Like boat shows I've been to everywhere, the Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show looked like a construction zone yesterday, dotted with dozens of feverish workers in yellow high-visibility vests putting their stands, and in some cases their boats, together for the show opening this morning. Stands for Princess, Sunseeker, Fairline and other major builders were looking well-established, but elsewhere there were boxes, cables, and protective plastic coverings.
I was on hand to work with the U.K. crew from Boats.com's sister site, YachtWorld.com, as they put together the biggest Broker Village display yet arranged. On top of some three dozen yacht brokerages listings for more than 900 power and sailboats, our stand holds the debut section for the site's YachtWorldCharters.com members. Manual collating of paper listings is a bit slower than searching on the site itself, but we made good progress by the time we knocked off late in the afternoon.
That's when this boat show began to look a bit different than others I've attened. Instead of the usual beer and pretzels exhibitors' party, several of our team joined other members of the British Marine Federation for a quiet and somewhat more formal dinner in the Westminster district.
Not only did we emerge from the Tube station under the impressive gaze of Big Ben, but we then walked directly into the Houses of Parliament (after security inspections, mind you). Photos weren't allowed past the entrance hall, but suffice to say, the inside of the place has its share of sculpture, wood carvings, and artwork. Under the gaze of monarchs and prime ministers of the past, we toured the House of Lords and House of Commons and even passed through the "'No' Lobby" and learned about the very analog voting system still in place today at the House of Commons.
During dinner, I learned from Rob Stevens, the BMF's executive director, that the boat show had been budgeted for a 15 percent size reduction this year, and that its budgets had been met. There's been a 30-year snow epidemic in England in the last week, so he was keeping his fingers crossed that the crowds would make it, but otherwise he seemed confident that the show was ready to demonstrate a positive step for boat buyers and boat manufacturers after a very difficult year shared by all.
The official host of the BMF dinner was Richard Ottaway MP, an avid sailor who races quite successfully in the Daring class out of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. When I spoke with him about his boating plans for the season ahead, he pointed out that he hoped to get re-elected first, but then admitted he'd been looking at a couple of boats at YachtWorld.com. Not that he was going to sell his Daring, of course, but a larger boat might be needed to take more friends along.
We were treated to a great after-dinner speech by Phil Packer, a Sergeant Major in the Royal Military Police. After suffering a spinal cord injury in a Basra rocket attack, Packer has not only gotten back on his feet when he was told he never would, he's raised 1.3 million pounds for charities by rowing the English Channel, skydiving and completing a marathon on crutches, the latter in 14 days! Packer described his next plan, which is to retire from the service and devote full time to a 15 million pound project, the British Inspiration Trust. His plan is to build a facility in West Sussex and provide opportunity for hundreds of youths, 15 to 25, to learn about and engage in a wide variety of pursuits, including nautical and marine. More on this later. For now, it's show time.