Friday, January 18, 2008

6 November – 11 -- The SSCA Gam in Melbourne

The annual convention of the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), across the state in Melbourne, once again followed hard on the heels of the St. Pete Boat Show. After we wound up our extended stay at the St. Pete Pier, we found ourselves with just two days to kill before our reservation in Melbourne, so instead of heading home to Crystal River, we made the dangerous decision to spend them at Lazy Days RV Center’s Rally Park.

Lazy Days Temptation

Stopping at Lazy Days is always a risky decision because not only do they have the world’s largest selection of RVs, but they surely have the world’s most polished sales force. Our interest this time was their previously-owned units, our curiosity sparked by several other RVers we met at the St. Pete boat show. A couple of the guys we’d met last year had traded up to used 40’ units since we'd seen them, plus we’d made friends with another couple Bill and DeDe who’d pulled into the show grounds pulling a 27’ coffee and ice cream concession trailer behind their 42’ Monaco. Bill and DeDe pursue quite the retirement career building and selling these concession trailers in between working them at special events in whatever part of the country they have the itch to be! With our “new” split identity as part-time stateside residents raising our living costs, Don was intrigued with the idea of Bill and DeDe's successful-while-mobile business.

To make a long story short, we did NOT buy a new coach at Lazy Days…which is not to say were weren’t seriously tempted, because in fact, after we sat down and gave our salesman the item-by-item description of desired amenities, features and décor, damned if he didn’t come up with one that seemed near perfect – a 2006 Monaco Camelot with a cherry interior and a bath and a half layout The most amazing (and frightening) thing about RV shopping is how easily you can persuade yourself that six-digit numbers are a good deal! Hah! Fortunately, reason prevailed…this time at least. Well, actually we were saved when someone else bought the coach out from under us. We’ll never know what might have happened otherwise, but I can tell you the relief was unanimous!

However we did enjoy a full 24-hour day as temporary Crowne Club members. Lazy Days is well known for providing free hot dogs and burgers to any RVer or wannabe that stops by. The Crowne Club takes that another step UP. It is Lazy Days’ upscale social center for its high-end coach owners, providing with free drinks and gourmet buffets several times a day in a country club style atmosphere. Like proper cruisers, we made used every hour of our pass before slipping out and continuing on our way. It is a seductive amenity.

SSCA Gam

Every year Don and I seem to have more invested in the Seven Seas Cruising Association's annual Melbourne Gam – seminars we are participating in, speakers we want to hear, friends we want to rendezvous with. This year I had also contributed to SSCA’s big membership and attendance drive by writing an article on the organization for the November issue of Latitudes and Attitudes. Unfortunately, with hurricane season seeming to linger later and later every year, many of the southbound ICW (Intracoastal Waterway ) cruisers were held up farther north by requirements of their insurance companies, so despite all the efforts at the shows and in the press, overall attendance was lighter than hoped. The good news is, it was probably balanced out somewhat by a great turnout at the smaller Annapolis Gam in October.

This year Kathy Parsons, Pam Wall and I were invited to bring the "Women & Cruising" seminar we do at the boat shows to the Gam. On Friday morning, we conducted a “forum” in our usual format in the large seminar room, while on Saturday Kathy and I continued with a more informal roundtable gathering. Both were fully attended, with great questions and exchanges. I’m not quite sure why our seminar is always so successful, over others that try to do much the same thing. I think it is because there are the three of us, with our different backgrounds and resumes. We make a visually and intellectually interesting dog-and-pony show, plus we have put together some very nice handouts. While at the boat shows, most attendees are neophytes, at the Gam, of course, many of the women sitting in are at least as experienced as we are, if not more so! It was a very rewarding exchange, and I was able to recruit several more Admirals to contribute to my Admiral’s Angle column.

I also had been invited to be on a panel called “Working Your Boat Offshore” where I was the sole woman panelist with august speakers like Jim Corenman, Dave Abbott and David Lynn. The moderator, SSCA board member Jack Tyler, had chosen to focus on four main topics – watch standing and collision avoidance, MOB prevention and general safety, avoiding and dealing with illness offshore, and preparing for and managing heavy weather. Each of us led off on one of the topics, while the rest of us followed up with our comments. Jack’s format was a lot more controlled than the open forum we usually pursue in Women & Cruising and I was afraid that it might end up more stilted, but in fact I think it ended up quite informative. I know I picked up a lot of ideas for my column.

Meanwhile Don had another good turnout for his hand-on roundtable about watermakers, once again with the help of Dick Murray of Murray Marine who again brought up a working demo model of one of Spectra’s popular units. Don also got recruited to man the booth selling Clamp-Tite tools in the vendor’s hall by company owner Sonora. Since Don was given his first Clamp-Tite four or five years ago, he has been an avid promoter of this handy gizmo, so it was natural for him to become an actual salesman. My only complaint about all the time he spent selling Clamp-Tites was that he missed attending some of the other lectures with me, like the Abbot family’s “Circumnavigating aboard a Catamaran” (the Abbots, in addition to Donna’s being one of my Admirals, are friends of our friends Tom and Bette Lee aboard Quantum Leap.) and “Using Your (Offshore) Medical Kit with More Confidence.” Wow, that one was an eye-opener!

As usual, one of the best parts of the Gam is the chance to socialize with friends cruising in other parts of the world. The Gam’s official social events are the Friday Cocktail party and the Saturday BBQ. The cocktail party was a good time this year, with a chance to meet lots of new people. The BBQ night however was too damn chilly to be relaxing. Fortunately, our friends Dave and Sherry of Soggy Paws made November their month to visit Stateside from the Rio Dulce, so Friday after the cocktail party we were able to have dinner with them and fellow CSY owners Ed and Daisy of Siesta up from the Keys, as well as get to the annual CSY owners breakfast Sunday morning attended by probably a dozen CSY fellows. Sunday evening after the Gam packed up we enjoyed a laid-back evening at the RV with Kathy and her partner Bill over grilled steaks and football. Kathy and Bill are taking off for six weeks in Argentina while they consider swapping Bill’s Hale Kai for a catamaran! Kathy’s and my friendship takes place almost exclusively via email and Skype, with our paths rarely crossing other than during the seminars. God, cruisers make for such interesting and flexible friendships!

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