Jake Kavanagh heads south for a taste of boating Latin style
Brazilians love the great outdoors.
They have summer nearly all year round, so it's not surprising that their boats are floating sundecks.
I was invited out to the 14th Rio Boat show recently and saw a boating industry that was growing far faster than the infrastructure to support it.
Few marinas and strong demand for berths
There are very few marinas – and strict laws about building any new ones, so this magnificent 5,400km coastline should remain relatively unspoilt for many years to come.
The trouble is, the demand for berths is strong, and with some 50 million people elevated to the affluent middle class, there are far more boats being bought than there is space to keep them.
Compounding the problem are sales-starved manufacturers from the USA and Europe who have flocked to this emerging market.
Foreign boats represent good value now that the Brazilian Real is worth a miserly US$ 0.6. Just over a decade ago, it was nearly US$4.
To protect its industry, Brazil whacks on an eye-watering 86% import tax on anything produced outside its own South-American common market, but foreign boats are still competitive against domestic brands.
Dry berthing on a grand scale
With space beside the water in Brazil at a premium, dry berthing on a grand scale solves the problem of having more boats than pontoons.
We're starting to see something similar in the UK, but they have it down to a fine art in Rio. Boats upwards of 40ft are stored in hangers, and launched on demand.
To watch this happen, we were taken to the bustling Marina Verolme, about 2 hours south of Rio. Along the way, we passed a gruesome bus crash and had to negotiate two recent mudslides, which had all but blocked the carriageway. It was a reminder that the country still has a long way to go with its infrastructure before hosting the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016).
The marina was in stark contrast to all this chaos and was a bustling hub of activity. A massive shed held 350 boats under 30ft, whereas out in the main yard, lined up like barrack blocks were the main hangars.
Large twin-engine motorboats of up to 85ft LOA were stored on trolleys in metal sheds, and could be quickly launched by uniformed staff driving tractor units.
It was all very slick, very practiced, and highly effective. The result was a marina that appeared almost empty, but was in fact almost at capacity.
“People like to spend a night afloat before going cruising,” explained the berthing master Cacau Peters. "We could fill the marina up right now with permanent berth holders, but we keep it empty for the dry stack customers instead."
The trolley design allows the travel hoist handlers to set their slings easily once the boats arrive at the pair of launching docks. At weekends, the launching is endless, with a boat dropping in every 15 minutes or so.
Boats stay in good condition
The real beauty of this system, however, is that the boats themselves stay in remarkably good condition.
Protected from the sun from above, fouling and corrosion from below, and with no chafing ropes or rubbing fenders to scratch the topsides between outings, these 'garaged' cruisers would probably last twice as long as a marine-berthed boat before requiring any serious attention.
As for antifouling – well, it wasn't really needed. A quick jet wash took care of any slime from a weekend away.
Maybe we should consider dry stacking for big cruisers more carefully here in the UK? Despite being an 'emerging' economy, the Brazilians seem to be well ahead of us in that department…
Jake Kavanagh marine journalist
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