At annual show, boats' appeal gains horsepower

Published online: Mar 22, 2010 News Richard Duckett TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
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WORCESTER -  When Chris Schell and Deborah Adams drove from southern Connecticut to the Worcester RV Boat and Camping Show at the DCU Center yesterday, they were ready to signal "yes" to a new boat. 

In the weeks ahead, they will be motoring along the surface of Beach Pond near Voluntown, Conn., in the new 18-foot, $16,900 bowrider boat on which they subsequently made a deposit. 

They are just the sort of people Ed Crawford, owner of Winnisquam Marine in Belmont, N.H., likes to see drop by. 

After the tide of boat sales receded with the recession last year, this year has brought him more people like Mr. Schell and Ms. Adams. They were his first sale yesterday at the Worcester show, which continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (admission is $6, children 12 and younger free with adult admission). 

Mr. Schell of Voluntown and Ms. Adams of Norwich, Conn., described themselves as friends and accomplices. The 50-something pair share an enjoyment of boating and own a model similar to the boat they bought yesterday, but that bowrider dates back to 1984. "We wanted an upgrade," Ms. Adams said. 

They plan to get out on the pond "probably every other weekend when the weather's good," she said. And the economic weather appears to be righting its ship, in their view. "We think the economy is turning around and we feel confident that this is a good time," Ms. Adams said. 

So did they come to the show ready to make a purchase? 

"Yes," said Mr. Schell. "I did," Ms. Adams said. 

Where was Winnisquam a year ago? Spring 2009 through the midsummer was "slow," Mr. Crawford acknowledged. "But in the fall, first we saw rental boats pick up." Then at the Boston Boat Show in February, Winnisquam sold 22 boats, a much-better-than-expected number. "It was very good," Mr. Crawford said. "It's definitely looking up. I'd say we are encouraged." 

Pontoon boats, which have a large deck space that makes them ideal for families, have been doing particularly well, Mr. Crawford said. They range from $15,000 to $50,000. 

Asked who's buying the boats, Mr. Crawford said, "A lot of dual-income working professionals, and some retirees." They keep their boats on a trailer, he added, or "they'll rent a slip. The prices of slips have gone down." 

If the boats were at the high end of the show in terms of price, there are plenty of recreational deals and options at the DCU Center for those who are economy minded or on a budget. 

For $15 a night, you can rent a camp space this summer at West Thompson Lake campground in North Grosvenordale, Conn. The campground is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has some experience in recreational matters. "It is the largest recreation agency in the world," said U.S. Park Ranger Matt Underwood. 

Asked if camping, because it is much cheaper than staying at hotels, has been drawing more people in a tight economy, Mr. Underwood said the overall numbers during the past two or three years have stayed about the same. However, "I think we see more people returning multiple weekends and maybe not going somewhere farther. And we've seen an increase in families. Most everyone says it's a good price for the quality." 

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