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Sail Expo is bigger, better than ever

By DORAN CUSHING

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Billed as the largest in-the-water sailboat show in the Southeast, Sail Expo St. Petersburg opened its four-day run Thursday with several thousand people enjoying sunny weather and a variety of exhibits.

The all-sailboat venue, situated along the downtown waterfront at Vinoy Park and Basin, showcases some 70 United States and foreign-built sailboats and more than 140 marine-industry businesses -- the biggest all-sailboat display in St. Petersburg in the show's eight-year history.

The boats range in size from 8-foot inflatable dinghies to 50-foot cruisers, and prices range from less than $1,000 to more than $500,000. Housed in two huge tents and covering most of the open space in the park, the land exhibits show off the latest in marine hardware and electronics, sail-building techniques and alternative energy sources, as well as nautical accessories.

Jopie Helsen of Sailor's Wharf in St. Petersburg helped launch the first all-sailboat Sail St. Petersburg show in 1993 and has two of the larger and more-distinctive boats on display this year, including the Helsen Signature 470 and the Hunter HC 50.

Helsen said he was pleased that Sail Expo continues to grow in size and popularity. "This is the first time the show has sold out in the water and on land," he said.

The Helsen Signature 470 concept was developed by Helsen as a way of upgrading a 46-foot Hunter production boat with custom modifications at his St. Petersburg boat yard. Among the features in the luxury cruiser are custom paint work for the hull, deck and interior, an extended transom, color-coordinated interiors, a modified owner's cabin, and the latest electronics, including a flat-screen TV built into the main salon.

"This is definitely luxury-cruising oriented. People will buy this boat as a reward for themselves," Helsen said.

Ted and Claire Estep of Longview, Texas, were among the first visitors touring the boat show.

"The show is impressive," Ted Estep said. "There are lots of exhibitors and boats, and the seminars look pretty good."

More than 60 seminars by industry experts and popular marine authors are offered during the show in one of three seminar locations on the Sail Expo grounds. Boat designer W.I.B. Crealock hosts an interactive seminar at 12:30 p.m. each day.

"People come to this show with a common interest, sailing, and it rubs off on everyone," show chairman Ed Massey said. "It's electric. The level of presentation by the exhibitors is high, and the people who come to the show are an upscale, knowledgeable crowd."

Sail Expo St. Petersburg

WHEN/WHERE: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. today, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; Vinoy Park and Basin, St. Petersburg.

INFORMATION: The only all-sailboat show on Florida's Gulf Coast features seminars and more than 200 exhibitors. Admission is $10. Some of the area's top sailors will hit the water Saturday and Sunday for the Sailfest One Design Regatta, a Junior Olympic Sailing event. Check out sailamerica.com or call (800) 817-SAIL.

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