Southampton International Boat Show.
Ahoy, brave souls and landlubbers! I always believed that buying a dinghy was a sunny affair, something you do with a lemonade in hand, a soft sea breeze ruffling your hair. But no, fate, with its quirky sense of humour, decided that we’d get our initiation into the world of sailing under cascades of rainwater.
On what could only be described as the second worst day to buy a dinghy (the first being during a tsunami, I presume), we embarked on our maiden journey to the Southampton International Boat Show. The skies wept as if they’d heard my bank balance’s imminent future.
The rain cometh
The normally resplendent stalls, shining with the gleam of freshly polished boats, were instead miniature pools. Each booth seemed to offer a beginner’s lesson in puddle jumping. My shoes squelched their protests with every step, mourning their previous dry life.
As for the Marquees at the Southampton International Boat Show – well, that was an adventure on its own. Remember those old video games where you had to time your run perfectly to avoid obstacles? That was us, but the challenge was avoiding the torrential waterfall at the entrance. I felt like Indiana Jones, just less dashing and more… splashing.
My wife, Rosamund, ever the optimist, remarked, “Well, at least we know the boats are waterproof!”
To which I replied, “Darling, I’m not sure if I am.”
The salesman at the RS Sailing stalls, looking like a drenched cat, tried to entice us. “Perfect weather to test the boat’s durability,” he said with a grin, raindrops trickling down his face. I had to give it to him for the positive spin.
We had looked at Toppers and Fusions and Wayfarers and so many more. As an expert on all things boats, they all looked the same. Each having a hull, a mast and lots of ropes and wires.
Upon entering the bustling scene of the Southampton International Boat Show, it became clear that the day would be filled with discovery and maritime chatter. With an array of dinghy stands before us, each boasting sleek hulls and promising adventures, we delved into our quest to find the most suitable boat for our family. We were particularly for Paul, our tall family member whose stature presented a unique challenge in the search.
For about an hour, we engaged with different manufacturers, diving into detailed conversations about size, suitability, and seaworthiness. Many dinghies were instantly ruled out—some too diminutive for Paul’s comfort, others lacking the family-oriented design we sought. Amid the hum of the crowd and the patter of the rain, one particular discussion stood out.
We stood, drenched but intrigued, under the grey sky, talking to the designer of the Wayfarer Weekender. The boat, with its claim of being virtually unsinkable, certainly piqued our interest. Its keelboat design promised stability and safety, yet Paul advised against it for Thames sailing—perhaps it was better suited for the open sea or more robust waters.
Paul, however, was drawn to the RS Sailing stand at The Southampton International Boat Show. He had seen these boats before, their sleek lines and versatile designs evidently leaving a lasting impression. There’s a familiarity with RS Sailing boats that speaks to both the novice and the experienced sailor, Their variety seemed to offer something for every sailor’s wish list.
As I continued to survey the scene, I found myself a bit overwhelmed—dinghies, despite their differing brands and models, began to blur into one. They all looked similar to my untrained eye, yet I knew that hidden within the subtleties of their designs were the keys to our perfect family boat.
The search continued
The search was as much about finding the right fit for Paul as it was about ensuring that all of us could enjoy family time on the water. The decision would not be a swift one. I was keenly aware that each boat had its own story. It has its own feel on the water and its own way of becoming part of a family’s life.
The Southampton International Boat Show, with its nautical allure and the echo of halyards clinking in the background, was the perfect setting to continue our search. The quest for the right dinghy continued. We were buoyed by the knowledge that the perfect vessel for our aquatic adventures was somewhere amidst the sea of options.
My son, however, had seen some he liked and came back with a soggy mass of wood pulp, which in a former life had been colourful sailing brochures.
By the end of the day, we were still dinghy-less. But we’d gained an unforgettable experience at the Southampton International Boat Show and lots of soggy clothing. But as they say, every sailor has to weather a storm… or in our case, a boat show monsoon.