James, we've been to the London show twice while wintering at St. Katharine's Dock
. And sure, the Southampton show is 'better' - that is, if you get a good weather
day and not a bad one. But the two Lond shows I attended were much enjoyed, and each time I went on multiple days.
Here are some suggestions and typical benefits I found when going (tho' these were in 2004 and 2005, so things of course could have changed):
-- take your non-British driver's license
or boat document with you, and you will be allowed at the gate to register as a 'foreign yachtsman' with attendance fees
waived. They'll give you a plastic neck-cord pass which you can wear from then on.
-- this same pass also gives you access to a lounge where there was free internet
and refreshments plus lots of overstuffed chairs; great way to catch your breath
-- there seemed to be lots of line and fender
specials both years; fenders would be out for you, but perhaps not getting a good deal on line?
-- because it is a major show, many of the marine
mfgrs' key players attend and mingle; I found very knowledgeable folks there that helped me get A's to some complicated Q's I had - e.g. the International Paint's European Sales Manager was at their booth and he started with them as a chemist . Very savvy guy. This was equally true for the electronics
-- both years the British Navy
offered an open house on one of their modern frigates and the hospitality (as well as the in-depth tour) was first rate
-- similarly, the RNLI had one of their newer boats available for boarding. If talking to the crew and hearing some of their sea stories doesn't convince you that those boats are 'all-weather' craft, then looking at the serious wheelhouse chairs for all hands, with multiple safety
belts each, just might.
-- I found the show venue to be first class and of course absent any weather
concerns, from boarding the DLR onward...except for going out on the river dock
to look at the Frigate and RNLI life boat.
Having said all that, the show's had some poor financial results the last few years so I'd definitely look at the program before making a final decision. After all, Dusseldorf is (I'm told) an outstanding show.