It's been more than a week since the last of four hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean and Florida, but their effects were still being felt in Annapolis yesterday with the start of the 35th annual United States Sailboat Show at City Dock.
Although the fall show attracted about 600 exhibitors, roughly the same number as last year, organizers likened many of the 250 sailboats that arrived this week to unexpected guests.
Because of treacherous weather or damage to boats from the storms, many exhibitors found their vessels stranded far out of town and were forced to show different models than planned, said organizer Rick Franke.
"Exhibitors were saying they meant to bring a 40-footer, but brought a 60-footer instead," said Franke, manager of Annapolis Sailing School. "Then, the next person would say they brought a 60-footer instead of a 40-footer. It was like putting together a Rubik's Cube."
One of those exhibitors was David Bird, chief executive of Admiral Yachts, a sailboat manufacturer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Bird said he planned to show a 50-foot catamaran, but it was stranded in Fort Lauderdale and he was only able to bring one boat: a 38-footer.
"I am disappointed," admitted Bird, sitting on the deck of his dazzling white yacht yesterday morning, as prospective buyers toured the cabin of the $300,000 vessel. "But there's always next year."
Also absent from the show, as of yesterday, was a contender for this year's "Sailboat of the Year" award, given out annually by Sailing Magazine. The boat, a luxury catamaran made by Voyage Yachts, also based in Cape Town, has been delayed on its trip from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands by light winds in the aftermath of the storms.
"All the wind was sucked out of the system," said Clardy Schwarz, one of the company's regional sales managers. "The boat's captain has been motoring as much as possible."
Schwarz said he expects the yacht to arrive tonight, just in time for the judging.
Despite such glitches, only one scheduled exhibitor - Kirkland, Wash.-based Stellar Yachts - was unable to attend this year's show, which runs through Monday and is followed by the Oct. 14-17 U.S. Powerboat Show. Organizers estimate 100,000 spectators will attend the two shows.
"Overall, our numbers have not been affected," said Franke. "And we could not have asked for more gorgeous weather."
Under clear, blue skies and warm sun, crowds of exhibitors, buyers and boat-lovers flooded the show's 300 floating docks yesterday, stopping at displays for everything from sumptuous yachts to sailcloth, anchors and safety rafts.
"We've got a shopping list," said Pat Talaszek of Staten Island, N.Y., who with her husband, George, was perusing a selection of "floating bumpers" to protect the hull of their 40-foot sailboat. "We're looking for a variety of things here - lines, dodgers, rigging - anything new."
Others were shopping for slightly larger purchases.
"I don't think we're going to buy anything today, but we're always looking," said Chris Bagnall, peering at a map of exhibitors with his wife, Liz, under the tall, sloping masts of several yachts priced at more than $400,000.
The couple, who traveled from their home in Greensburg, Pa., said they enjoy touring more luxurious vessels than their 18-foot catamaran.
"We're going to see a 40-foot boat - it would be nice for sailing in the Virgin Islands," Chris Bagnall said.
Many of the most lavish vessels at the show beckoned shoppers with large, glossy photos of the Caribbean. Suntanned sales staff dressed in polo shirts peppered their pitches with the names of tropical islands and the promise of "smooth sailing," "spacious cabins" and "exceptional performance."
Before boarding the yachts, show-goers are instructed to remove their shoes to keep the sparkling decks free of scuff marks. On the docks by some of the most popular yacht makers - like Fountaine Pajot, the manufacturer of luxury catamarans - were large clusters of boat shoes.
Maxime Lesguillier, the French company's technical expert, said that the 46-footer at the show was nowhere near as lavish as Fountaine Pajot's top-of-the-line model.
"We've got a 60-foot boat, but that's more than $1 million," said Lesguillier, explaining that the bigger boat can comfortably sail through 25-foot waves.
Fountaine Pajot is among dozens of foreign companies attending the show.
"This is the show on the East Coast," said Alan Norris, a marketer for Beneteau USA, based in South Carolina, one of the largest makers of luxury yachts.
Before attending a lunchtime news conference for the boat show yesterday afternoon, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer expressed gratitude for the show's annual presence.
"Annapolis is blessed," Moyer said. "This show has helped so much in putting us on the map as an international sailing community."