Backstage At The Boat Show

Often ones first introduction to boating is at one of the many, many boat shows that are staged around the country almost anytime of the year. Some of the largest are in-the-water shows in Annapolis, Miami/Fort Lauderdale and several other venues in coastal cities and inland waterways. But there are quite a few others that are held in convention centers, stadiums and coliseums in cities both large and small. When the doors open and the first of thousands of folks walk through the door, the boats are gleaming and polished, the booths are dressed for customers and the sales folks have practiced their presentations.

But there are major components that very few get to see. It almost begins at the end of the show in preparation for the next, with debriefing sessions and strategies discussed. The move in and out for in-the-water shows are complex, but no where near that for a show that needs to be held inside large buildings many miles from the nearest water. Once the initial layout for the dealer’s area is confirmed and the floor plan is designed, the logistics of getting several large boats over highways and through city streets begins. Transportation via carriers experienced in handling this special cargo must be made well in advance. Those with the equipment and expertise are in big demand for these events so finding one at the last minute may be next to impossible. Many dealers have long established relationships with those carriers so each anticipates the needs of the other and this part of the equation usually works well. But there are always those last minute glitches that can make for anxious moments when show time approaches.

Ship & Sail Yacht Sales in Kemah, Texas is both a sail and power boat dealer that is present at several shows during the year. Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show is held at the Reliant Stadium and is by no means the largest show but is one of the first shows of the year, being held shortly after the New Year holiday. An estimated 150,000 people will walk through their doors in the ten days of the show. In most years a 1,000 or more vessels will be on display and over 400 vendors will show their wares. But when you walk through the door, did you ever wonder just how all of this was put together and how in the world did they get those boats in here. Well, it wasn’t easy.

An over the road trip with a large boat has its restrictions. The two biggest are height and width. There are limits for both in many states and special permits needed in most. A large consideration for transport is the bridges the boats must pass under. That means the dealers must virtually disassemble the larger boats to meet those restrictions. A good working relationship with a nearby boat yard is essential. Boats that will be on display will have to be moved to the yard based on availability of haul-out schedules and at the same time coordinated with the transport company that will haul the boats to the venue. Ideally the boats will be hauled from the water, have the bottoms powered washed to remove marine growth, and placed directly onto the trailers that will take them to their destination. If all goes well that is exactly what happens. But trucks break down, drivers get ill, travel lifts quit for whatever reason and sometimes the weather just won’t work with you. But somehow it all gets done and on time.

Once the boats are on the trailers, the process of removing whatever parts that will hinder transport are begun. With the sail boats this means masts, booms and rigging must come down prior to loading. Additional items such as arches and even stanchions and pedestal guards may have to come off. Some times this can be done in advance but again it is usually all done in one event to save time and expenses. For power boats this means hardtops, arches and even superstructures as well as propellers and rudders. This can be a daunting task. Hundreds of wires, cables, steering lines and whatever else runs from the bridge to the inner sections of the hull must be disconnected in such a way that it can be properly reconnected again later. These parts of the vessel need to be unbolted and uncaulked and prepared to be lifted from the hull. Once again sound experience and proper equipment are an absolute must. Some of these vessels are priced in the millions of dollars and working with human beings and large boat parts can pose certain hazards.

Removing masts and superstructures requires the use of a crane or the yard’s travel lift depending upon the size and weight. The sections are removed with great care so as not to damage anything and are then themselves loaded onto the trailers, sometimes sharing space with the boats and sometimes needing their own transportation. With the sailboats, most dealers leave the masts and rigging in storage at the yards until after the show. Each hull and each section needs to be supported properly on the trailers so that they will withstand the trip to the show venue without mishap. Care must be taken to support the load so the vessels won’t suffer damage, due to bumps in the road, sudden twists, turns and stops along the way. Even wind affects on the various parts plays in how the trailers are set up and all of this is done as the boat or sections hang from the crane or lift just above its respective trailer. You might think that once the boats are loaded and secured that the hard work is over. But in fact, it has just begun.

The producers of the show will schedule a time and place for the dealers to stage their boats prior to the show. For the larger vessels, this means hauling the boats to the venue days before set up begins and leaving them until the offloading and set-up starts. For dealers that have smaller boats that will be brought in by trailer other than the large transport, that means beginning the move in once the doors are open for set up. In either case, it is a well orchestrated plan that has been fine tuned over the years. Every consideration has been made based on size of vessels to be moved in and even the location within the building itself. Once again, scheduling equipment and manpower correctly determines how quickly and successfully the whole move-in process goes.

