Optimism pervades in Newport

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The Rhode Island show's increase in attendance 'exceeded expectations'

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The general mood of dealers and consumers at this year's Newport International Boat Show was more upbeat than a year ago.

With attendance up more than 12 percent from 2008, the Sept. 17-20 show on the Newport, R.I., waterfront "exceeded expectations," according to director Nancy Piffard. "We had approximately 40,000 people this year, compared to around 30,000 last year," says Piffard. "We had sun, which we never do, and that always brings people out. Best of all, some dealers sold boats."

Industry experts who spoke on the opening day of the show - which had more than 650 exhibitors and 500-plus boats from 16 to 92 feet - say that by this time next year the economy should stabilize and the industry should improve. "We are starting to see a slight uptick," says Steve Anderson, president of J&J Marine of Somerset, Mass., who spoke during a press conference. "Americans still want what they want and are willing to pay for it."

Peter Galvin, a certified professional yacht broker for Eastern Yacht Sales in Hingham, Mass., says the firm sold three new boats: a Mainship Pilot 34, a Jeanneau 36i, and a Catalina 309. "We're seeing a light at the end of the tunnel," says Galvin. "Saturday was our only crowded day, but we are optimistic. The new Catalina model - the 445 - there were a lot of people interested in that."

Michael Myers, owner of Boston Yacht Sales in Weymouth, Mass. - a dealer for Back Cove, Hatteras and Sabre - announced on the company's Facebook page that he had a very successful show. "It was the best show we have experienced," he states. "People were enthusiastic and motivated to buy. We came home with three orders, and we have lots to follow up on."

Geoff Marshall of Marshall Marine Corp. in Dartmouth, Mass., thought the show was very positive overall. "Making an actual sale at the shows is rare for us, but I think we got a good number of strong leads," says Marshall, who displayed the new Sanderling 18 catboat with an updated cockpit. "I already have a few test sails lined up from people who saw us at the show."

Attendees on the docks also seemed more serious about buying. Karen Sumner of Falmouth, Maine, had sold her Saga 43 sailboat a few years ago and, after chartering a Sabre 402, she recently decided to get back into sailing with her husband. "We haven't found anything that has caught our interest at this show, but we'll probably be looking to purchase in the near future," says Sumner.

Eric and Sydney Fisher of Jamestown, R.I., sailed to the show in their 1995 36-foot Catalina looking for accessories. "We've had it for five years and it's a great boat," says Eric Fisher. "Some of these newer models are intriguing, but we're thinking about just updating her smaller electronics, such as the VHF."

Sydney says she felt the show had a good atmosphere and the salespeople weren't overly aggressive. "Of course the idea of having something a little bit better is always in the back of our minds," she says. "But the 36 fits our needs pretty well right now."

Piffard hopes the optimism she and others detected at Newport will continue through the fall shows. "It's been over a year where people have been very conservative with their money, and it seems like now the people that can spend are spending a little more," says Piffard.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.

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