Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vancouver Boat Show 2014

It’s been almost 25 years since I began going to the Vancouver Boat Show.  A half million dollars and more in boats and accessories later.  So much of that I first saw here and often bought then or the following year.
I enjoy most that first look at the main floor.  There are all the new boats, shiny bright, polished, just begging for a buyer.   I’ve had my offshore sailboat since the 80’s, rounded Vancouver Island a couple of times, sailed to the Charlottes, down to Mexico, solo winter sailed to Hawaii, sailed the Hawaian Islands then returning with a crew, jerry rigging a mast after mine broke half way across the Pacific.  Since then it’s been more of the glorious Gulf Islands.  I love sailing to Victoria, Desolation Sound, Saltspring, Montague. We have so many incredible protected harbours along this coast.  No wonder the Vancouver Boat Show is such a big event here in boaters wonderland.

I enjoyed meeting Eric Molendyk (Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation,, with the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia ( (604-6886464).  We work together at the Old Electric Building but I never knew he was a sailor.  Probably that goes with the stigma of a wheelchair.  We always underestimate the disabled.  I volunteered for a week with these extraordinary courageous men and women who sail in races off Jerricho Beach each summer.  They are the best of folk, greatest of sportsmen. All the help they need is someone working the hoist to get them into their boats. Then they’re off doing amazing sailing with more guts and strategy than the best of us able bodied racers. They're always glad to have sailor volunteers. The atmosphere is so much better than that in regular races because there’s just more ‘fun’ involved and never so much ego. These women and men are competitive but know more than anyone about competing with themselves, surpassing the limits of accident and birth, all the while having a good time while they are at it.

After looking at all the beautiful boats, I talked to the folk with Yanmar Engines. I’ve had a Yanmar for a quarter century and it’s been the most reliable engine.  My ‘iron jenny’ as we sailors like to call them. My Yanmar has been more reliable in the Strait of Georgia than the wind.  Invariably when I cross the Strait there’s no wind so I am forever using my engine on the outward bound trip, only to have all the wind I could want on the return.  If I get wind going out there’s no wind coming home.   In the old days the sailors could wait but weekend English Bay and Strait of Georgia sailors depend on the engine to get them back to work in the city.  I also use my Yanmar for trolling and have caught so many scrumptious salmon just motoring along with a Scotty down rigger dragging my hook behind the boat.

The accessory floor is boaters heaven. All the latest advances in materials and equipment is reaching out for your wallet as you walk about that ‘toy store’.  A lot of its fashion too.  One just ‘needs’ to get the latest Musto jackets. Then there’s all the fine cooking ware and the incredible footwear.  I’ve bought GPS, radios, radars, depth sounders, barbecues and all manner of paraphernalia here in past years. The prices are the lure. Boat Show prices are the best.

