Miami puts on a show

If it’s February, boat lovers are migrating to southern Florida

Continental Airlines (1/27/2003)

Brion's comments:
'With the frost layered heavy on the windows of my Northeast home, it's next to impossible to stop my thoughts from floating south to sunny Florida. This piece was done for my Time Out column in Continental magazine.'

Feature article:

You’re a boating enthusiast. You’re enamored with all things aquatic. Your favorite line in literature is this Ernest Hemingway gem from “The Sun Also Rises” – “She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht.” If you’ve lived a good life, you dream of an afterlife that includes floating down a brightly lit tunnel, which ends at the entrance to the Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail.

The show, slated for Feb. 13-18, is a love affair for boat lovers. And you thought it was just coincidence that Valentine’s Day falls on the second date of the show’s run? Whether your vessel of choice is wind driven or motor (or even jet engine) propelled, for five days in February, you’ll find it in Miami.

“The show is just enormous. It’s huge,” says Marnie Wright Read, a spokeswoman for Hinckley Yachts in Bar Harbor, Maine. “People spend three or four days there, and you need that amount of time to see everything.”

She’s not kidding. The show is now so big that it requires three massive venues – the Miami Beach Convention Center, the Sealine Marina and Yachting Center, and Miamarina at Bayside - to fit everything. That doesn’t even include the Yacht & Brokerage Show, an independent event held concurrently (Feb. 13-17) on the Indian Creek Waterway at Collins Avenue.

According to the show’s producer, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the Miami International Boat Show is the world’s largest consumer marine exposition. Now in its 62nd year, NMMA expects there will be more than 2,300 exhibitors on more than 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space at this year’s show. That’s a far cry from the 50 exhibitors at the first show, held under a tent at Miami’s Bayside Park in 1941.

Last year, nearly 150,000 visitors came by the show to scrutinize more than 3,000 vessels, ranging in size from 6 to 80 feet, and in price from $1,000 to $7 million. The brokerage show adds roughly another 500 boats, including many of the super-yachts that attract both well-financed players and those who simply like to pretend.

“It’s a great boat show,” says Kenny Wooten, editor in chief of Connecticut-based Yachting magazine. “If you’re looking for one boat show to go to in a year, this is it. You have everything from personal water craft to super yachts.”

Not just everything, but everyone, says Read, adding the show draws a large contingent from Europe and South America as well as North America. “That’s what boat shows are all about. There are people who are just dreaming, and then there are people who are serious about buying a boat. You can buy a dingy, and you can find guys who are building custom yachts who would be happy to build you the next 200-foot mega-yacht.”

Though Read insists “the boats are the stars” of the show, she’s not blind to the other attributes the Miami event has going for it, namely the timing and the setting.

“Every time I go, I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, when the movie switches from black & white to Technicolor,” she says. “Miami is Oz. It has all these bright, wonderful colors, and fresh, fragrant air.

“You’re outdoors, it’s February, and you’re walking around in shorts and flip-flops and your sunglasses. You’re photosynthesizing, while most of the country is freezing their tails off.”

Wooten agrees. “February is when us Yankees start suffering heavily from cabin fever. And boat people start to smell the season approaching. Plus, the Miami show probably has the best night-life of any boat show in America.”

Among the favorite post-show retreats are the Delano Hotel, Avalon, and The News Café on South Beach. “It’s open 24 hours a day, with a newsstand with papers from all over the world,” says Read. “So you have people coming in for breakfast who just woke up, and other people who’ve been up all night. It’s awesome.”

Not that the show itself is lacking star power. Celebrities from the world of sports (such as home run king Barry Bonds or Formula One racing champ Nigel Mansell) and entertainment (such as talk show host Phil Donahue or singer George Strait) can often be found rubbing elbows with ordinary citizens, sharing their thoughts on sonar devices and stickshifts, horsepower and hardware, cockpit designs and hull lines. But just in case you’re traveling with your significant other, and that special someone doesn’t share your special infatuation with the boating life, don’t despair. The Coconut Grove Arts Festival will also be in town (Feb. 15-17). Then you can discuss the relative merits of that $1 million yacht you have your eye on as a work of art.

IF YOU GO: For details on the Miami International boat show, visit Yacht & Brokerage Show information can be found at Last, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival web site is

Continental’s Time Out columnist Brion O’Connor is thinking about upgrading one of his four windsurfers for an honest-to-goodness boat.

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