Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailing

Cars and boats don’t have a lot in common, but they lend themselves to exotic shows of elegant display. My friend Ed Lafferty and I went to the auto show in Virginia Beach at the Convention Center. He’s a retired Chrysler exec who worked in Detroit and who knows his cars like I know sailboats. Both objects are sleek, beautiful and fast when appropriate. This show was nothing like we’ve seen in New York or Detroit, but it was pretty cool.

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingThe showstopper was the Bolt EV by GM. Unlike hybrids, this one is all electric and boasts 238 miles between charging. One customer put that in perspective. “In Virginia we pay 12 cents per kilowatt hour. It costs me $1.44 to charge the car to go 40 miles. If I could get 40 miles to a gallon of gas, that would cost me more than $2.” A woman sales rep on the floor corrected him to say the new models get 70 miles instead of 40. Either way, it’s economical. I asked the fellow if he liked his Bolt. “I own two of them.”

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingA sales rep on a microphone said the Bolt EV was chosen Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and sports a 260 horsepower engine. Ed told me, “When you put on the brakes, you can drive more charging to the battery,” The sales rep said the car gains $7,500 in federal subsidies, bringing the price down to a net $30,000. Ed said he would buy one someday but prefers the hybrid for now, “in case you get stuck without any ability to plug in for recharging.” Under the hood, Ed identified component parts from South Korea and Japan.

Wind is our fuel

With sailboats, the natural propulsion is wind. Absent that, we turn on the engine. Now that’s a hybrid.

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingNearby, Ed slipped into the driver’s seat of a new Smart car. “It has the surprisingly good feel of a big car when you get in. It has a 5-star crash rating even though the car is so small, because the entire upper frame is a roll bar.” Sailboats as large as cars don’t roll over, so that point is moot.

Cars vs. boats, the joy of sailingThey do list from side to side, occasionally disrupting gear stored below. On cars, the same thing can happen with an engine, albeit imperceptibly. Ed pointed to a stability bar over an engine. “On high-performance cars with big RPMs, the bar prevents the engine from shifting its weight even a little bit.”

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingPeople sometimes hit their heads on the sailboat boom. With cars, it’s the rear hatch. We found a Honda CRV whose sharp-edged latch was dangerously exposed. “This is a problem because it will hit you in the head.” It turned out the latch wasn’t completely deployed; we raised it another five inches out of harm’s way. Ed kidded, “Guys from Chevy probably came around and pulled it low so Honda couldn’t sell a CRV.”

3 differentiating factors

So many cars look alike today that I asked Ed what the differentiating factors are. “Performance, safety and ride. That’s it.” It’s pretty much the same with sailboats.

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingWe looked at the new Nissan 370Z. “Nissan got into the Z series of performance in 1972 when they tried to go up against Corvette. “But they haven’t gained any market share over the last 40 or 50 years.” 370Z stands for the 3.7 liter engine.

The new Corvette on the floor of the Convention Center looked mighty impressive and even had a small trunk.

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingA big GMC pickup had a rear gate that opened sideways, exposing a hidden trunk below the truck bed. “I could put my guns there,” one fellow said.

Many cars had variations of a hydrofoil on their trunk. Ed allowed as how hydrofoils still work to keep the back end of the car down when flying at high speeds. I supposed it’s the boating equivalent of heeling in high winds, though we can control that easily.

Fiat was well-represented. “It no longer stands for Fix It Again, Tony,” Ed joked. “They’ve come a long way.” A sales rep named Madeline added, “I wouldn’t have a job by now if I had a dollar for every time someone said that.”

Fiat now owns Chrysler, and to my surprise, Alfa Romeo. “It’s all changed. Someday more car companies will merge like that,” Ed said. We passed a Chrysler 300S, a series that has endured since the early 1960s.” Catalina, Hunter and Beneteau have been around that long and comprise 90% of the US production line of sailboats.

Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailingThe 300S listed at $40,000, compared to $157,000 for a nearby Mercedes AMG sports model. The difference between comparable sailboats is size, say 29 feet vs. 40 feet, which is a big distinction.

18 mpg pickup

The worst mileage we saw was a hog GMC four-passenger pickup truck that stood on tires three feet tall. It got 18 mpg. By contrast, on my 2-cylinder 18 HP Yanmar, I like to tell people I get 28 gallons to the season. Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailing

Curiously, some parts on cars seem interchangeable. Windshields, for example. The removable floors of many of the car trunks seemed all the same, including the plastic hardware. And airbags are all made by the same company, notoriously so. On sailboats, the blocks and tackle are often made by the same manufacturer such as Harken. Only the sizes are different.

For sure, sailboats and cars offer different forms of luxury and style. The most ironic scene was a “Beetle Juiced,” in which a conventional orange Volkswagon was hyped up for off-road racing. Next to it, an orange baby stroller bore a striking resemblance.

Let’s go sail

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Cars vs. boats, the other joy of sailing


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