2017 Atlanta Boat Show debuts latest and greatest in aquatic vessels

Story by photos Nancy E. Spraker

The latest Atlanta Boat Show at the World Congress Center in January exhibited 15 percent more boats than the last three shows. More than 600 boats dazzled southeastern mariners with more sails poking above rows of motor yachts. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), producer of the show, says “recreational boating is seeing some of its healthiest gains in nearly a decade.”
With the improving economy, the organization expects the upturn to continue into 2018. This year’s trends include larger cruising boats, intuitive marine technology like joystick steering and shared boat ownership.

More affordable and versatile small boats are luring a new generation to fun on the water as well. With its enormous array of boats, educational seminars, a bass tub, sailboat and powerboat simulators, Miss Geico Offshore Racing Boat, a Lotus Submarine car, the island vibes of Frankendread’s calypso, soca and steel pan music, the Atlanta Boat Show was a good value. Despite competing with the Falcons’ playoff game, many attended.
A boat show would be nothing without great boats, great ideas and great people, and this year’s show was no exception. At each turn, something caught your eye and friendly folks were eager to share knowledge and information. Take the Windcraft Multihulls booth. Don Wigston proudly showed off his Corsair Pulse 600 trimaran with folding floats, a mast that rolls up the mainsail, furling jib and reverse sheer bows. He tells me that these bows, with their longest point underwater, “skim better.” The new 760 is available soon. Designed in France and manufactured in Viet Nam, these boats are very sporty.
A 420 sailboat was around the corner at the Lake Lanier Sailing Club’s booth. The Jacksons and LLSC waterfront director, Alex Padgett displayed lake sunsets shot from their lawn. It is one of the best views on the lake. An aerial shot included their peninsula dedicated to junior sailing. Wonderful Brian Clark video of racing highlighted what the club is known for.
An immense fan next to a Walker Bay sailing dinghy appeared at the next stop. Lightweight Judy James turned on the fan and demonstrated broad reaches and jibes on a sailing simulator without a hitch. Her husband, Captain Rob, pitched American Sailing Association courses to me. He’s an advanced Coastal Cruising instructor.
Can’t pass Barefoot Sailing Club by. Another Brian Clark video highlighted its cruising and racing, Lobster Boil and annual Barefoot Open Regatta. Commodore Joyce McIntosh reminded passersby of the club’s affordability. First year’s dues include a free sailing course. A passing smart aleck wisecracked, “Hey, you’re Barefooters but you’re wearing shoes!”
Next was the Fred Shed seminar on ethanol in gas. Larry Jenc explained that 10 percent is the cutoff for ethanol content in gas, marinas sell gas without ethanol and diesel is highly recommended when cruising internationally. It’s more readily available, and outside the U.S., gasoline is dirty. Ongoing seminars in sailing, fishing and boating safety were also held during the show.
After class, a catamaran with pedals in its cockpit beckoned. Kurt Welch, who just purchased it from Outside World, explained that his pedal-and-sail-propelled Hobie Tandem Islander has forward and reverse pins, too. He plans to sail his craft on Carter Lake, then sail in the 300-mile Everglades Challenge.
Beyond the Islander loomed the sexy, sleek hull of a 34-foot Beneteau from St. Barts Yachts of Charleston. Its roomy cockpit had two enormous wheels, and below deck its well-heeled cabin boasted two heads with a spacious aft cabin. Bonafide windows, not tiny portholes, provide plenty of natural light. The only large sailing vessel at the show, it was a beauty.

Chuck Laughlin of St. Barts said that land shows are more expensive for him than in-the-water shows. Hopefully the rows of large sailboats from past years will return soon.
On the way to the food court, Scott Randall demonstrated the Power Squadron’s Boating Simulator. It had a steering wheel and a Mercury throttle that drove a 20-foot console boat in all conditions and skill levels. Past the simulator, a bass-stocked aquarium full of bass lay waiting for casting demonstrations.
A more sedate, but nonetheless, curious vessel was the James Bond Lotus Esprit Submarine Car complete with a revolving license tag, periscope and fins.  The replica of the original from the 1977 Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me” travels on land and sea. It’s driven onto Lake Lanier  several times.
Sandwiched between all the fiberglass and aluminum hulls, the mahogany sheen of the Grand-Craft was a standout. It’s a 26-foot classic runabout ready to pick up lake residents for a dinner out at the Ritz-Carlton or Lake Lanier Islands.
A stroll down Entrepreneur Alley did not disappoint. MixItUp of Memphis greeted me with wine slushes made with both white and red. The one-ounce samples were quite potent, so an Air Chair was a great place to sit it out. Made from canvas, rope and wood, the chairs suspend from rigging and are very relaxing. The Bum Float, at a nearby booth, serves the same purpose in the water. It straps around your derriere for hands-free flotation.
Strapped in a Bum Float you might transport yourself to an Aqua Bar. The sturdy boat-shaped foam float holds all manners of libation with snacks and a cooler, all shaded by an umbrella. It can be tethered to the bottom of the lake or pool with its own anchor.
It’s amazing that lakes in the south stock themselves with saltwater fish. Captain David Hare of Lake Martin’s Alex City Guide Service says his lake drops 250,000 into the lake each year. He says the saltwater stripe fish “grows big and gives a good fight.” Growing up to 54 inches long and 60 pounds, they can live 30 years. Two stripe heads were sticking out of his cooler at his booth.
Some of the most unique watercraft at the show were at Robert Rothley’s Leisure Lifestyle Products booth. He specializes in vessels under 20-foot that are virtually maintenance-free. This year he showed off his HydroBikes, Mini Pontoon Boats, Aqua Cycles and Ultraskiffs. The HydroBike is a floating bike, the Mini Pontoon Boat fishing boat is only 14-foot and the Ultraskiff, another fishing boat, is round and can be rolled into the water. The Aqua Cycle is a pedal-powered pontoon boat. Rothley gives free test rides and delivers purchases to the owner’s dock. One test ride location is at the Port Royale Marina on Lake Lanier.

Eagles Nest Outfitters of Asheville was the final stop with a swing in their Eno hammock. Eric Dahlgren shared a few pointers for a hammock purchased at Barefoot Sailing Club’s silent auction. We said our goodbyes and that was that. Inspired, I walked into a balmy, moonlit night with much anticipation for a new boating season on Lake Lanier.

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