The enigma that is the London Boat Show at ExCeL continued in 2007. Clearly, the organisers, National Boat Shows, having attracted a new title sponsor, international financial services company Collins Stewart, have taken on board some of the criticism levelled at last year’s show. How successful are these changes? Do they add atmosphere and direction to the show? Well for this correspondent there were both hits and misses.


A Miss

On approaching the Excel by car, from the M25, signing of the show was very poor. Once you’ve seen the permanent signs for ExCeL you don’t need further Boat Show signs; the signs that are provided are too close to the venue to be useful. Infrequent visitors to London could do with dedicated signs that start on the tricky M11, A13, North Circular Junctions.  Not when, having survived the great adventure that is the City rush hour, they can nearly see the hall.

A Hit and a Miss
Bombsite Park & Ride was a thing of the past for 2007. While it’s easy to lament the lost opportunity to ride on a pensioned off Routemaster omnibus, parking directly below the event in a clean, covered, pay and display carpark has to be an improvement. Early visitors would have found the new arrangements a mixed blessing when they got to the ticket machines. As complex as astro navigation, as rare as a cheap mooring and, with a day’s parking costing £12 to £15, meaning that everyone paid by card and substantial queues formed at all but the quietest periods. Somebody at BMF must have been listening though, as pay and display was replaced with a fixed price, £9, deal mid way through week one.

A hit

One hit with visitors I spoke to, was that more area has been given over to activities such as competitive oil filter changing Engine Race, an anchoring simulator and a Sky Sports theatre area to host presentations by great and knowledgeable sailors & boaters of all kinds. Friday’s “Preview Day” isn’t usually the busiest day of the show, but these activities did draw both audiences and participants, pretty steadily, throughout the day.

More Hits & Misses

A big miss is the lack of a main central attraction, activity area or theme. I asked a wide selection of visitors how they thought this years theme, Island Nation, played out. Very few visitors I spoke to, had realised that there was a theme at all.

Shortage of show information and guidance is also a frequent concern. As an example; if visitors found out about the various activities taking place outside on the water it was more by luck than by guidance from the organisers. Then, should the lucky visitor discover an event worth watching, and there were quite a few, no particular provision for spectators was provided. It was generally felt, by my panel of visitors, that the Southampton show is a clear winner if you want to park your bones, watch an event or find out what’s going on.

Many exhibitors see more pluses from this year’s show than the 2006 event. The show might have been visited by less people in 2007 (estimates vary but BMF are claiming 130,000), but sales are reported as being up by many leading exhibitors. John Gardener, MD of chandlers Piplers of Poole, said: “We have had a very good show and are 20 per cent up on 2006.”  Brian Peters of Peters Opal, Europe’s largest distributor of motor and sailing yachts, announced: “We have had retail sales in excess of 70 boats, for delivery this year.  We’re pleased with the strong international presence on the stand and yesterday welcomed one client, a French customer, who wanted to buy an Italian boat, here at a British Show, to be kept in Spain.” Peters Opal told me that, this year, power and sail sales were pretty evenly balanced and that the number of sales prospects generated by the show, when added to the confirmed orders, makes this a very successful show for them.

While most people I asked agreed that 2007 is the best boat show held at ExCeL so far, it would be fair to say that there’s just about enough boat, but not enough show.  If BMF (British Marine Federation) the organisers of the show are listening to both visitors & exhibitors they will realize that the same big problem remains. To be anything other than a glorified boat showroom, this show needs a centre attraction link to a strong theme. Until the horns of that particular dilemma are grasped the show will remain more of a nice trip to the shops than what is the published aim of the organisers, an unmissable event.

The boats are a hit though. Highlights of my day at the show included Sunseeker, which had the largest boat they’ve ever built moored outside the hall. The 37m Tri-Deck Yacht is without doubt an imposing example of a British manufacturing success story, Managing director Robert Braithwaite’s statement that “No other manufacturer in this country is capable of building yachts of this size and type” might have certain companies in Falmouth and Portsmouth just slightly puzzled, but it has to be said that Sunseeker is being seen as a major player in semi-custom yacht building circles. A quick look inside shows that British craftsmen are turning out work as good as any of the competition.

A short champagne cork flight from the Sunseeker flagship Azimut’s Leonardo 98 was moored, so the opportunity to compare and contrast was too good to miss. Both show the very best of top end motor yacht building and whether the cream of Dorset (above left), or the cappuccino of Viareggio (right) is to your taste is completely up to you.

Peters Opal have an American success story on their hands at the show. The Island Packet SP Cruiser is a modern interpretation of the motor sailerstyle of yacht. The first example into the UK sold while it was still on the lorry and two more have been ordered at the show.

Avon Inflatables are using the show to introduce refinements to their Adventure RIBS, a completely new range of life-rafts that incorporate the latest technology, three year service intervals and 12 year guarantee. Continued development of the Seasport range of RIBS sees the introduction of a range of supercharged four stroke engines, driving water jet propulsion systems.

Proving that you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy boats and boatshows is the Avoncraft stand featuring a wide range of inflatable canoes. You can get two people afloat for less than £350 in a Canoe 1C140, a kind of inflatable Canadian Canoe. An inflatable canoe takes about 10 minutes to go from bag to water and you could take it to the water on the bus as it only weighs 19kg.

So, as usual the London Boat Show was both good and bad. It’s a great place to see the boats of your dreams, to meet well known yachtsmen, to get advice and maybe bag a bargain. You get a feeling that it’s getting better as a day out, but it has got a way to go yet.

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