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Grand Pavois 2004 – La Rochelle

First contact – Immense car parks, thousands of cars… gentle breeze blows.On the way, warehouses, manufacturers and ship chandlers face a university and an aquarium, one of the most visited in Europe. Ten knots of wind and familiar slappings are made hear… Little by little, crowd is done denser; it seems to converge towards a point. The slappings are done stronger. After a turning, thousands of masts appear, strucked per as many ropes. The port of “Les Minimes de La Rochelle” opens its doors with the 32nd boat show, one of the most important of the world.

The origin – Created in 1973 by impassioned people, the Grand Pavois  welcomes today almost thirty times more visitors. The level of 100 000 attendees was crossed in 2002. To follow its ambitions and to consolidate its success, the show was seen equipped, this year, of 10 000 m² of additional surface. That is to say a total of 55 000 m² devoted to all that has a near or far relationship (sometimes by very far), with the boat.

From Kite-surfing to the 57′ sailing ship, while passing by the runabouts, the kayaks or the marine binoculars, the diversity of the booths makes the richness of the show. However, the significant number of exhibitors (approximately 600) gives airs of “parisianism” to this traditionally more “marine” and “family” show. “One does not find much any more of sailors here…” evokes with irony a navigator woman from La Rochelle, accustomed to the show. The unceasingly increasing size of the show is likely, in the long term, to pose some problems of infrastructures even of identity. One can already see the first steps of them.

Environment – La Rochelle is a modest town of 140 000 inhabitants and the presence of more than 100 000 visitors has a very strong impact on the local life. One must feed, lodge, ensure the transport of all these visitors but also to preserve the environmental quality of the place. The show insists much on the importance of ecology while being rigorous on the selective sorting, on the exhibitors’ side as well as on the visitors’. Thus, this year is renewed the “Grand Pavois Bleu” operation. By concern for respect of the places and by lack of space, the access is very regulated, and without an official badge, exhibitor or press, the visitors sometimes had to walk more than 45 minutes to join the show, in spite of the few shuttles running for the occasion.

Organization – The show is not one of the most accessible but offers a great quality of organization with regard to its surface. Several well identified zones cut out the Grand Pavois. Thus the motorboats are, for the first year, all located at the same place. The same applies to the sailing ships, upperworks or restoration. “Today, we are not forced any more to cross the show in all directions to see what interests us” explains Jean Guy one accustomed visitor of the show. This last is so well segmented that one can spend one whole day without approaching only one single sailing ship!

The motor is in – The Grand Pavois is made the echo of the increasing success of the motorboats: for proof more than half of the boats of the show are with engine. These small high-speed motorboats undoubtedly attract an increasingly large audience. The price is much lower than a sailing ship but especially, there are less constraints. The licence is passed in a few hours, there is no sail to manage and that goes fast. This new phenomenon poses many problems with regard to the safety requirements which are badly, or not respected at all. On this subject, new rules should be announced at the Paris Boat Show.

The guest – Among the multiple zones, a space is devoted to the “Invited of Honour” country. This year it is South Africa that has the opportunity to expose its best shipyards, after New Caledonia (2002) and Denmark (2003). Lost in the horde of exhibitors, an exposure of lithographies of Nelson Mandela and some Zulu dancers who make short appearances.

A growing success – At the time when the French people don’t have a penny, in spite of some signs of economic revival, how to explain the constant growing success of the Show? First of all, the Grand Pavois is different from the others by essence. Indeed, to see the boats at sea makes it possible to be more easily let derived towards open sea dreams than with cradle or hangars visits. More, about thirty boats are available for tests at sea. It is a first approach which makes it possible to know if one has sea legs…

In addition, a more relaxed environment, than that of the Paris Boat show for example, gives an enormous asset of sympathy to the Grand Pavois, more especially as La Rochelle is a town of sailors to the difference of the Capital. “One is much more tensed at the Paris Boat show than here, at La Rochelle, even to sign deals” declares a sails craftsman who proudly exposes its many boom block systems.

The drift? – Monday September 20th, the Grand Pavois closed its doors again and returned its port to the sailors after a 32nd edition haloed by a large media and commercial success. For more than 30 years the La Rochelle Boat Show seems not to want to stop growing and its diversification is done increasingly important, too much important? Thus, one could see in the alleys of the show a booth where the “exhibitors” sold fresh fish by auction. Doubtful staging or true folklore? To know, if one must more be alarmed by the fact that they are true fishermen or students searching for occasional jobs…

– CdB –

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