Seattle Boat Show: Heaven or Hell (2 Perspectives)


Rob and Lucy at the boat show

Rob's Perspective:

Well boys and girls, this is story of a kid in a candy store!

The story begins when we decided to attend the Seattle boat show. This is a place where buyers and sellers of all things nautical come to meet. You have $1.2 million dollar boats in the same vicinity as composting toilets, books, electronics, gadgets, and gizmos. And we got full access “Willy Wonka Golden Tickets” to see the whole darn thing! Or as much as we could stand.

Willie Wonka Golden Ticket

The first day was a little overwhelming since we didn’t know (quite literally) anything starting with where to park. In general, parking in Seattle is a nightmare and to top it off an oversized truck is like night terrors. Granted our truck is only a little taller than your average size parking garage but a couple of inches is all it took so we spent the next hour driving around desperately looking for a place to park. Which, it turned out, was right in front of the exact spot where the boat show was taking place. Great, right? Except that “great” spot came with a not so “great” price. Anyway that driving around took up precious time, and we were missing the boat show!

For all ya’ll that don’t regularly attend boat shows in addition to all the boat stuff they also have seminars (lots and lots of seminars!) which was a big reason we came to the boat show. We want to learn as much as we can about boats and boat related stuff. And, boys and girls, they have seminars about everything you could imagine: from anchoring to provisioning, and water skiing to fishing. There were even a few about sailing! I bet you can imagine my distress of being an hour late on the first day, running through the boat show to seminar that, as it turns out, will be repeated a couple more times that week. What a newbie mistake!

Classes ran from about 10am until 7 pm and with cryptic class titles we didn’t always know exactly what the class would be about. For example, “Tips and Tricks for Cruising” ended up being one long sales pitch for a book the presenter had written, and “Safety at Sea” was a sales pitch for their very own product line of “Man Over Board” beacons. After some experience in reading between the lines we started to figure it out and found better classes.

Us holding up electronic flares

A lot of the info they presented we already knew, but some was totally new and some just left us wondering what the hell did we get ourselves into??? We came to the boat show looking for information and boy oh boy did we find an avalanche of it! Just when we thought we had kinda figured something out, the next class would throw a curve ball leaving us wondering what else we didn’t know! I think this is best described with a visual…picture a grizzly bear in a river catching salmon. The water is the information and the salmon are tidbits that we would pick out. The trick is to let enough information wash over you until you can figure things out.

Grizzly Bear "Gone Fishing" from First People website

So…the kid and the candy store, remember him? Well there I was, sitting through seminar after seminar, with all this information just washing over me. The presenters ranged from highly acclaimed professionals to barely intelligible foreign scientists. It seemed, at times, a lot like sitting in class: listening intently at times, taking notes, and fighting to stay awake. One of the best parts for me though were the fact that there no tests and no home work! Unless, of course, you consider that someday we might be 1,000 miles from land trying to decide whether the clouds on the horizon is a squall or a tropical depression forming. Oh and then the engine won’t start, and then you smell smoke and your main sail just ripped in half. CRAP! Now where did I bury my class notes??? (crap! crap! crap!) Thank god it was just “pass or fail”?!?

Now might be a good time to mention that this is exactly why we practice what we learn over and over before we leave the dock.

All in all I thought the boat show was great. I learned as much as I could stand and I loved all the practical knowledge the presenters passed on--most of which was gleamed from their own trial and error. That is what I think I love most about what we are doing--it’s just trial and error, and as long as the boat doesn’t sink it’s all good!

Stock photo of a happy kid in a candy store

Lucy's Perspective:

Boat shows are places full of boats, boat product vendors, boat enthusiasts, and educators. We have been to several now,--the San Francisco “Strictly Sail” weekend boat show several years ago was our first and it was fun. The weather was California sunny, the vendors were friendly, and the educational seminars were fascinating covering all sorts of topics ranging from sailing to sex on a boat. We also met Lyn and Larry Party who are legends in the cruising world and bought many of their books (which they autographed for us) and DVDs.