It has been said that from chaos and confusion comes order and this about sums up the move-in process. Consideration must be given to access for the larger boats and the equipment needed to unload and re-assemble them. Trucks carrying necessary supplies to build displays, and carry office supplies, signs and banners and whatever else is needed must be able to reach the display areas and unload. Most of this is directed by the shows promoters. Depending on size, the boats may come in by small trailers behind pick-up trucks or on large flatbeds set up for just this purpose. Sailboats must be lifted by a pair of large cranes and blocked in place. The larger power boats need to be raised off their trailers and blocked in position and the sections that were taken apart for shipping must now be put back together and made ready for the public. Again the large cranes might be called to duty. Decking may need to be built and positioned, and carpet or other floor covering placed in the display area. All of the set-up process is done over a period of days prior to the show. Most vendors will begin very early in the morning and continue till late in the evening. That opening day deadline is on everyone’s mind and the entire process is difficult and grueling.

Once the boats are positioned, decks are built and put in place and the major construction is completed, the finishing touches are put on the display area. This can be video displays, information brochures, lights, plants and anything else the dealer may decide that will make the area more attractive and appealing to the public. The equipment on the boats must be checked out and in good working order. Where needed, electricity should be available. Just before Showtime, the boats will be completely detailed and decorated. Hulls will be polished to a high shine and the stainless fittings and hardware will gleam in the lights of the arena.

And let’s not forget all of the vendors selling their various equipment and wares. Several areas are set aside just for these displays. They tend to be much smaller but still require a fair amount of set-up. They can be as varied as insurance brokers, chandleries, engine shops, equipment suppliers both large and small and sometimes, totally unrelated to boating. These displays are usually the last to be set up and are an indicator that the big day is quickly approaching. While all of this is going on, the promoters are busy hanging signs, setting up electrical connections, planning parking for thousands and even placement of the ticket booths. The entire undertaking is one well choreographed effort that even for those of us that have done this many times still watch the process unfold in wonder.
When the big day comes, the doors are finally opened and that first person walks through, the public sees a spectacular display of all things boating under one roof. The selections are almost overwhelming and the individual vendors are standing by to answer questions and sell their wares. There is little evidence of just what went on in those days just prior. It would appear that everything just magically arrived for their viewing pleasure. And once the last one goes home and the doors finally close on this particular show, well the whole process of taking it all down and getting it back where it came from, and put back together or stored away for the next show begins. But that is a whole other story.

Dealing With Hanna

Once again we find ourselves preparing for a major storm. It just seems that weather has turned against us from the time we reached the west coast of Florida and is showing no sign of giving us a break just yet. The marina we are currently in is very exposed in severe weather and staying at the dock is not an option, so we made the decision to haul out if a storm did approach. We were off the boat and away visiting relatives on the west coast of Florida when it became apparent Hanna was moving in the direction of the boat. On Monday we made a call to the marina to let them know we wanted to haul out and made plans to get back. On Tuesday we drove for about 6 ½ hours and reached the marina late afternoon. Once again we verified that the boat was to be hauled and started getting it ready for the storm.

After 14 named storms we have pretty much gotten this down to a science. But the question still comes up, why do we do this to ourselves? While the winds were down and from the right direction we removed the headsail and depending on the potential of the approaching storm we either tie the main and mizzen securely with the sail covers on, or remove them altogether. Hanna is expected to only reach minimal hurricane force and pass to our east so we opted to leave the sails on and tie them down. With full battens and batten cars, removing them is a major task, but we would not hesitate in stronger conditions. Given the fact that the boat would be out of the water and in a more protected area, they stayed on the boat. But the headsail must come off no matter what. We have seen over the years what a loose flogging headsail can do during a storm. Our furling gear does have a hole in the base and the drum to slide a bolt in and lock it in place but we still don’t feel safe doing this.

