Keeping Up with the Flaglers

Yachta, yachta, yachta

Yachting and Palm Beach County enjoy a long history only hinted at by this week's Palm Beach Boat Show. When Henry Flagler finished his visionary (some say thoroughly insane) quest to build a railroad to South Florida and turn the Town of Palm Beach into a private resort for him and all of his Gilded Age gazillionaire friends, taking the train certainly was the easiest way down. But even then, pulling into Palm Beach in your own ship, despite the relative discomfort of yachts in that age, provided that certain element of envy among one's peers that was then, and is still, all the rage among the rich.

Despite the fact that ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale have overtaken that of Palm Beach, and the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show boasts far more boats than its Palm Beach cousin, the Palm Beach Boat Show is notable for several reasons. The moneyed few for whom Flagler created this playground have never really left, and the boat show attracts all manner of cash chuckers looking to throw money at their latest megatoy. And there are plenty such items up for grabs. Of all the superyachts -- a term meaning yachts 80 feet in length or longer -- on display at the show, the 127-foot Excellence is the largest. It includes a fishing cockpit that landed on the boat straight out of an angler's wet dream -- two Murray multiposition fighting chairs, two live bait wells, custom rods, lures, a fish tank, links to navigation and depth-finding equipment on the bridge, and a stern door so all those 500-pound marlin can easily be yanked on board. And that's just the fishing rig. It only gets sillier once you go inside. With a massive bar, a four-person bed, and a ten-person sofa, the various odds and ends that go into the yacht are best left to the imagination -- a reasonably sized novel couldn't describe them all.

Aside from the people-watching and gold-digging aspects, the show includes plenty of other activities for Everyman. Guy Harvey, our local version of Jacques Cousteau, presents his Underwater Realm Theatre, featuring a documentary titled "Cayman Island Adventures: The Sting Ray's Story." Filmed entirely on location at Grand Cayman's North Sound, the film offers viewers a look at the life of the stingray. Grand Cayman has been known for its stingrays for more than 20 years, ever since local fishermen began cleaning their catches before bringing them to shore, attracting stingrays to the boats. More and more of the strange-looking fish arrived over time, so that now, a lucky tourist may run into hundreds of them at two habitat sites, the Sandbar and Sting Ray City. So if you don't have a boat to take you to the Caymans, this may be the next best thing. Or you could just up and buy one. Boat show reps claim to have "a boat for every lifestyle."


The Palm Beach Boat Show

Along the Intracoastal Waterway between Banyan and Fern streets in downtown West Palm Beach

Opens on Thursday, March 27, from noon to 7 p.m. It continues on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10, or $2 for children ages 6 to 10; children younger than age 6 enter free. Call 800-940-7642.

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