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Smoother Sailing Ahead?

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I spent this past Saturday as an exhibitor at the New York Boat Show. And miracle of miracles, I was not alone! Throngs of people navigated the aisles all afternoon, seemingly enthused in January with the prospects of a wonderful summer at sea. Since the last boat show at this venue was as exciting as watching algae grow, the transformation could not be any more welcome.

Bunches of boaters spending freely, fueled by easy credit, enlarged stock portfolios, and piggy-banks houses, was last seen by me at a 2007 boat show. Bigger was better, and more seemed like too little as I listened to these boaters speak. More than a few shared that they were buying a second home down south so they could boat almost all year round. What floated their boats was free flowing cash, enabling them to enjoy plentiful leisure time off from their secure jobs.

In 2008, I sensed the crowds were more lookers than buyers (my magazine is distributed without charge, so I saw no direct downturn in show sales). Talking to as many people as I could, I heard incessant griping about the cost of fuel, curtailed home equity lines of credit and/or an inability for boaters to sell their present houses and move up to their dream homes (with docks). The boaters I chatted with were definitely uneasy as the economic woes they'd heard about elsewhere started to occur on their blocks, in their neighborhoods, and down the hall from their offices.

By 2009, attendance was diminished and enthusiasm was extinguished at the four boat shows we attended. It wasn't just co-workers or neighbors who were sinking under economic anchors anymore: foreclosures and layoffs were the only things seemingly rising, leaving many preoccupied with keeping themselves above water. Shopping for boats and accessories simply fell off the radar screens of many recreational boaters; boat dealers and exhibitors at shows chatted among themselves to pass the time, uninterrupted by lookers or buyers.

So imagine the delight of many in the industry as we spotted masses of boaters clogging the aisles, eagerly looking at vessels and accessories. The headlines and the breadlines might say otherwise, but here, right in front of us, was a swarm of admission-paying, brochure-holding, question-asking, price-comparing boaters!

I have no sales figures, and my speculations are merely that, but whether it is the belief that the bottom has been reached without sinking them as well, or merely a relief to escape their true despair for a few hours, would-be boaters, trade-up boaters, upgrade boaters, can't-delay-anymore-replacing-my accessories boaters, plus a whole lot of their friends, were all cruising up and down the aisles of the boat show in early 2010.