Next comes securing the wind generator and the self leveler for the radar. Again, we have taken these down in the past for really severe conditions but not this time. Both were tied securely and the manual brake on the wind generator locked down tightly. Next comes the removal from the decks of all loose items that can get blown away or flog around in the wind. Also items like the GPS antenna that could be hit by debris are removed. The solar panels on the hardtop and over the dinghy davits are very vulnerable so they must come off, be wrapped in a protective blanket and stowed inside the boat. Items like the man overboard pole, Lifesling, horseshoe buoy and other safety equipment normally stored on deck are stowed inside the boat. Even though the electronics are supposedly waterproof we still cover them with plastic and tape it all down well with good old duct tape. The deck dorades are removed and the deck plates for them are put in place. This keeps wind blown rain from getting in below. The outboard needs to be removed from the dinghy and stored on its mounting bracket on the stern and the oars, life jackets, etc. which are usually in the dinghy are stowed in the boat as well. At the same time, we remove clothing we will need, important papers, expensive removable electronics and any items we feel we just can not afford to lose. There have been times over the years when we have completely stripped the boat inside and out. We have also ridden out storms on the boat on occasion but this is not a decision we take lightly. We do evacuate more than we stay on board and many factors come into play to finally make that decision. We do not recommend anyone staying on board since once things start to go wrong, in most cases there is very little that can be done and you put yourself in a life threatening situation. A boat can be replaced but a life or limb can not.

Since our hardtop and windshield can not be removed very easily, we still try to secure them as much as possible. In very strong winds it is conceivable that they could be lifted off go airborne. So we run lines over them and secure the lines to hand holds and to the taffrail. In addition, the topping lift for the mizzen is dropped enabling the boat to be hauled out backwards so the weight of the boom and the mizzen tied down at the stern help keep the hardtop in place. The boom end for both the main and the mizzen are secured so that they can not swing from side to side should the sheets give way during the storm. All hatches and ports are dogged down tightly and the hatches are taped all around to again keep wind driven rain out. We know from experience that water will enter from these storms from places that were never a problem before and except for storm conditions will not usually be a problem. Any other spaces that the winds might drive in rain are covered and taped down. Once we have checked and inspected everything over and over and are satisfied we have not missed anything we can just wait for the call to pull the boat out. And we waited and we waited. We are not sure how it happened but we went from what should have been first on the list for haul out, since we called well in advance, to the bottom of the list and one of the last boats to come out. But finally it did happen. I suppose it was due to the fact that we are transients and all of the other folks are locals at the marina full time. The currents here are very strong and the tides are 7 to 8 feet so we are pretty much relegated to high tide and slack water. The crews at the marina seem to be hauling boats all day but at max ebb and flow were mostly hauling power boats that could be pulled with a fork lift and larger power boats that could maneuver in the current. They did an outstanding job with both our boat and the other boats they hauled. Always very friendly, helpful and professional and it was obvious they knew their jobs and did them well. After a bit of adjusting of the travel lift because of our keel configuration we finally came out of the water. Hauling the boat is always a stressful time for us since we don’t do it very often. We were absolutely amazed at the growth on the bottom of the boat considering the fact that we had the bottom painted in Texas, hauled out and had it power washed and zincs replaced days before we left and had been on the move for over 2000 miles. We don’t know what paint the yard actually put on the bottom but suspect it might have been house paint.

Once she was out and on the stands we gave everything another once over looking for anything we might have missed. We still have some food in the fridge, although not much, so every system on the boat was shut down except the fridge and the bilge pumps. Yes, we leave the bilge pumps on when the boat is hauled out. I have seen too many boats sink on the hard over the years and if water does finds its way in we want a way for it to get pumped back out. Even with the fridge running every day, as long as the pumps don’t have to run for a long time, our battery banks will easily hold up for a week or much more with out any recharging. Since we will be staying nearby we will also be able to monitor things. Hurricane Ike is also in the Caribbean and our wonderful weather service does not have a clue where it is going so we may be out of the water for a time until it has either gone elsewhere or passes us by. One final duty is to cover the companionway so that the rains won’t get in and then just wait for the outcome. We have some wonderful friends here in Beaufort that are putting us up at their house until the storm blows through. We never get used to these things and it is always a very stressful time for us since we have everything to lose if the worst happens. But what ever happens is now beyond our control. Once again we have done our best and the rest is up to God, the universe, or whatever higher power might be out there, even if that higher power’s name is Hanna or Ike.

Hanna passes 85 to 100 miles to our east and on Friday we get rain for most of the day. The winds are up a bit but no more than 15 to 20 and the rains are only intermittent. The storm passes to the east Friday night and the winds still don’t get more than maybe 25 in our location. By Saturday morning the sun is shining, the day is clear and beautiful as the storm makes landfall in North Carolina and we have a nice day instead of the mess we expected. With any of these storms we have learned long ago that any outcome can be expected. The south coast of South Carolina dodged the bullet and so did Sea Trek once again. We would now have the task of putting the boat back together but we have never complained about not having to deal with a worst case situation.