Want to Drop out? Lose the Wheels and Hit the Water ; London's Boat Show Awakens Wanderlust, but Also Threatens Your Bank Account, Reports Stuart Alexander
Alexander, Stuart, The Independent (London, England)
BY FAR THE most hostile environment for a boat is water, especially salt water, but, in the spot-lit warmth of an indoor ExCel exhibition centre, problems evaporate, romance springs eternal, and the old words of that triumphally optimistic song float, if that is the right word, through the brain. "Hey fiddle-di- dee, a sailor's life for me/ A big cigar, a fancy car, that's the life for me."
The move east from the London International Boat Show's old Earl's Court home is now well-established. There are now some boats, moored Southampton- style, on the water alongside the public attraction of HMS Sutherland. And while there may be still a "club" of old lags to meet at the Guinness bar, none of them wear yellow wellies any more. Most of them either already have boats, or have resolved never to own one again. There is now a new group of pilgrims, some from not far up the Docklands Light Railway, looking far more serious.
The idea of owning a boat without going afloat is not a very clever idea, unless it is a restoration project or museum piece. Yet it is when they are afloat that boats take the most punishment. The sea, as we all know, tends to have waves, which are made worse when there is a decent-enough breeze to drive along a sailing boat. The result is like driving a car down a road with hundreds of speed bumps. At speed. Anything over 20mph and water can be very hard. Everything in the boat is given a fittings-threatening experience with a bone-shaking bang every few seconds.
Both car and boat owners are used to their possessions arousing envy when sitting still, being admired in a pristine state. But, once in use, a car has a much easier time of it. Especially if the boat is given a regular soaking in dollops of briny. This is why many folk choose the freshwater options. Inland lakes, rivers and canals are a lot more benign and tend to have better hostelries within easy access. But they are not as adventurous: they do not stir the blood of a seafaring people.
Boats can also deplete a bank account much faster than four wheels. They have a bewildering variety of electronic toys and bolt- on gizmos to add to your credit-card account. And even if you cannot afford the whole enchilada, you can certainly look the part. There are clothes to swagger in, clothes to swelter in and clothes to suffer in.
But going afloat doesn't have to be a wallet-shredding experience. If you don't want to buy a boat you can charter one when you want it, at home or abroad. If you don't want to risk being lost at sea alone you can join a flotilla party, and, even if you do decide to buy, everything is on hand here to set up a partnership to find the finance.
For this show, the arena, that part of the Docklands venue which has often hosted boxing matches, has been filled with water. …