Marine News from the Great Lakes

A UFO Sighting at the Boat Show

Published: Monday, December 25, 2017
By: Ken Quant

As a Great Lakes sailor, I know that whenever I start seeing the leaves turning colors it can only mean one thing: It’s time to head east towards Maryland for the Annapolis Sailboat Show. It’s, by far, the country’s largest sail-only boat show and, for those who have never been there, I’d highly recommend a visit to this festival of sailing next fall.

Annapolis by itself is an interesting town. Ancient by American standards, it’s the home of the U.S. Naval Academy and the capital of Maryland. Its narrow streets are lined with history and mostly converge at the Chesapeake Bay by the City Docks in the center of town. It’s that central marina basin that has been transformed into the boat show every Columbus Day weekend for the last 48 years.

The show itself is a spectacular sight as you walk towards the City Docks with hundreds of flag-draped masts luring you in with color and logos blowing in the wind. Inside, just about everything you will ever need related to sailing can be found among the labyrinth of tents, docks, and boats. Everything from sailing gloves to large “dream” boats are proudly displayed to the thousands of flip-flop wearing sailors who navigate the maze. Whether you need it or not, if it’s for sailing, it’s at this show.

As an industry wonk, I’ve wandered this show for nearly 30 years. In that time, I’ve seen the exhibitors go from wearing blue blazers and khakis, to polo shirts, shorts, and open toe shoes. I’ve also witnessed the slow transition from 100 percent mono-hulls, to it now being the largest show of cruising catamarans in the country. Sextants and paper charts were even used as navigation tools back then instead of home displays of your nautical love affair. After all those years, I must admit I’ve become a bit complacent with the show’s offerings, but when I saw a UFO this year, I had to take notice.

There it was, hidden in plain sight just outside the tent flap of our booth. An actual UFO. A sailing object so revolutionary that it must have come from another world, safely landed in a shore-side display. Lodged between common inflatables and emergency life rafts, a small foiling catamaran called the UFO inauspiciously sat ready to take on the water, one flight at a time.

After a close inspection and a salesman inquisition, I must say I think this new design truly represents the future of sailing. It combines the stability of a catamaran with the excitement of hyper-speed foiling. Unlike its older mono-hulled foiling brothers like the Moth and Wasp, you do not need to be an Olympic caliber athlete just to get flying. The unique design of the UFO allows novices to walk before they run because when it’s not foiling, it just sails like a small catamaran. Unlike other small foiling boats, it also just gently splashes back down onto its two hulls without tipping over or doing a hair-raising pitch-pole common with the other designs.

Capable of carrying up to 230 pounds, the UFO allows an average size adult to take a kid out for their first foiling ride. At a weight of only 110 pounds all-up, it’s also light and small enough to toss on the car rack and drive over to the closest lake without putting it on a trailer. Appropriately, the salesman told me he brought it to the show on top of a Prius. Perfect!

A true leap forward in small sailboat design, possibly the best part about the UFO is its affordability. At only $7,600, it costs about the same as the archaic Opti or aging Laser. Similar in excitement to other transcending predecessors like the Hobie Cat or windsurfer, I’m sincerely hoping that the UFO packs enough fast sailing fun to inspire a new generation of Xbox burn-outs to get off the couch and enjoy some real-world sailing excitement. After all, how many lifelong sailors of my generation got hooked by Hobie? I can name at least one, for sure.

tags: Sailing

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