Anchors Aweigh at the London Boat Show

Sam Kessler (Online Editor)
Marine-loving Londoners flock to the docklands for the 62nd annual boat show

London’s ExCel centre isn’t exactly the most glamorous of locations – convention centres never are – but this week the docklands’ played host to the ever-glamorous London Boat Show. Even if it’s not quite Monaco, this week has seen many of the world’s most important names in boats and yachting come together for a particularly impressive 62nd annual show.

Opened last Friday by Made in Chelsea star Lucy Watson – herself a keen boating enthusiast - the ExCel and surrounding stretch of Thames-side landscape held nearly 400 vessels from various makers and manufactures.

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Sound tracked to the dulcet melodies of the Overtones – and with the occasional pirate stalking the very un-oceanic landscape – there was plenty to explore, from the beautiful Princess Yachts to the more niche components like the Raymarine QUANTUM CHIRP Pulse Compressor radar. It goes without saying that we were slightly more interested in the former.

There were far too many boats to see everything, though the indisputable highlight has to be the breath-taking Aquariva Super. It might not have been the largest boat there, but it didn’t need to be. It’s been called by a few people the Bentley of the Sea and that’s not far short of the truth. If there were ever a Bentley Boat, it would have the same wood-panelled, leather-clad, beautifully glossy style.

There was the chance to see it in action, cruising along the riverside. It wasn’t the only one of course; thankfully there was enough wind to keep many of the sailboats circling, though probably a bit more sedate than the team from Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) were used to in their competitions. If guests wanted a taste of the experience, all they had to do was try out the team’s virtual sailing simulator. It was the only time we’re ever going to get to steer an AC45 catamaran.

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The dockside itself held plenty to look at besides Sunseeker’s magnificent 131, additions that captivated lovers of classic yachts. The iconic and historically-important Massey Shaw, resorted sailing barge Melissa and the Spirit of Falmouth, a replica wooden schooner commandeers by ex-servicemen were all superb to watch.

The 60s were pretty much the golden era of boating, with many current boats seeking to recapture the decade’s Hollywood glamour and Riviera chic. It was also the decade in which Sir Francis Chichester became the first person to sail singlehanded around the world by the clipper route. It’s no surprise then that an entire part of the London Boat Show was devoted to a 1960s revival.

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A Fairey Huntsman 28, an Amphicar, a Riva Junior and a Mirror Dinghy (restored, incidentally by the drummer of the Arctic Monkeys), along with a fittingly vintage setting immersed visitors in a old-timey boating atmosphere and, even if it was impossible to mistake the decade we’re in, it was a charming throwback to an era of elegance. The grounded addition of an original Jaguar E-Type, beautifully restored by the Splined Hub – one of the most beautiful racers ever built – certainly helped proceedings.

Thoughts of luxury boating don’t often bring up images of the docklands or even the UK. More likely they conjure up the sun sparkling of clear blue water along the Mediterranean coast. It’s an ideal not lost on the organisers of the London Boat Show.

A purpose-built indoor pool stretching across 500sqm acted as a tranquil Mediterranean bay - complete with its own coastal village – made far less calm with an array of water sports demonstrations. While we were reticent to jump in ourselves, plenty of others were rigorously testing canoes and dinghies.

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There was also a chance to try our hands at unenviable task of mooring up in a typically tight Mediterranean berth. All we can say is that next time we’re in the Med, we’ll be leaving the steering to the skipper.

As great as it was to get up close to many of the vessels on show, it was just as exciting to hear from the many expert speakers that took to the stage throughout the show. On the 15th, those speakers were Peter Brown from superyacht authority Burgess, Bill Dixon from Dixon Yacht Design and Justin Olesinski from Olesinski, three of the most important figures in the industry, who held a competition to find some local design talent.

After 36 hours of drawing and a few more of deliberating, the award - and an internship at the famous Pendennis Shipyards - was presented to Dastinas Steponenas, a final year student from Coventry University.

Needless to say, after the exertion at the helm, not to mention the hard graft of exploring the best the boating world has to offer, a glass of champagne was a necessity. We were more than happy therefore to head on over to the Sunseeker champagne bar.

Housed at the heart of the show, the bar flanked by the manufacturer’s 131 flagship was an oasis of effervescent calm amid oceans of visitors, a glass of Laurent Perrier a much-needed respite. After all, the show covered the equivalent of six full-sized football fields; after that much exercise it was the least we deserved.

There's still time to get down to the London Boat Show this weekend. CLICK HERE to make an enquiry.

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