. One hopes in the future that old Eyeball Mark I will be raised from time to time to confirm the sea state or the presence of a jetskier on the bowsprit.

For myself, I will be hard pressed to raise my eyes from the multi-kilo load of catalogues, data sheets and brochures I hauled away from the show. I find one of the harder challenges of preparing for ocean voyaging is not only to avoid buying necessary technology, but to not buy too much of it, and to balance off utility with energy draw, the space it will occupy, and the ease with which it can be operated by clever by crew with varying levels of technical aptitude.

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