Determined buyers come out for New England show

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BOSTON — The Progressive New England Boat Show, which ran from Feb. 14 through Sunday, had drastically reduced attendance because of frigid weather and several feet of snow that plagued the region, but many exhibitors said the people who did show up were buying boats.

“The traffic is just OK, but the quality of attendee is good,” Hunt Yachts sales director John Hendricks said Friday evening. “I’d rather have high-quality traffic than a big non-buying crowd.”

Hendricks spoke as he looked on at a christening party for Maggie Mae, a 43-foot Hinckley that went viral nationally when it became stuck in snow, blocking traffic in downtown Boston, as it was being transported to the show. Owner Robert Vincent, who was having the Hinckley delivered to him in Rhode Island after the show, held the well-attended christening party at the Hinckley booth.

Mike Bassett, who co-owns Louis Marine with his brother Tim, also said people were buying at their booth, where they had their largest Jeanneau show display to date, with 11 boats. Interest was especially high in new models such as the 6.5 Cap Camerat and the Merry Fisher 695 Marlin, as well as the Merry Fisher 755 and 855.

“First we were just testing the market,” said Bassett, who was one of the brand’s first U.S. dealers. The dealership recently took on Rec Boat Holdings brand Four Winns after the group’s acquisition by Jeanneau’s parent company, the Beneteau Group. “Now we are full-on; we can’t keep them in stock.”

Michael Myers, of Boston Yacht Sales, agreed that the weather was “a drag.” “But I think there’s been good activity,” he said, adding that the new Sabre and Back Cove products were helping to energize crowds. “The mood is much more optimistic this year.”

The new 19-foot Sea Ray SPX and the 270 Sundeck were popular at the Russo Marine booth, owner Larry Russo said. “I’m happy with the new products; they’re being well-received.”

“The 270 and 290 Sundecks have done extremely well at shows,” said Rob Nye, who is based in Knoxville, Tenn., as product support director for Sea Ray. “The biggest thing people are loving about this boat is the width and the space. You have the full width of the beam throughout the boat.”

The boat is partitioned into three “zones,” which makes it versatile for the many people it can comfortably seat, Nye said.

Show manager Joe O’Neal said the word on the floor was that sales generally were up despite what he projects to be double-digit drops in attendance — due in part to the show’s closure on Feb. 15, the opening Sunday.

The show was expanded again this year to the entire floor, but did not utilize the A Hall, which helped during a very challenging move-in, O’Neal said. “We’ve never had a move-in that challenging. The city stopped issuing wide-load permits. It was a mess for two and a half days.”

Russo said a few of his Sea Rays didn’t make it to the show because of the permitting problem.

Because boats were arriving out of order, organizers had to “pile the boats” into the empty hall. The show used 450,000 square feet, as opposed to the 300,000 square feet it had last year.

Hendricks, of Hunt Yachts, credited management with creating a comfortable temperature in the high-ceilinged Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Outside the city saw single-digit temperatures and negative wind chills. “There’s no draft at all. It’s comfortable. It’s a well-run escape for our industry.”

Exhibitors had high hopes for the closing weekend of the show.

“Although the Saturday and Sunday attendance was not the crush we expected, sales were good,” Russo said after the show closed on Sunday. “We sold 24 Whalers and 14 Sea Rays, which was about half what we sold last year. We ended the show with a 45-foot Sea Ray sale.”

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