I am not averse to spending other people’s money. So, when my good friend Chuck Larson asked me to meet his nephew Ryan at the Chicago Boat, RV & Strictly Sail Show to “help the kid pick out a boat,” I did not hesitate to say yes to the request.
Actually, I did hesitate.
First, I made sure we would not be venturing into the weirdness of the Strictly Sail portion of the show.
Then there was more hesitation while I secured financial backing (other people’s money) from Capt. Editor, who agreed to cover my expenses for the journey from snowbound Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to blustery Chicago. Those details covered, I was off for the Windy City via Amtrak, where Ryan picked me up in his Saab 93 outside Union Station.
Ryan is not to be confused with Chuck’s hipster nephew, Alan, borrower of the Yar-Craft. And Ryan is not “a kid.” He’s 39 and a mogul in the field of public relations at a big Michigan Avenue shop. He keeps his Porsche in a cozy garage all winter, which is why he was driving his “winter beater” to the boat show. When the Saab’s radiator hose erupted in a cloud of steam as we parked in the McCormick Place garage, Ryan shrugged and we simply walked around the puddle of antifreeze. We were on a serious mission here.
In a pre-show interview, Ryan laid out to me his marine dream: His boat has an awesome audio system and blue LED cockpit lights — and matching underwater LED lighting — and he is bobbing off Navy Pier with friends or clients, waiting for fireworks. Or he is watching the Blue Angles in an air show. Or he is entertaining his posse dockside at Burnham Harbor before walking to Soldier Field for a Bears game. I noticed that his Saab has an awesome audio system and blue LED mood lighting.
I immediately navigated Ryan to the Formula booth and aboard a well-optioned 290 BR. I clicked a switch on the dash, and blue LEDs glowed from each speaker grille. This was too easy. I gave Ryan a full Boating magazine walk-through of the Formula, but he became fixated on one small detail. Formula fills the center of each snap for canvas with a little black-rubber plug. I’m told it’s to ward off salt residue and dirt. Ryan loved the little plugs as much as he loved the blue LEDs. We spent the rest of the day looking at other perfectly serviceable 29-foot boats, some with blue LED lighting. None with plugs in the snaps. Ryan checked every boat.
At some point, I’d explained to Ryan that when I evaluate a boat and see some obvious sloppy workmanship, it makes me suspect the quality in places I can’t see. The snap plugs were Ryan’s confirmation of the absolute superiority of the Formula 290 BR.
At the end of the day, we stood on a dark, cold street corner and watched as the Saab was winched onto a flatbed recovery truck. The bitter weather and the price of the Formula made Ryan think hard about the short season in Chicago and the days Lake Michigan would be too rough to be fun. Pragmatism set in. Maybe he’d join a boat club or start with a smaller boat on Lake Geneva. His girlfriend wouldn’t like the boat — or spending the money. Maybe he’d get a new girlfriend. One who happens to be attracted to blue LED lighting.