Byline: Eston Ellis
NEWPORT BEACH — A lot has happened since the very first Newport Boat Show opened at Lido Marina Village in 1973.
Back then, Richard Nixon was in the White House. A Middle East oil embargo had brought on a U.S. gasoline shortage and there were long lines at filling stations. “All in the Family” was the Number 1 television show in the country. And “The Sting,” with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, won the Academy Award for best motion picture.
In spring of 1973, the inaugural Newport Boat Show presented 40 to 50 boats in the water, instead of inside a convention center hall — something new for Southern California — and it drew crowds. People came from throughout the region to board and compare new and brokerage sailboats and powerboats, at a brand-new marina.
This year’s 40th annual Newport Boat Show — set for April 18-21 at Lido Marina Village — will showcase more than 200 boats in the water, making it the largest show of its kind on the entire West Coast. There will be scores of brand-new models, along with ocean-tested yachts that come already outfitted with just about every cutting-edge amenity imaginable. And show-goers will find a wide array of key boating services, marine electronics, engines, boating gear, apparel and accessories, too.
This year’s show will be in the same location as the 1973 event. And since the beginning, the show has been produced by the Duncan McIntosh Co.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
While selling boats at McIntosh Yachts in Newport Beach, Duncan McIntosh, Jr. had realized there was a need for a local boat show, to help area dealers and brokers attract new people to boating and show boats in a more natural setting than the typical shows held in arenas and convention centers.
“I went to Don Koll (of Koll Development) and told him, ‘I’m one of a couple of yacht dealers who want to do a boat show at your new marina’ — which was just opening up,” McIntosh remembered. “He said, ‘that’s a great idea,’ and we did it.
“The first show was originally supposed to be a joint effort of local dealers — four of us,” McIntosh recalled. “The rest of them eventually stopped showing up for the planning meetings, so I just kept pushing ahead and did it.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Southern California yacht brokers and dealers who were at the Newport Boat Show from the beginning included Chuck Hovey, Jim McLaren, Gordon Barienbrock (formerly of the Crow’s Nest) and Stan Miller, the original founder of Stan Miller Yachts.
“I always think about how different this is from a convention center show,” McIntosh said. “The boats are shown in their ‘natural environment’ — in a picturesque harbor, where show-goers can get a feel for what it would be like to actually own and use it. That changes the whole mood and feel of the show.
“We don’t have cavernous display arenas with windowless walls and square corners,” he added. “And our ‘floor’ is always moving, going up and down 6 feet with tide changes.”
The first Newport Boat Show attracted big crowds — and serious boat buyers. Exhibitors were impressed.
“After the first show, the local dealers said, “This was great! We’ve got to do this again.” I said, “What do you mean ‘we’?”
“‘OK, you’ve got to do this again,’ they said. I sold my yacht dealership to my sailboat manufacturer’s rep, who had always wanted to be a dealer,” McIntosh said.
That gave him time to concentrate on producing a bigger and better boat show. “And somebody convinced me to buy the Newporter-Mesa News — a weekly newspaper that was my ‘master’s degree’ in journalism — and it was a very expensive education.”
McIntosh would later start a boating magazine called Waterfront, and he would go on to become publisher of Sea Magazine (founded in 1908), Go Boating Magazine, Boating World Magazine and The Log Newspaper — in addition to publishing Editor & Publisher (founded in 1884), long regarded as the “bible of the newspaper industry.”
For most of the show’s history, Duncan McIntosh’s business partner and life partner Teresa Ybarra McIntosh, who died in 2011, worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the show office, to help ensure each event’s success. Together, they built the Newport Boat Show into what it is today.
BUILDING A BIGGER, BETTER SHOW
For many years, the Newport Boat Show was held over several weeks, with separate week-long new sailboat, new powerboat and brokerage boat shows. “The facility wasn’t big enough to get all the boats into the show at once, so there wasn’t any other way,” McIntosh said.
However, McIntosh eventually did find a way to add more boats to the show, to keep the event to a single week: He added temporary docks to the marina, driving pilings and installing floating docks before each show, and them removed them and put them into storage when the show closed.
“We started building a few extra docks and finally figured out how to add enough docks to accommodate all the boats in one week,” McIntosh said. By constructing temporary docks to be removed after each show, “we added 300 feet from the existing docks, tripling the in-water display area.”
Over the years, the Newport Boat Show’s producers have managed to find many unusual attractions to draw show-goers. In 1978, McIntosh chartered the 301-ft. SS Catalina from a Beverly Hills businessman who had purchased the retired passenger ferry for his wife as a Valentine’s Day gift. The gigantic 1920s-era “Great White Steamer” was towed into Newport Harbor for the boat show, where it proceeded to run aground.
“The boat’s bottom got stuck, and there it was: 300-some-odd feet long, 1,800 tons displacement, 17 feet of draft, hard aground in front of the Balboa Bay Club,” McIntosh recalled.
