Once upon a time, when the London Boat Show was held at Earl’s Court, it used to be hot and heaving with people, there were chandlery stands as far as the eye could see, you could barely get round it in a day, there was no such thing as a separate dinghy show and you were not only allowed but actively encouraged to clamber over almost all the boats on display. And I know I’m far from the only boaty person to reflect on those days with great nostalgia, especially now that Southampton has largely superseded London as the boat show to go to in the UK, and now that London is a pale shadow of its former self; lots of holiday companies, sailing schools and marine supplies stands but precious few (comparatively) boats, and last time I was there in 2011, 90{c7de0b351460df196bda134501962c15c6d60206cb6ff2d41b26bfe3ffed5e66} of the boats that were there required an appointment to view.

What an absolute joy, then, to have the opportunity to go to Düsseldorf in January of this year. Held in the week following London, it becomes abundantly clear why London is typically such a disappointment these days. Boasting not one, not two but seventeen – read it and weep, London – seventeen! halls, and catering for every conceivable type of boating, it is very easy to see why the Düsseldorf International Boat Show (Boot) has become the biggest and best boat show in Europe. Thankfully not as hot and crowded as the London of yore, but in almost every other way, exactly what a boat show ought to be.

De-icing the plane at Zurich

On a wintery January morning, I blearily clambered out of bed at 3.30am to catch the first flight from Zurich to Düsseldorf. Arriving at the exhibition centre as the show opened, it quickly became clear that the show plan truly didn’t do justice to the size of the event. Just walking from the halls containing the sailing yachts across to the chandlery halls was almost a 10 minute walk. I’m ashamed to confess that I only managed to get round 3 or 4 of the 17 halls even though I stayed almost until the show closed for the day. It was just as well for my credit card that I was on a (literally) flying day trip with hand luggage only!

A rabble of Rassys?

So what were the highlights? Well, it was great to look at the various Hallberg Rassys; the wealth of storage testifies to their pedigree as true blue-water cruisers.

Moody AC41 – a rather average interior

I was intrigued to look at the new “Moody” AC41, the first non-deck saloon Moody in years. However, since the Moody brand was bought by Hanse, it is obviously a Hanse yacht, even though it was designed by legendary Moody designer Bill Dixon. Bill Dixon Moody’s of the 1990s are still some of the best and most stable yachts around, but I think I’ll be surprised if this new breed of Moody lives up to the legend.

Not short of a line or three at this show…

As you would expect, the major French and German yachtbuilders were amply represented. It’s not often you get to see the interior of an Oyster 65, although I rather got the impression that it’s designed more for multi-millionaires who employ a crew than for “sailors”. The Nauticat motor-sailers were a pleasant surprise, whilst the Najad I looked at was a disappointment, especially compared with the Hallberg Rassy, its compatriot and primary competitor. I gather that Najad have sadly gone bust since the show, but from what I saw, if I were offered the choice between a Najad and a Hallberg Rassy (money no object, of course), I know which I’d choose, and it’s not the Najad.

The dinghy hall

I spent an extremely interesting and nostalgic half hour or so speaking to Hartley Boats, who now make the Wayfarer dinghy. I learned to sail on a Wayfarer on a remote Welsh lake more years ago than I care to remember and as a result they occupy a rather special place in my heart. When I was sailing Wayfarers, they were still traditional wooden dinghies. The Mark IV that Hartley Boats are now making are the second or third generation of GRP boats and now available in training, cruising or racing versions. A remarkable number of the original wooden Wayfarers are still in regular use, despite being nearly 50 years old now, but it’s also good to see the evolution in the model. Bringing them up to date to meet modern demands should ensure they’re still around in another 50 years.

Southerly 420

However, I have to say the surprise and star of the show for me was the Southerly 420. Southerly make lift-keel yachts; almost like a hydraulic centreboard in a yacht. Where most modern yachts have a fixed fin keel with either a standard draft (around 2 metres for most yachts of an equivalent size) or a shoal draft (closer to 1.4 m) for sailing in shallower waters, the Southerly makes the best of both worlds with the variable draft. With the keel fully lowered, the 420 draws no less than 2.7 metres, whilst a draft of 0.8 metres with the keel fully raised means it can go places that most yachts can’t. Blue water cruising, the French canals, shallow Caribbean waters, drying moorings on the English south coast and even beaching are options and the interior seems far more spacious than other 42-foot yachts I’ve seen – at least insofar as it’s possible to judge on land.

Caravan on inflatable raft

And then there were the rather odd-ball exhibits – folding sailing canoes, inflatable kayaks (OK, not quite so odd-ball) and caravans on inflatable rafts…

So was Düsseldorf worth the trip (and the ridiculously early morning)? Oh yes, yes and thrice yes. The phrases “kid at Christmas” and “pig in s***” come to mind. My only regret – not enough time. On the basis of this trip I almost certainly shan’t bother with the London show for quite a while to come and next year I think I must schedule 2 or 3 days – and make sure I see the rest of the show!