I can’t get by Stevestons without stopping. I miss the old man (he's my age).  I used to go to Stevestons because he always welcomed me personally and asked me about my sailing. I've bought so much equipment, epoxy and paints there.  He guaranteed his staff were the most knowledge, like the years he had offshore sailor Eric, there.  But now it’s the son.  The Old man and I have grown old.  He knows me as a ‘good customer’. We had that ‘relationship’ and ‘trust’.  Steveston has ‘good product’ but I don’t know these young people.  The son isn’t the father or the uncle.  He’s got that love of the rich man feel.  Thanks to the hard work of his father’s generation he’s been raised in the lap of luxury.  No doubt a good man. But not his father.  I think the father and uncle got their respect from the commercial fishermen they first served and made a name with. They served the early offshore blue water community. Those were the days when equipment failure caused death and the old men of Steveston knew the commercial fishermen and us blue water sailors personally and would suffer themselves if anything befell us.
Today it’s more about business and volume sales.  The majority of sailors don’t leave English Bay and the fishing fleets aren’t what they used to be.  How can you tell a person's getting old, they talk about the good ole days.  But I swear by all the good equipment I bought at Stevestons. I put it to the test in northern winter storms and am forever thankful for the care and concern the old man gave me and those like me.  People who depend on their boats to keep them alive because they're out and beyond where dragons dwell and no human has gone before.  In those places of sea monsters, aliens and superstition when just getting through the night is all that matters I've been so thankful for quality gear and good advice.    
I don’t have children to pass on to. Theirs is one of the truly great families of Vancouver. Someday a book will be written of the accomplishments of the brothers and businesses they built through relationship and caring.  They have offered so much to the boating community.  I love that their children are following in the huge footsteps of the parents.  My friend, Ganesh,  is introducing his son to the family gold business and occasionally pulling out his hair at ‘youth’.  That son is as cherished and loved as sons can be.  My brother cares more than anything for his sons. Parents simply can’t protect them forever or teach them all the hard lessons they learned to succeed.  It's all about relationships.    Old men want so much for their sons. My father did with me.  Even at 94 when he was dying he was trying to pass on the lessons of life he’d learned but feared I would not learn in time.  There’s never enough time.
Nostalgia is that way.  We’re old men and one day some old man who won’t even know his father will be saying of his son that he’s not like his father.   The sea is old. It's been there for longer than all of us and will be there that much longer.  It requires respect.   We all loved Hemmingway's, Old Man the Sea because it captured something of that.  That's also why we say, if you haven't found religion, you'd best go to sea.
I don’t buy anything here on this floor, today. I’ve Iridium satellite phones and life boats and the latests in safety equipment.  I was looking for a surface air supply but learned from one of the old guys the makers have not come to the boat show for a few years.  He told me how I could find them on line.  It’s a compact air generator that has a tube that allows you to go 30 feet down without tanks and scuba gear. It makes cleaning boats and snorkelling effortless.  I’ll look on line.  The Boatshow wasn’t thought to survive with all the on line options but this year it’s thriving mainly because of the relationships and dreamers.
I met with a friend who’d sold his boat. We both were finding it was costing more and more with less and less joy.  Among boaters its always a love hate relationship. Then one day  you hear of a the mistress or wife (i.e. the boat) being sold and some other fellow seeing all the possibilities and loving the incredible second hand deals available in the boat world.  But those deals come with whatever was the reason we were letting go of the thing in the first place. Craig’s List abounds with boaters nightmares. So we all love the shiny new well engineered and safe certainties that are at the boat show. I actually looked at a new gadget once to see what it was supposed to work like before I 'fixed' it worse than it was before I broke it.
I said hello to the beautiful and amazingly accomplished Liza Coupland. I’ve read all her extraordinary books of her families offshore sailing trips in their magnificent Beneteau boats.  She and her husband know more about cruising than anyone and his knowledge of boats is staggering.
Anthony Dalton, that grand adventurer and writer was at the table of BC Authors.  I bought his Amazing Stories, Sir John Franklin book and his new novel, Relentless Pursuit. As a former expedition leader he’s now giving seminars on Cruise Ships and enjoying the luxury. We laughed  reminiscing about days of youthful hardship and how much we look for easier ways to avoid those days of steep learning curves.
I’d just talked with the folk at LateSail, the worldwide discounted yacht charters. I figured I could fly somewhere for $1500 then rent a 36 foot sailboat for $1-3000 a week and avoid the trials of long passages.  Alternatively I admit I've been looking at Cruise Ships like Anthony seminars on because there's a whole lot to be said about being 'crew' after one has been captain of ones own ship for so many years.  I don't regret the adventure and experience but today I'm just not as excited about double reefing a sail in a stiff blow in northern winter seas.  What a rush at the time though.  Maybe....
I did get caught up in the new electronics and had to convince myself that what I have will satisfy me another year. I’d only bought my  latest floating VHS hand held radio with beacon a couple of years back.  I liked that the Coast Guard and RCAF had booths. The water is so much safer than it was only decades back thanks to these amazing folk.  I also like SeaTow Insurance and have used them for more than a decade.
There was a place to take the boating license there too.   But it just takes reading a pamphlet and paying a minimum fee and then one can rent the boats at Granville Island or drive a million dollar yacht bought at the Boat Show.  Us boaters just want everyone to know what the navigational signs mean and who has right of way. If you know than you can get a boater's license. It's not rocket science.
I stopped at Coopers too. That’s where I took my first Basic Sailing Course and later Coastal Navigation courses, celestial navigation and such. I love to thank them. They were the best teachers and all the basics they taught me proved so true for the advanced knowledge I built on it with my own offshore solo sailing. A lot of people like Power and Sail but I swear by Coopers. More than once what they taught me early days saved my life and crew years later. I saw the Blue Water Cruising Association booth but didn't recognize the fellow there. It's been years since I was on the executive and I don't recognize many of the new people.  I loved when I first began and all the people who had sailed solo around the world and the families like Liza Couplands who'd sailed for years offshore were there. They inspired me to sail offshore and I thank them for the knowledge that helped me cross oceans in a little boat.
The real space age item, the Boat Show usually has a few cutting edge moments. This year it was the underwater one man Transformer like suit.  Incredible. Now that's the ideal way to stroll along the bottom of the ocean then skip up to the waiting boat above.  Beats even what James Bond had.  I couldn't help but think of Colonel Hadfield when I saw it.
Thank you Vancouver Boat show for a great afternoon of dreaming. It’s a joy to see the hope for the world in the amazing work of engineers and designers and the awesome sales personnel who bring these extraordinary space age creations down to the real world of everyday folk.  The million dollar yachts might not be in our budget after Christmas spending but the canoes, dinghies and kayaks are available for anyone. I started my boating life white water canoeing in northern Ontario when I was a student with little more than pennies to rub together.  The Vancouver Boat Show has something for everyone.  It sure has a lot of great memories for me and more dreams to come.
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