Home of fleet for 46 years

Every nautical nuance is catered for at the Sydney International Boat Show, writes David Lockwood.

Every nautical nuance is catered for at the Sydney International Boat Show, writes David Lockwood.

This weekend is the 46th Sydney International Boat Show (SIBS), which has come a long way.

When the doors opened at the showgrounds in 1968, yachts such as the Endeavour 24 were head-turners, a 12-foot De Havilland Sea Topper tinnie was mainstream and a modest Caribbean fibreglass runabout, or an inboard-powered ski rig, had the adrenalin racing.

Today, 50-footers and 60-footers commanding $1 million or more are the big news on the boat-show marina, where the latest live-aboard yachts can fly impressive heads of sail, trimmed with push-button controls and crewed by just a couple.

Indoors, the traditional tinnie has morphed into a high-tech fishing machine, water-sports rigs have gained wake-making devices so boarders can get more air, while even the timeless kayak has become a veritable "smartcraft" with pedals in addition to paddles.

Between them all, it's easy to get the impression pleasure boating has never really fallen off the radar. And it hasn't.

While some boat importers are waiting for brighter times to exhibit, this year's stoic SIBS reflects that boats and boating inhabit a recess in the hearts and minds of many.

Despite the doomsayers, the annual SIBS remains a tour de force of new boats and all that's nautical and nice.

Sure, the marina has shrunk from 190 boats to about 160 this year. But what remains are the unsinkable brands, the timeless marques, and their long-serving local importers and agents. In some ways, the chaff has been sorted. Less white boats equals less white noise.

Gracing the marina are boats such as the Fleming 55, which have been cruising the world's oceans for almost 30 years. The pilothouse-design makes the motor-yacht look largely unchanged, but technological advances are up to speed. Teaming the best of old and new, the Fleming 55 is pitched at well-heeled retirees ready to realise their cruising dreams. But that demographic isn't the preserve of Fleming.

The passage-maker market has proven resilient in the economic downturn, luring people from their real-estate holdings onto the water for a "me-time" cruising odyssey. The Grand Banks 59 Aleutian, Ocean Alexander 72, Outer Reef 63 and Horizon Power Cat 60 are tickets for "grey vikings" to voyage to Lizard Island or Launceston. Let the family fly in, when it suits, or they can follow the adventure from afar via satellite tracking.

Sydney's smoked-salmon set has gravitated to the latest luxury British motor-yachts from stables such as Fairline, Princess and Sunseeker.

The latter is stamping its mark on the SIBS again this year, with a range of Manhattan motor-yachts including the new 53, 63 and 73, plus a sister-ship range that includes the debut of the Portofino 40 express cruiser through to the Predator 64 and 84.

The RSVP function will see the Mumm champagne flowing as a host of co-promotions attempt to get noticed. But the Sydney boating faithful have an even greater affinity for our local marques.

Riviera, Maritimo and Caribbean turn up every year with a strong Australian-made fleet built for our way of boating. They have arrived this year with their magnum opus to tempt buyers.

The 50 Enclosed Flybridge is the jewel of the $13 million Riviera display. It's the first new model since Rodney Longhurst bought the company and the product of a personal quest to be the best. The fit and finish, style and ambience - light-oak joinery is a feature of the 565 SUV on display - and utility reflect the near-$1.6 million price tag.

When the 50 Enclosed Flybridge cruised through the Heads last Sunday, it was met by an entourage of powerboat paparazzi. But the 50-footer league isn't short of competition. Maritimo will flaunt a new M50 cruising motor-yacht with a light-blue hull and European-style transom featuring integrated amenities with a barbecue, cockpit lunch centre and water-sports hub.

The Maritimo S50 variant has Miele appliances, hydraulic swim platform, underwater lights, Bose entertainment system, satellite TV with Foxtel, washer-dryer and heated towel rails. Bow and stern thrusters assist in docking while traditional shaft-drives ensure long cruising legs at sea.

The 30-footer to 50-footer league is more subdued. There's been an assault from European yards offering more powerboat for less money. Newcomers to pleasure boating are often wowed by the first impressions and interior design. But savvy buyers are turning to frugal, low-fuss boats for weekending, which team seaworthiness with heritage and timeless style. Having cracked the local market, Back Cove returns with its Maine-built Downeast boats in 30-foot and 34-foot variants. The Back Coves have a single diesel-engine and dockside agility thanks to bow and stern thrusters. A Zeus pod-driven Sabre 40 from the same yard takes fit and finish to greater heights.

The Arvors, with single-diesel engines and shaft drives, lock-up cabins and largely moulded finishes, are boats you can leave at your mooring without worry. The popular 215 and 280 flank a 25-foot Weekender model with greater comforts for overnighting. The Quicksilver 605, from the same importer, is a similar outboard-powered version.

Newcomers in the small-cruiser market include Cutwater 28 from the US and Sessa C38 from Italy. Integrity has some Asian-made trawlers for those who don't mind idling away the time. If the trend in the eastern suburbs is for stylish runabouts to go, then the American-made Chris-Crafts with V8 engines look and perform the part. There's a cabin on the 25, 28 and 32 Corsairs on show, while the 32 Launch is an impressive day cruiser.

As with most boat shows, there are rich pickings in runabouts from all the big American stables.

The evolving world of marine engines has some new performers. Cummins will release its 550hp QSB6.7 diesel, Mercury has joystick piloting for outboards, Suzuki unveils portable 15-20hp outboards with power tilt and Yamaha is among the many with repowering deals.

If you prefer sailing, SIBS is Australia's biggest show for yachts, with new "easy-sail" designs on display.

The Sydney International Boat Show is open all weekend and Monday from 10am-8pm (6pm close on the marina).

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