There's plenty that's new this year in boats and boating equipment. That's the inescapable conclusion after repeated wanderings through the National Motor Boat Show which closed in New York last week.
This is an article from the Feb. 7, 1955 issue
First noticed was the 40-foot molded plywood sloop shown by Luders. Her 60-foot mast towered above the armada of sail and power craft gathered in the huge Kingsbridge Armory. Never before had such a large auxiliary-powered sailboat been made of plywood. "Never again, either," thought some, as they noted her price tag of $38,500. That isn't cheap, it's true, but she's built to last and to provide easy maintenance through the years. As such, this type of construction could catch on in large boats just as it already has in smaller craft, both sail and power.
There was nothing startlingly new among the larger power cruisers, except for some of the equipment we later found on them. It was the smaller power boats that made the news. Ten years ago the cheapest two-berth power cruiser at any of the shows was about $1,500. In 1940 dollars that was a fair piece of change. Today, even though boat prices have kept pace with cars, homes and fur coats, one can still get a two-berth cruiser for $1,500 and even less. What's the catch? None, really, except that she's smaller and different—she's an outboard cruiser.
Outboard motors have advanced so tremendously in the past few years that cruisers with the engine outside the boat are now entirely practical. The motors now boast gear shifts, remote fuel tanks, electric starters and generators—and one manufacturer (Scott-Atwater) even has a motor which bails your boat. The big advance in these motors this year is their comparative quietness, something impossible to demonstrate at the show but nonetheless true.
In the competition among builders of outboard cruisers to produce the most boat in the fewest feet at the lowest price, some wondrous compromises have been made. The most startling seen at the Boat Show was the arrangement of the galley sink on one 18-foot outboard cruiser. When it was swung up, one discovered it had been draining into the toilet. The sink in upward position formed a wall of privacy.
While outboard cruisers are no longer new, their increasing popularity was demonstrated by unprecedented numbers at this show. They are infinitely better in design, too. For the first time all at the show had proper protection against swamping due to the cut-down transoms required to get the propeller low enough to function. There is now either a watertight bulkhead forward of the transom, or the motor is supported from a bracket off the transom, or it is mounted in a watertight well inside the boat.
A few years ago the largest outboards at the show were 25 hp, and not many of them. Now there's the Mercury 40-hp and Scott-Atwater 30. It's a backbreaking job to mount these 25-hp and larger motors on the transom, not to mention the chance of losing one's grip and seeing close to $500 worth of machinery sink out of sight. That's why the motor-handling davit in the cockpit of the Topper outboard cruiser makes so much sense. It's one of those new features so simple and so vitally necessary that one wonders why it wasn't commonplace years ago.
Paralleling the rise in outboard boats and cruisers is a rise in the production of trailers to transport them on. Whereas only 1,000 trailers were built 10 years ago, about 100 times that number are turned out annually today. Never before had so many been displayed at the show; and in the majority of cases, the basic design was pretty much unchanged except for the addition of tilt devices on some to make the boat slide more easily into the water. The one truly new "trailer" was that offered by The Anchorage. It was a boat with detachable wheels, which makes even trailers unnecessary.
Kit boats, the feature of recent boat shows, are still prevalent but seem to be slipping as manufacturers continue to close the price gap between finished boats and those sold in kit form. The kits, however, can often mean the difference between owning and not owning a boat and as such are destined to retain a justified if slightly subdued popularity.
The influence of automotive styling on boat design was never more noticeable than at this year's show. The Century runabouts, with their curved wraparound windshields, rear view mirrors, two-tone paint jobs and abundance of chrome were forerunners of this trend. Nelson Taylor and Kainer, in the marine equipment section, were doing a brisk business on their wraparound windshields, which were available for every kind of power boat from small outboard runabouts on up.
Something akin to power steering is now available even for outboard runabouts in the hydraulic steering control made by Bruning Marine Products ($69.50).
Advances in electronics were particularly prominent at the show. We found four companies (Raytheon, Bendix, Edo and Lavoie) offering radar in sets cheap enough and light and small enough to prove really practical on power cruisers as small as 40 feet. They still cost a fair amount (Lavoie's "Bat" being $2,995, the others around $3,500), but this is only a small percentage of the cost of the boats they will go on, and equipment of such great value can hardly be termed a luxury.
Direction finders, which just a few years ago sold for around $400, are now in great abundance at the show for under $200, with a few truly practical sets close to $100.
Radiotelephones have also come down in price as they've boomed in popularity and, to a slightly lesser extent, the same is true of automatic steering controls. Depth finders, formerly for big boats only, are now in reach of all with Wilfrid White's White Echo at $169.75. It doesn't have the range of larger sets (to 80 feet only) but it's the last few feet that count and this set is small enough, and cheap enough, for cruisers of any size.
In the vast array of marine hardware at the Merriman booth there was one new item which in particular caught my eye. It was a pulpit, a sort of a guard rail for the bow of power or sailboats to keep one from falling overboard when changing headsails, grabbing for the mooring, etc. The striking thing about the Merriman pulpit is the adjusting features which make them adaptable to almost any boat, at the comparatively low price of $55.
At the Sudbury Laboratory booth there were, as usual, a number of new and fascinating products, including an 8-foot Plexiglas dinghy which had been built in 2 minutes (is this the forerunner of the first real mass production in the boating field?), a dry ice refrigerator which can make natural ice, and an inexpensive ($3.95) bilge pump, the E-Z Squirt, with which a sailor hiking on the windward rail can pump the lee bilges.
The innovations and new trends mentioned above were almost matched by many others unearthed after a week of poking about the show. The thousands of newcomers to the sport aren't the only new things in boating!