Boat buyers buoy vendors at show

March 2009 News

PORTLAND - There may be financial turbulence outside, but inside the Cumberland County Civic Center on Saturday, it was smooth sailing.

Boat sales are holding up despite the ups and downs of the stock market, according to Sean Brogan, a salesman for Port Harbor Marine who was one of his company's representatives at the Maine Boat Show, which wraps up a four-day run today.

"People that are coming out aren't talking about a recession, they're talking about boating," Brogan said, noting that he sealed one deal as soon as the doors opened at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Brogan said the foot traffic at the show seemed down this year, but many of the visitors are there for more than just a look at the latest in fishing boats, pontoon boats and yachts.

"They're serious buyers, rather than people just coming to kick the tires," he said.

Brogan said Port Harbor Marine has had a busy spring. He said the company sent several salespeople and boats to the Boston boat show recently, which usually yields a handful of sales. This time, he said, they came back with 18 orders.

The key, Brogan said, is that a lot of Mainers are avid boaters who aren't going to let news about financial crises, bankruptcies and rising foreclosures keep them from getting out on the water during the state's brief summers.

"People that are out there to boat and recreate are still going to do it," he said. "They're going to do it regardless of a recession or the price of fuel."

Steve Arnold, owner of Yarmouth Boat Yard, agreed.

"People want to go boating. They are going to go boating," Arnold said. "The sun's going to come up tomorrow."

Arnold admitted that his outlook wasn't very bright just a few months ago, when he forecast that his sales would drop by 30 percent this year.

Instead, sales are up about 10 percent, he said, "knock on fiberglass," tapping the hull of the largest boat he had at the show: a 35-foot, $350,000 Prowler outfitted with twin V-8 outboards.

It was sold before the show, Arnold said.

Jim Boyle admitted he's not likely to add to Arnold's bottom line anytime soon.

Boyle, who was at the show with his son, Jared, said this isn't the time for someone who's in real estate to sink thousands into a boat.

"If it turns around, maybe next year," he said.

Still, the idea of selling his own house and moving onto a boat had some appeal, Boyle said, until he thought about what it would do to his business if others followed his example.

"I've got to start selling the water," he said.

Nearby, Steve and Megan VanRensselaer were checking out the latest models with their daughter Ashley, 5, but admitted they weren't in the market for what was parked on the floor of the Civic Center.

Steve VanRensselaer said it's nice to look at the new boats, but if the family decides to buy something, it's likely to be an older model.

"I don't know if any time is a good time to buy a boat, but the prices for used boats are attractive," he said as Ashley scampered around an $28,000 outboard.

Besides, thinking about boating made for a nice diversion from the still-frigid weather outside, VanRensselaer added.

"It's nice just to get out and do something other than shovel snow," he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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