ANNAPOLIS -- On any given weekend, this city can lay claim to a well-balanced population of boating freaks -- from world cruisers and day sailors to racers of all descriptions. But each year about this time, the count of Top-Siders on the city docks and yachts in the harbor booms.
The occasion is the United States Sailboat Show, five days of public and private viewing of the latest and, perhaps, greatest boats and equipment produced by the international yachting industry. The show opens with a press and VIP showing tomorrow and runs through Monday.
For the past 20 years, the Annapolis in-the-water show has led the country in fall debuts of new models, and will this year as
Yachts in the show range from 7-foot dinghies to 68-footers, and from the practical to the, well, absurd.
The two largest boats in the show fleet are the Ultra 68 and the Irwin 68. The Ultra features gold bath fixtures and, in all cabins, Ultrasuede head liners. The Irwin 68 has a Jacuzzi on the aft deck for those wearied by a day of sun and spray and auto pilots. So, bring a check for the Irwin and a towel for the tub.
On the practical side, the show is an opportunity to explore the possibilities of getting into boating or of stepping up in size or class.
More than 250 yachts of all sizes will be displayed in the water, and more will be on display ashore. In addition to the boats themselves, exhibitors of anything from anchors to Velcro fasteners will open shop among the 139 tents set up along the harbor.
The list of exhibitors is so complete that one could go to the show, select a boat, select the equipment to outfit it and find a bank or finance company to borrow from in one long afternoon without ever leaving the show grounds.
And that, of course, is the idea.
But boat shows in New England from late August through last weekend drew variable crowds and mixed reviews from show organizers, who said that a weak economy in the Northeast may have been a factor in the early shows.
For the Annapolis show, however, Jeffrey Holland, a show organizer, said the outlook is good.
"On top of a soft boating market throughout the country," Holland said, "you compound that with the miserable condition of the general economy in New England, and you come up with very flat shows.
"For instance, our Boston in-water show in August was off considerably, both in numbers of boats on display and in terms of people coming to the show."
But reports from the sailboat shows in Newport, R.I., and Stamford, Conn., were very positive, Holland said, while attendance at powerboat shows has been off.
"People are buying boats," Holland said, "but they are buying sailboats. So the impression I get is that the people who are coming to the Annapolis show are very optimistic."
This year, an especially strong contingent of multihull yachts will be on display.
Among the larger multihulls, Prout Catamarans from Great Britain will have its Quesar 50 and Event 34 on display. Jeantot Marine of France will have its new 39-footer on line, and Performance Cruising of Mayo will be on hand with its new Gemini 3400.
Among the smaller multihulls, U.S., Canadian and Danish manufacturers will be represented, including one fun-sounding trimaran from the Outrigger Boat Company of Illinois, the Somersault 20. Careful you don't flip over that one.
Tartan Marine of Canada decided last week to pull out of th show, but, otherwise, traditional manufacturers will be well-represented.
Among the monohulls making their debut here are the Centurian 59 from Henri Wauquez of France, the Tripp 36 from Carroll Marine, the Legend 43 and Vision 36 from Hunter Marine, Beneteau's Oceanis 370, the Crealock 44 from Pacific Seacraft and a 29-foot cruiser from Island Packet.
In conjunction with the show, the Soviet maxi-yacht Fazisi will be on display, as will Challenge America, the Whitbread maxi-yacht owned by Teddy Turner.
Tomorrow, some 30 yachts will start and finish a Sail for Sight benefit race at the show. Funds raised by competing yachts will go to the RP Foundation Fighting Blindness.
U.S. Sailboat Show
Where: Annapolis city docks and harbor
When: Friday through Monday. The show opens at 10 a.m. daily.
Admission: $8 for adults. $4 for children under 12.
Information: (301) 268-8828.