Credit due at the Court

After all the hype it was a surreal experience to walk back in to Earls Court and find a credible new boat show ready and waiting. I’ve got to admit that there were a number of occasions when I thought it was never going to happen. The last time was only a matter of weeks before the event was due to open. I’d made the trip over to Earls Court to meet with James Brooke, the instigator of the whole project, to find out what he had in store for us.

I’d expected to find an army of planners and contractors buzzing around the exhibition halls with lists, floorplans and stand designs as James held court like a monarch in waiting. What I actually found were two vast empty halls and an exhausted and surprisingly timid bloke with a haunted look in his eyes. He did his best to explain his vision for the show but when I pushed him for details of exhibitor lists and attractions, I was surprised by the lack of finite substance. I genuinely thought he might have bitten off more than he could chew.

I am pleased to admit that I was wrong. The Earls Court show wasn’t perfect, far from it, but it was there. So was James Brooke, looking slightly uncomfortable as he stumbled through his opening speech about the iconic Earls Court venue with its “flooded Olympic swimming fool” (sic). I caught up with him a few hours later at the Whyte & Mackay bar and the look of relief on his face was almost palpable. He was there with his wife and kids enjoying the event just like the archetypal boating family he was hoping the show would attract.

Those who did come seemed to enjoy it. Attractions like the wakeboarding pool, where teenagers with board shorts around their ankles leapt from one overgrown paddling pool to the next while showering onlookers with their wake, provided real entertainment for family members more interested in a fun day out than snapping up a cheap pair of mooring lines.

It could have done with a few more boats and a lot more visitors to fill out the optimistically wide walkways and eclectic mix of exhibitors, but in a strange way that’s also what made it so appealing. Those who did go could browse at their leisure, exhibitors welcomed passers-by onto their stands like passing royalty, and small-boat manufactures – who barely even get noticed at larger boat shows – were suddenly the big fish in a much smaller pond. I asked one exhibitor of US sportsboats and cruisers whether he’d be back again next year and his reply summed it up rather neatly: “Yes, but only if Sunseeker promise not to come.”