Annapolis' claim to be the "sailing capital of the world" is undisputed for five days every October as the city holds what organizers bill as the nation's largest and oldest in-water sailboat show.
The 31st annual United States Sailboat Show - featuring 350 boats and an equal number of accessory, service and equipment vendors at City Dock - begins Thursday with a VIP day and is open for general admission Friday through Oct. 9.
Followed closely by the United States Powerboat Show, which runs Oct. 12 through 15, the event transforms the city into "the center of the boating universe," said Thomas Roskelly, the city's public information officer.
"You have most of the major manufacturers, vendors of all sorts and the boating press [here]," he said. "So there is no question that our claim to being the sailing capital of the world is undeniably true for those two weeks."
While the boat shows may mark the beginning of the end in some ways, it's exactly the right time to buy a boat, said Jim Barthold, general manager of Annapolis Boat Shows Inc., which puts on the shows.
"It's certainly toward the end of the sailing season, but it's the beginning of the logical marketing season," Barthold said. Because of the time it takes for a manufacturer to outfit a boat after it's ordered, he said, the time to make a decision about buying a boat is in the fall.
The sailboat show will feature boats from 14 to 76 feet at prices that range from a cool grand to more than the cost of many houses: upward of $300,000, said Ann Dandridge, director of public relations for the boat shows.
Nine boats will debut at the show, including the Cabo Rico 36, Dufour Yachts USA's Gib'Sea 33 and Manta Enterprises' Manta 42.
With more than 50,000 people expected to attend the sailboat show, it has proven to be quite a boon to the local economy.
A study updated in the early 1990s pegged the shows' economic impact at more than $20 million, not including show purchases, Barthold said. The shows also will contribute more than $500,000 to the city through rent as well as tax on admission fees, he said.
But anyone interested in staying in Annapolis during the weekend of the show who doesn't have a room reservation might be out of luck because bed-and-breakfast inns and hotels report being "happily full," said Mary Jo Robey, director of visitor services for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau.
"It's really going to be tough going for anyone who doesn't have a room for the sailboat show," Robey said.
In a city where parking and traffic problems abound even on normal business days, officials are happy about one great act of scheduling fate: No football games are scheduled at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium during either of the boat shows this year, which is important because boat show traffic is directed to the stadium parking lot.
"There will be a lot of traffic, but a lot of it is early arriving and late leaving," Roskelly said. "Traffic management is going to be a lot easier this year, because we do not have a football game. Normally, we have at least one home game, and sometimes we have two."
To attend the United States Sailboat Show, take U.S. 50 to Exit 24, Rowe Boulevard, and follow the signs. Parking is available at Navy-Marine Corps stadium for $5 a day with free shuttle service downtown.
Admission is $25 for the general public wishing to attend Trade/Press/VIP day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. General admission from Friday through Oct. 9 is $13 for adults and $6 for children age 12 and younger. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 9, Columbus Day.