We’re not sure why it is, but no one in America can pull together a decent sailboat show. Go and check out Paris, or the RYA London Dinghy Show, or Dusseldorf, or La Grande Motte, or the grand prize of all of them – the METS Show – and you’ll be blown out of your socks by the experience, scratching your head at the incredible lack of quality, variety, and size of even the biggest American show – the US Sailboat Show in Annapolis. It’s a little embarrassing for US sailors, and we have wondered for the better part of a downward-trending decade how any of these shitty shows even stay in business.
So we’re not surprised at all to learn today that one of the final ‘sailboat only’ shows on the continent has finally disappeared, with Chicago’s Strictly Sail show announcing that they’ve merged with the Chicago Boat & RV Show while moving from the Navy Pier to a normal convention center. The move is a long time coming as anyone who’s attended the Strictly Sail show over the past few years would have foreseen; Since the beginning of the recession, Strictly Sail has seen a dwindling level of exhibitors dominated by manufacturers of fat cruising boats and non-boating trinkets – exhibitors that, in themselves, indicate dying interest in the sport.
A healthy sport with good industry leadership (from folks like US Sailing, the NMMA and SailAmerica) would see a show dominated by learn-to-sail programs, affordable sailboats and dinghies, and other booths focused on increasing access and growing volume, but Navy Pier and Strictly Sail seemed happy to price the grassroots out of their show, relying instead on a few major builders who could spend tens of thousands on their effort – the same kind of price-over-volume calculations that’s turned a huge sport with 11 million American participants into a dying sport with a million-and-change getting on the water. Meanwhile, the American public seems to have lost their appetite for all boat shows, with most of the big shows down over the past few years, and manufacturers increasingly reporting less returns on boat show investment. In the meantime, where is SailAmerica with all their guidance and help for the sport? We’re not sure, but they do have one hell of a crappy website to play with. It’s long past time for the industry to publicly acknowledge the many ways it has screwed the sport and to try to fix it. We’re not, however, holding our breath.
While the throes of agony will last decades, the day of the American boat show is more or less over, thanks to the wide availability of everything on the web and the proliferation of demo days and try-before-you-buy events for boats of every size. Tire kickers and inside industry folks who need to have meetings with the OEMS will still show up, and there’s no doubt, for Chicago, anyway, that parking, exhibiting – all the logistics – should be far easier at the new spot. And we’ll be there too, but not for a sailboat – we’ve got our eyes on a pimped out Sailing Anarchy RV and bass boat combo…
One thing that won’t change? Our Winter Anarchy Party – the annual standing-room-only rager we’ve thrown for 9 years now that probably pulled in more people than the entire show last year! We’ll have piles of free, awesome giveaways, tons of booze, and hot bitches dancing in tight clothes – some of them even sailors. And if you’ve never been? You probably can’t handle it anyway.