The Earls Court Boat Show was different, and parts of it were quite fun. But for me it was not quite worth the entry fee


Visiting Earls Court for a boat show again was a weird experience in so many ways. For one thing I was there without a formal task other than to look around. But it was the strange sense that it was just the same only entirely different that took some getting used to.

This was not the place to see and compare boats and equipment, or even to buy anything much. But it was about having an enjoyable day out based on a boaty theme.

So the wakeboard demo was fun, the fashion show was enteraining and the display of classic 8m yachts was delightful as was the traditional boatbuilding stand and the coracle being paddled about the brilliant inland waterways. The display of early speedboats and ancient outboard motors on the otherwise almost deserted upper floor was well worth half and hour. The ice skating and rock climbing were amusing fillers.

This side of the show was well done, different and exactly what’s been conspicuously lacking from Excel.

But where were all the discount chandlers, where was Nauticalia; where were the stalls selling boaty Christmas presents and stocking fillers? And where were all the small boats and small businesses which people said they missed at Excel and who were supposed to have been squeezed out of that commercial big-boat bunfight? Yes, there were a few medium-sized boats: Comet, Hanse and Select Yachts (Hunter and Cornish Crabbers) were exhibiting together with a small number of dinghies. EC2 was full of small and medium-sized power boats but there was only one electronics stand that I saw and precious few showing general boaty equipment. As an affordable antidote to Excel I’m afraid it was well short of the mark.

But, of course, this was a first attempt. Whyte & MacKay and the organisers must take credit for getting the show on at all against powerful opposition and widespread scepticism. But the commercial facts of life are that there is no room for two boat shows either side of Christmas. Excel is not designed for, nor does it have the space to absorb the sort of displays Earls Court was offering. And the depressing irony for Earls Court is that should it succeed in putting Excel out of business, all the boat builders will pour back west and all the good bits will be squeezed out.

I fear that, as things stand, there is no room for the sort of show Earls Court could, at its best, become. In another town at another time? Maybe.