“We had invited all of the media to come see it as an attraction at the boat show, and everyone could not have cared less — until it got stuck,” McIntosh said. “Then, we needed a control tower for all the news helicopters — and we had the news media, including the networks, camped out in our office. With the tide change, we pulled it out or, more accurately, ‘slid it’ up to Lido with three commercial tugs.
“I had someone ask me if they could rent it out for a private party the night before the show, and I agreed,” McIntosh remembered. “Then, I got a call from the city asking me about a rock concert that was being advertised aboard SS Catalina, with Chuck Berry. I told the people who rented the boat that a private party was all I had authorized, not a rock concert, and canceled the rental. That evening, Chuck Berry — one of Teri’s lifelong heroes — walked into the show office, and all she could say was, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ He signed a front page of the Newporter-Mesa News for her.”
Another boat show attraction that drew almost as much attention was Sam the orangutan, an ape who learned how to operate a powerboat after a couple of lessons. The media went wild when Sam drove a boat pulling a wakeboarding dog behind him — and the video was played again and again on both local and network newscasts.
One year, McIntosh decided to re-create the famous Life Magazine photo in which a Boston Whaler powerboat with an “unsinkable” foam-cored hull was sawed in half, with the company’s founder aboard one of the still-floating pieces.
“I sawed up a perfectly good boat — a beautiful new Boston Whaler, in a lot better condition than our boat show workboat,” McIntosh remembered. “One of the best questions I got from a reporter at the show that day was, ‘Why are you sawing up this new boat?’ My answer should have been, ‘Well, it got you guys in the media here, didn’t it?’”
Another year, a tiger appeared at the Newport Boat Show. “I was driving him on a 31-foot Bertram,” McIntosh recalled. “He was walking around the boat, saw me on the bridge, stopped and gave me an intense look, like I was going to be dinner.
“I put my wallet and keys away, in case I was going to have to swim for it,” McIntosh said. “Then he jumped off the back swim step, and I discovered swimming would not have given me an advantage. He swam so fast. He was a beautiful 120-pound baby.”
Then there was the time the show presented a 1-mile pier-to-pier coastal water ski race between two octogenarian waterskiers: “Banana George” Blair (who got his name because of his yellow wetsuit) and Mary Murphy, who was famous for demonstrating the Sky Ski.
Other show attractions over the years included a Wooden Boat Festival with a boat-building competition, the futuristic biofuel-powered Earthrace catamaran that was making a round-the-world run with skipper Pete Bethune and his crew, John Wayne’s former boat Wild Goose and a Top Dog Contest, in which show-goers brought their pets.
However, one of the most memorable show events was a Catch a Boat Contest, in which contestants were vying to win a brand-new Triumph sportfishing boat. “We had a drawing, and our 10 finalists hooked up (with rods and reels) to a new Triumph sportfishing boat,” McIntosh said. “The last one standing would get to take the boat home.
“Pretty soon, I realized we should have started the contest two days before the show,” McIntosh said. “On the last day, at the end of the show, there were three guys still standing, and they were determined to stick it out to the end. One said he had told his family he was going to win that boat, and that’s all there was to it.
“To break the three-way tie, we had a cast-off (I was glad we had written that into the contest rules) where they all cast their lines into hula hoops set up in the middle of the bay,” McIntosh remembered. “That’s how we chose the winner.
“Our watchman, who was there supervising in one of those tall lifeguard chairs, fell asleep in the middle of the contest, fell over and almost killed himself. After that, we had to have someone watching the watchman,” McIntosh recalled, with a laugh.
While the planned events were memorable, many of the unplanned show happenings were equally remarkable.
“We had someone try to sneak into the show once, with a submarine,” McIntosh said. The man, riding atop a mini sub with an airhose, arrived uninvited. He was pulled out and rescued after he banged into the bottom of a boat.
“I also remember the time when a woman fell off a boat at the show while she was talking animatedly and holding a drink in her hand,” McIntosh said. “Two guys lifted her out of the water, one under each arm, and she was still talking and holding the drink as if nothing had happened as she walked off.”
The 40th anniversary edition of the Newport Boat Show, set for April 18-21 at Lido Marina Village, promises to be better than ever. “Come celebrate with us as we mark four decades of presenting the best of boating in the West,” McIntosh said.
Lido Marina Village — the Newport Boat Show venue — is located at Via Lido and Newport Boulevard in Newport Beach, one block south of Pacific Coast Highway. Show hours are: Noon to 7 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $15 (credit cards accepted) for adults and free for children 12 and younger. Free offsite parking and continuous shuttle service will be available. Visit newportinwaterboatshow.com for complete details.
The Newport Boat Show is produced by the Duncan McIntosh Co. Inc., publisher of Sea Magazine, Boating World, The Log Newspaper, FishRap and Editor & Publisher, and producer of the Lido Yacht Expo.