Our blogger cleans up at the Southampton Boat Show!

I always enjoy the Southampton Boat Show. I still have a childhood memory of the excitement of Earl’s Court when, taken along as company for my best friend, we gawped from the balcony at the sawn-off masts of gigantic ’26 footers’ bobbing so far below. Everything looked so big when you were knee high to a grasshopper, but even so when we now see a 26′ yacht it looks like a shrimp besides the ‘starter’ 42′ whale alongside it – how fashions change!

Carol and I initially frequented the Excel Boat Show, but the journey from Malvern (encompassing the M25 orbital parking lot) became too off-putting for us country bumpkins and for the last few years we have switched allegiance to the excellent Southampton Boat Show. The journey down is much less stressful, and skirts what my father used to call ‘the foetid south’ – by which I think he meant the southeast corner of the UK, though I’m sure he only coined the phrase to irritate my brother who lives near Guildford. Indeed, en route we now suppress our city phobia further by bypassing Southampton altogether and end up on the opposite side of Southampton Water near Hythe where, after a comfortable night in the camper, we wake fresh and relaxed, ready to pay our £5 parking fee before taking the world’s oldest pier train for the 700 yard trip to the pier-head’s deep water where the Hythe Ferry awaits us. The enjoyment thus far experienced is only slightly marred by the boat show organiser’s insistence that once across the water one has to walk right round the site to the main entrance at the opposite end, but such is life.

Oh, but when inside, we feel like children in a sweet shop. In fact, the danger is that the breadth of merchandise is so enticing that ones budget is easily exceeded by the time the second bridge is crossed. I was very careful to keep to my list and hold the Indoor Dragon (ID for short) on a tight leash from the start. Even so, she escaped and melted my credit card with a £200 folding ladder platform arrangement – ‘it’s just what I’ve always wanted and aspired to’. Come on, get real – a ladder? I married a very strange girl, but I’m not sure such things are necessary during a Welsh Valleys upbringing.

We enjoyed chatting to the friendly exhibitors all ready to impart their knowledge and experience. There were some disappointments – I had hoped to find a NASA stand to get advice on why my Navtex has stopped working – I shall just have to phone instead – and we were told that the excellent Boaties square frypan is now too expensive to stock, though another stand sold me one for a mere £17.50. We had hoped to buy another Duvalay, but the purveyor of these excellent mattress/duvet combos was absent. But we had successes too – I found my chosen high capacity bilge pump replacement (I have managed to burn out two Supersub models by poor installation – the new Whale Gulper 320 will overcome the problem. Hopefully). The ID wanted a hatch blind as the dawn light woke her too early after our recent change in sleeping orientation – after much investigation, we were delighted to find a cheap removable option that needed no holes drilling – always an ID priority. My final purchase was the new Icom IC-M25EURO floating handheld VHF radio complete with remote mike – ideal for the grab bag or dinghy, and containing a Li-ion battery rechargeable by a USB lead. And all at very good ‘boat show’ prices.

After such fiscal drainage it was time to refuel and relax – and I was in the ID’s good books when I suggested the superior RYA lounge, where we enjoyed ‘proper food’, good service, and comfortable seats far away from the hustle and bustle of boat show life. When we finally emerged into the hot sunny afternoon (we had successfully timed lunch to shelter from some threatening black clouds), the Red Arrows announced the start of their display with a low fly past, then followed it with a staggeringly precise demonstration of airborne entertainment. Our favourite was the crossed heart smoke trail that was left hovering in the air – old romantics.

The rest of our visit was spent in MOB recovery research – Carol and I are doing one of the presentations at the Cruising Association’s MOB symposium on November 7th. The RNLI’s strap line of ‘1 in 8 sailors fall overboard’ drew us in, and we shared a useful discourse with them. We were then were inspired by the revolutionary (get it?) Pontos 4 speed Trimmer winch. Their team patiently explained the winch’s workings to the ID (who does not ‘do’ engineering), who duly announced after a trial winding demonstration ‘why – it’s all just intuitive – you just wind’ to the beams of the salesmen. I was sold. I want one – or rather two, because they are best fitted one each side. The upgrade justification is not only to reduce the strain on my arthritic shoulder, but also to be a boon for MOB recovery, possibly even rendering a handybilly unnecessary unless vast weights such as mine are involved. And any concerns about having to electrify my genoa winches have also been laid to rest.

All in all, we had a great day, but I am well aware that we only skimmed the surface of all that is on offer. We did not set foot on one boat, did not see any entertainment or listen to any presentation, and did not even venture onto the pontoons. Next time, a two day visit? I’ll have difficulty selling that one to the ID…

But talking about selling, I left my best bit till last. No boat show visit is complete without the purchase of an expensive and unnecessary toy – and this year Crusader Sails’ Lees brothers provided the temptation. A mizzen staysail. If you’ve got a ketch, flaunt it – and this sail, filling the gap between the mizzen and main masts, is a needless luxury. So why buy one? It won’t make much difference to our speed, but will look pretty and, like Everest, we have to have one because it’s there. I was allowed it because I had already satiated the ID’s heights of ladder love, which I suppose makes it even more of a cost.

Nevertheless, when you visit the coast of Wales next season watch out for Aurial as she cruises gently by, wafted along on a broad reach by her full quota of four sails when three would be ample. Beware – that’s what boat shows do for you…