The show has gone on

Surfacing from the Underground at Earls Court it was difficult to know, at first, whether the hallowed halls were exhibiting the wonders of distilling or sailing. Whisky was galore – all along the tube station entrance and draped over the exhibition hall’s facade. But not a boat was there on the entrance courtyard. Once inside I wandered on the first floor through a portmanteau of corridors trying to find the press office – which I did, after 15 minutes. Another hack with me said: ‘I hadn’t felt any nostalgia until now.’

Once down among the action I fought my way through jungles of wet suits, and rack loads of surf boards and was beginning to feel this was a show for a splinter group of humanity called youth until I came across the majestic rigs of the 8 metre classics – Truant, gaff and Ierne, Marconi rig. They are to race each other for the first time in a century later this year. They were being chaperoned by men in kilts and it struck me that the kilt must be the perfect sailing trousers, simply lift up when you need to sit on a wet dinghy’s thwart, and drop down once you’ve dried off.

Next came the chastening group of battered small boats which have been rowed across various oceans. Some, poignantly, were semi-wrecked and sported legends which told how their occupants had been ‘lost at sea’. Among them was the James Caird, the whaler which carried Shackleton and four others to safety. To actually be able to touch the topside of a boat I had revered as a child while reading her story at a winter’s fireside was surreal.

Gipsy Moth IV was there, too, still rocking even in a Central London swimming pool as visitors alinged her narrow decks. ‘No need to take your shoes off,’ yelled her project manager John Walsh, to an awed visitor, ‘we’re not one of those poncy yachts.’

It’s a good show, but feels a little diminished from the Boat Shows of yore. In the terminology of a magazine design guru there is ‘a little too much white space.’ But I’m sure James Brooke and his team will fill that up given time. One punter said to me:’They say you should never go back: and that’s right, I should never have come back.’ But that may say more about his life than that on show at Earls Court. An exhibitor told me: ‘Look I’m just a small business, I can’t afford ExCel, but I can show here. There’s absolutely no reason why there cannot be two shows.’

Well this year there is.