Fishing for gems in a sea of surplus

The Dania Marine Flea Market once again draws throngs of bargain hunters to its maritime oddities sale
Active Interest Media acquired the Dania Marine Flea Market this year from its founder, Al Behrendt. AIM, the owner of Soundings Trade Only, produces the outdoor mini-mall for boaters and marine businesses, and several boat shows.

Active Interest Media acquired the Dania Marine Flea Market this year from its founder, Al Behrendt. AIM, the owner of Soundings Trade Only, produces the outdoor mini-mall for boaters and marine businesses, and several boat shows.

Gary Murphy and his son were selling the detritus of a busy service yard — worn-out outboards, used engine parts, dirty cowls, old seat cushions, the odd piece of hardware — at the Dania Marine Flea Market, a 5.5-acre garage sale for anyone looking to buy or unload junk, surplus inventory and all sorts of used or refurbished marine product.

“I’ve taken nothing back home with me for five years in a row,” says Murphy, who with son Mike owns Marina Mike’s marine dealership in Fort Myers, Fla. What bargain-hunting boaters don’t buy from him, dealers in marine junk — or treasures, depending on how you look at it — take off his hands. “We love it here,” he says.

The March 13-16 flea market was in the parking lot of the Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach, its new home after more than three decades at the Dania Jai Alai in Dania Beach and three years at Dolphin Stadium in Miramar.

The event is a treasure trove — a once-a-year outdoor mini-mall — for boaters, divers and anglers, and businesses ranging from boatyards, marinas and marine stores to engine rebuilders, antique dealers and purveyors of marine junk of all kinds.

Mike Murphy found a dipstick on the pavement beneath the corroded hulk of an outboard they’d brought to the flea market. No sooner had he placed it on a display table with other boat and engine parts when a bargain hunter picked up the well-used dipstick and triumphantly showed it to a friend. “See, I told you they’d have it,” he says.

Then he bought it — for a fraction of what it would have cost new.

“We come here with leftover junk to sell, but one man’s junk is another guy’s treasure,” the elder Murphy says. One customer pawed through a box of parts and improbably found the prop thrust washer he was looking for. Inside another box was a $45 selector valve. “Somebody is going to be looking for that,” Murphy says.

Browsers never know what they’ll find at the enormous “garage” sale, which is held on a 5.5-acre lot.

Browsers never know what they’ll find at the enormous “garage” sale, which is held on a 5.5-acre lot.

And in yet another box, a real steal awaited some sharp-eyed shopper: a computer, still in its original wrapper, for a Yamaha 15D outboard. Murphy said he’d part with the $2,300 part for $100.

“I’ve been doing the Dania flea market ever since I first started coming to Florida,” says Ozzie Oswald, a retired snowbird and flea marketeer who lives on a 55-foot Ocean in the summer in Chicago and in a Florida condo in the winter. He has bought a windlass, anchors, anchor chain, air-conditioner parts, engine covers and tune-up kits there. “You can pretty much fix your whole boat up here,” he says.

John McIntosh, of John’s Vintage Outboards in Hayward, Wis., was selling rebuilt vintage Mercury outboards — a blue 1957 18-hp Mark 25, a red 1958 20-hp Mark 28 with a fully restored rudder and a white 1961 10-hp Mercury 100 — along with some small rebuilt Mercury engines of more recent vintage. “They’re all good-running freshwater Wisconsin motors,” he says. “They weren’t garbage to start out with.”

Retired after 39 years as a Mercury dealer in Hayward, he sold his business with a non-compete agreement that allows him to operate a vintage outboard shop that sells nothing newer than model year 1985. “I’m not going to lie down and die,” he says.

Used and vintage engines are a mainstay among vendors.

Used and vintage engines are a mainstay among vendors.

He sells the 1950s-era motors for $1,000 and newer ones for $500.

“I find them in barns and garages,” he says. “A lot of them haven’t run for many, many years before I get to them.”

There were lots of new Chinese-made rods and reels, which gave Bruce Frank of North Miami Beach heartburn. He was selling rebuilt U.S.- and Japanese-made reels. “This is a lifetime’s accumulation of working on boats,” he says, nodding toward the dozens of reels on display. When owners sell their sportfish boats, they often give him — or sell him — the fishing gear. “It’s not a business,” he says. “It’s an expensive hobby.”

He says he can’t compete with the cheaper Chinese reels.

“A lot of the old-school people still use older stuff,” he says, “but most people today don’t appreciate that kind of quality anymore.”

He can find parts for just about any U.S.-made reel on the Internet, “but you pay through the nose for them — $19, plus $6 shipping for a drag cap,” he says. And the Chinese reels? “The quality’s not there,” he says. “You can’t fix them. You can’t get the parts.” They’re throwaways when they break.

In another aisle, Wade Casto, a partner in Casto Trading Co., of Statham, Ga., was selling odd lots of cordage by the pound. Specializing in commercial-grade line for industrial use, Casto says the flea market is a good venue for unloading odd lots and surplus, and augments his store sales and sales on the Web and eBay.

“This is the only show we do,” he says.

Hazel Hambsh, who manages the Dusky Sports Center retail store in Dania, says she always sells a lot of engine oil at the flea market. David Ross, a first-time exhibitor from Coral Gables, was selling a 1962 25-foot Bertram, a project boat that he never finished, for $11,500.

“I hate to see it go, but I just don’t have time for it,” he says. A collector, he had sold 25 antique outboards at the flea market the day before.

Ben and Tina Fishel were bird-dogging the aisles for vintage Hatteras parts for their used-part business, Skippers Marine in Red Lion, Pa. Lugging a drag-along cart with old rod holders in it, they say Florida is the best place to search for hard-to-find Hatteras parts. “We just can’t find them up north,” Tina says.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue.


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