Afloat for Now
of Seattle has been a local boating industry mainstay for 39 years.
Business is booming, but land development plans bode ill for the event.
Many notable events happened 39 years ago. In 1978, John Wayne and Barbra Streisand won the People’s Choice Awards, Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight boxing title (and then was trounced by Ali in a rematch later that year), and NASA announced its first female astronauts. Among these remarkable events was the inaugural Boats Afloat Show in Seattle, then hosted in Shilshole Bay Marina. Now in Chandler’s Cove in South Lake Union, the show has evolved into one of the Pacific Northwest’s notable boat shows and is one of the largest, if not the largest, in-water boat show of the West Coast.
Organized by the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association (NYBA), Boats Afloat 2017 is on just about every Pacific Northwest boater’s calendar (September 14 to 17 this year). Housed entirely within the cove, the show serves as a one-stop shop for many buyers who can compare their dream builds side-by-side while the boats are in the water where they belong. This year promises to be a big one, for the sustained upswing in the economy seems to be affecting the boat show’s offerings with many exciting developments.
“Not only is it shaping up to be the biggest show we’ve had in years, but it’ll also feature the largest boat we’ve had in the show’s history,” says Bonnie Robertson, Executive Director of NYBA and lead organizer of Boats Afloat. “Also notable are the large number of models and brands making their West Coast debuts. There is a lot to keep show-goers interested.”
The numbers back up Robertson’s optimism, for reportedly over 200 new and used boats are slated to be on display for the 2017 show.
A few notable debuts include the Alexander Marine USA’s West Coast debut of the 2018 53’ Tiara Flybridge, the line’s flagship model, and first Boats Afloat appearance of California Coast Yachts, which recently opened up their new Seattle branch. The builder Four Winns has returned to Seattle through dealer Marine Servicenter after about a decade of absence, and they are touting their Vista 375 Express Cruiser (“one half speed boat and the other a cruiser”).
Cutwater Boats, a local builder of note, is slated to have their full lineup on display, including their 302 Coupe and 242 Coupe. Also local, Ranger Tugs promises to show many of their new builds.
Dealer Hampton Yachts’ new Hampton 650 Pilothouse and dealer Premiere Yachts’ new 2018 Regency P65 MY builds round out the larger end of the motoryacht scale. Axopar Boats is a Finnish sport-boat builder with a few wild rides showcased through local dealer JK3 Yachts, including the Axopar 28 TT and Axopar 37 AC. Fans of luxury sport yachts may gravitate to the Silver Seas Yachts slips, for they are showcasing their 2018 Maritimo 54 and 59, as well as the 2018 Cruisers 50 Cantius.
On the sailboat side of things, it looks like European production boats largely rule the roost. JK3 Yachts is showing the popular Moody 54 Deck Saloon as well Hanse builds like the Hanse 315 and 415. Marine Servicenter has a range of Jeanneau yachts (349, 419, 44DS, and 479) while Signature Yachts showcases several Beneteau sailboats and a sailing catamaran, a Fountaine Pajot. Of course, pontoon boats, ski boats, and more are on display as well.
This year features a four-day format, a leaner version of the traditional five-day format that Boats Afloat usually utilizes. It’s also worth noting that Boats Afloat isn’t the kind of show that only appeals to die-hard boat nerds.
“The Boats Afloat Show is fun for the whole family!” says Robertson about the show. “Families can take a free sailboat or electric boat ride around Lake Union, kids can join The Center for Wooden Boats (CWB) for toy boat building, adults can partake in seminars, adult sailing lessons, and women’s docking clinics. Plus, with South Lake Union’s rapidly expanding scene of great restaurants and amenities, this is an ideal way to spend a day as a family.”
In true Boats Afloat fashion, Chandler’s Cove promises to be a floating city of new builds, outdoor activities, and exhibitors. But a storm cloud is brewing over the idyllic picture Robertson paints of dad’s head buried in the engine room of his dream boat, mom acing her docking workshop, and the two kids building toy boats at CWB. Earlier this year in Northwest Yachting’s January, 2017 issue, we published a story (Changes to Chandler’s Cove) about how Vulcan Real Estate, the estate holder of the Chandler’s Cove property, has announced plans to develop the area and evict the current tenants there. Tenants ranging from yacht brokers like Chuck Hovey Yachts and Emerald Pacific Yachts, and other marine-related business like Canderè Cruising (a boat tour company) and Duke’s Chowder Hourse, will be affected by the eviction.
While details of the development remain elusive, a letter sent to tenants announcing the company’s intent states that Vulcan is “under the working assumption that the earliest redevelopment can begin is during the 3rd Quarter of 2018.” (To read the complete letter, feel free to reference the article Changes to Chandler’s Cove at nwyachting.com).
What does this mean for the Lake Union Boats Afloat show? Is there going to be another one?
“The redevelopment of Chandler’s Cove is eminent. As it stands, the timeline for construction has not been announced,” says Robertson. “We are guaranteed to put on the Boats Afloat Show here in 2018, but after that is anybody’s guess.”
Despite the guarantee that the Boats Afloat Show will see its 40th birthday, the decision to evict the boating industry tenants of Chandler’s Cove appears to be an example of Seattle’s maritime scene taking a hit as the city experiences growing pains. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 1, 2016 estimate, Seattle stands as the fastest growing city in the United States. Although specific details about the development is still under wraps, and, while perhaps it’s unfair to assume, it’s difficult for the mind not to prepare for a now-common Seattle term: high-end housing. To exercise the imagination further, perhaps high-end housing for tech industry executives?
Time will tell, but the loss of Chandler’s Cove as a publically accessible aquatic-activity epicenter right in the center of the city would be a bitter pill to swallow for the Seattle maritime community and general public. After all, Chandler’s Cove is named after the term chandlery, a word used to describe a boat specialty store.
For now at least, we can enjoy 2017’s show. We can walk aboard the many boats, take advantage of the growing array of different activities, and experiment with the new four-day format. Fortunately, we can be assured that the 40th iteration of 2018 is on the books and prepare accordingly. However, sooner or later, Boats Afloat will have to move or die. What then?
“We are currently looking at all of our options, but one thing for sure is that the Boats Afloat Show will continue to go on for years,” says Robertson.
We will find a way appears to be the sentiment thus far. Keep in mind, the show did have its beginnings in Shilshole Bay Marina. Perhaps the “Lake Union Boats Afloat Show” will become the “Shilshole Bay Boats Afloat Show”?
Another more dramatic tack would be to move out of Seattle altogether. If Seattle evolves to be less marine friendly, other nearby locations will likely emerge as the Washington boating capital by default. Other Puget Sound boat shows have experimented with new venues, notably Trawlerfest 2017. Trawlerfest, traditionally hosted in Anacortes, was hosted in Bremerton for the first time this year. Will places like Bremerton that are usually considered more off-the-beaten-path gain prominence as boat show locations in the near future?
The time ticks by and soon the bell will ring, yet many of the same questions stand. When the round is over, who will be left standing? Perhaps boxer Leon Spinks said it best after all, “I know a lot of people think I’m dumb. Well, at least I ain’t no educated fool.”