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December 6, 2007

SINK OR SWIM: Did the Earls Court Boat Show float our boat?

The Whyte and Mackay Boat Show 2007 hit Earls Court in London last week. Using the entire space – Earls Court 1 and 2 – as well as the huge pool area, created by lowering a large section of the floor using hydraulics, this was the biggest event the iconic venue has seen in recent years.

Entering through Earls Court 2, you could be forgiven for thinking it was simply catering to the luxury end of the market, as stunning speed boats and motor yachts, some with hulls the size of houses, postured arrogantly thrusting their prows temptingly at passing visitors.

From the jaw-dropping opulence of the luxury set, came the romantic appeal of the long boat, as the leviathans gave way to the inland waterway section. And how times have changed on the canals of the UK. Now for a cool £120,000 you can pick up a designer barge, with stunning interior including all the latest electronic gadgets.

Water world: The Whyte and Mackay Boat Show's indoor marina

Marina life
Of course, this was only the beginning. Moving from Earls Court 2 into the main hall, leisure gives way to sport and visitors suddenly find themselves in an indoor marina – courtesy of the pool mentioned previously – within which a whole host of yachts of various size and class are moored, surrounded by other ‘beached’ vessels and everything you’d need for them, from satellite navigation to out-board motors. Wander further in and you realise this sector really can rock, as the marina turns into a watersports extravaganza with wakeboarders turning on the style.

To keep visitors fully engaged, the proceedings are overlooked by a striking stage and video screen, keeping everyone up to date with the latest events taking place throughout the day, as well as hosting a number of live related activities, all professionally presented and supported by pumping beats bursting forth from the excellent sound system.

Despite the scale of the show, it was surprisingly easy to ‘navigate’, the wide aisles and high ceilings creating a real sense of space. And the atmosphere was certainly ‘up’, but then that was undoubtedly led by the sheer enthusiasm of the show's managing director James Brooke, who wandered round with a smile permanently on his face, not so much resembling a kid in a sweetshop, but more the lad who had actually just bought it!

“I’ve always loved boats and boat shows,” he says beaming. “My family have been with me all week and the kids still haven’t got bored, and are in their element wandering around.”

James Brookes: wanted to create a real boat experience

Is there room for two?
Brooke organised the show from start to finish in just nine months – the last two weeks of which were taken up installing everything into Earls Court. So why did he take on such a demanding project when the capital already has an established boat show at ExCeL London in the heart of Docklands?

“I wanted to do something that was more for the general public and felt the ExCeL event pandered too much to members of the association that organises that show. I wanted to create a real boat experience.”

The event certainly encapsulates Brooke's enthusiasm, but only time will tell whether there’s room for two boat shows in London. The strong Whyte and Mackay sponsorship is clearly a positive sign, but EVENTS:review waits with anticipation to find out whether Brooke's labour of love will prove to be a runaway success or an expensive folly for all involved.

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