Recession’s survivors gather at Maine show

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The Maine Boatbuilders Show last weekend reflected the recession's mark on the Maine boatbuilding industry.

The first two days of the three-day show garnered about 5,000 visitors, according to the Portland Press-Herald.

"A lot of the people who should be here got wiped out," one survivor, David Hulbert, who manufactures the Portland Pudgy, a combination lifeboat and dory, told the paper.

Between 2005 and 2011 the number of sailboat builders in North America declined by 23 percent, from 146 to 113, according to a study released by Sail America.

The study, however, found that the industry has since stabilized and is even showing some growth in the small daysailer and entry-level cruiser category. There are no data available about how many Maine boatbuilders have closed up shop, but several boatbuilders at the show on Saturday said the number is significant.

"A lot of boat companies aren't here anymore," James Allen, brokerage director at Bass Harbor-based Morris Yachts, told the Press-Herald. "That we're here shows that we have done as well as can be expected."

Unlike other yards that only manufacture boats, Morris Yachts is multifaceted, operating two full-service yards on Mount Desert Island. Steady business at the service yards brought in enough revenue to keep the company open during the recession, he said.

He said sales of "middle-market" boats, those costing $500,000 to $600,000, were particularly hard-hit by the recession of 2007-2009, the longest and deepest downturn in the United States since the Great Depression.

The market for superyachts built for the world's financial elite remained strong, Morris said. However, those yachts are being built in Europe, not Maine, Allen said.

Morris is now trying to compete in that market with the company's newly designed M46, a $1.2 million luxury sailing yacht designed for people who have a lot of money, but not a lot of sailing experience. In a press release about the yacht, the company describes the boat's cabin as a "penthouse you can take with you."

Hulbert’s Portland Pudgy is more downscale, selling for $2,600 to $6,400.

The good news for Maine boatbuilders, though, is that business is up slightly from a year ago, particularly in the sales of secondhand boats and the business of servicing boats.

Still, many middle-class people are cautious about spending too much money on a boat, Morris Yachts CEO Doug Metchick said. Besides the market for high-end luxury yachts, he said, there is a growing demand for boats that sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

Portland Yacht Services president Phineas Sprague Jr. said Maine boatbuilders are eager for business to pick up again.

Click here for the full report.

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