When the Seattle Boat Show came around this year we signed up to go—all eight days. It was held in downtown Seattle’s Century Link Event Center and had four massive wings of vendors and seven seminar rooms with a blistering schedule of seminars offered every hour. We made out our shopping list of products we wanted to research, found an affordable AirBnB place to stay 20 minutes from the event center, and we were off!

Before we arrived we created a schedule of who would attend which seminar in order to catch as many as possible. Once we arrived at noon we headed straight to the seminar rooms. They were always crowded (often times with standing room only) and they were back to back with no breaks for lunch so we packed our sack lunches and ran from one room to the next. At then end of the day we walked to a restaurant where we compared notes and debriefed only hitting the sack late that night.

That first day was fun and exciting. However, by day 3 or 4 of the same pace I was tired. Being an adult learner (i.e. “old) is hard enough on its own but add in uncomfortable seats, crowded rooms, untrained presenters, unreliable technology, and long days and I was quickly becoming exhausted and irritated. All boats all day and night was too much. We weren’t getting exercise, we only saw outside on the drive to/from the event center, it rained and was cold every day, and our sack lunches balanced on our laps with our notebooks and pens were unsatisfying to say the least.

Stock photo of Seattle in a rainstorm

Making matters worse, the more we listened and asked questions the less we seem to know. Our shopping list started to feel impossible. With conflicting information from every presenter and vendor how are we to know who to listen to or figure out what is best for our situation?

Top that off with some presenters downright scared me with stories of things going wrong or of man overboard drills or of bug infestations from contaminated cardboard food containers or scary storms at sea. Of course there were other presenters who talked about beautiful destinations ranging from Canada to Alaska to Mexico and the South Pacific. Even with the good mixed in with the bad, it was overwhelming.

Scary looking photo but this was one of my favorite presenters

I even attended a “women’s only” all day event hoping to meet with other women and learn from them. Unfortunately, despite valiant efforts, I didn’t meet anyone that I connected with and the presenter wasn’t able to boil down complicated topics to bite sized, easily digestible pieces so I left feeling even more alienated and anxious.

Still, we persisted and 8 days later we had a stack of handouts, notes, product catalogs and books packed in the truck and headed back to the boat. I can’t describe how comforting it was to get back to our boat—it felt like home. Suddenly all the hectic energy of the past week fell away and we fell into bed enjoying being rocked to sleep by the gentle breezes in the marina.

However, now as I sit in a local wifi cafe back in Port Townsend and organize my notes, I find myself feeing overwhelmed all over again. Never has Albert Einstein’s famous quote seemed more relevant:

Albert Einstein quote

And I am still plagued by feeling how inadequate my talents and skills are for life on a boat. Electrical systems, diesel engines, complex rigging calculations, and deciphering complicated weather charts are all completely outside my wheel house. So today I turned away from all of that and instead did something I’m good at—graphic design layouts for new boat business cards. Playing with fonts, spacing, logos, and images helped me relax. It is so very very nice to do something you are good at. For all of you reading along feeling like your job is boring please do this for me: take a moment and revel the fact that you are doing something you are good at and you are getting paid to do it. Ahhhhhh! :-)

Rob does his best to reassure me that my talents in cooking, organizing, communication, networking, and planning are all necessary and that he couldn’t leave the dock without me. He also assures me that this new life is more of a marathon than a sprint and I don’t need to learn everything right now. All wise words and I am working on being a patient adult learner and seeing higher value in my skills but it is an uphill battle for me.

Then something wonderful happened….I was on the boat when a young couple stopped to admire “Boreas”. I talked with them for a little while and was pleased to note that even though they both had some experience with boats I knew more. Talking about some basics like hull design, weight displacement, and windage had the effect of making me suddenly feel smarter. As I walked away I held my head a little higher and my step was a little lighter. You see I realized that I am learning and making progress. The road of “stuff to learn” is long, so long that I can’t see where it is going, but at least now when I look back the starting line is further away.

Laughing again back in Port Townsend