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VIDEO: Busy opening day for St. Petersburg show

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After a strong first day and a good weather forecast, organizers of the 36th St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show expect to draw healthy crowds today and throughout the weekend.

"We're projecting high numbers," Show Management senior vice president and COO Dane Graziano said Thursday afternoon. "I think it has a good chance to be record-breaking."

Graziano said the success of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show has set a positive tone for the industry. "The trend has been set," he said. "And don't forget that in [the Gulf Coast] market, this is the premier show."

The show is being held at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts Mahaffey Theater Yacht Basin and Albert Whitted Park. The four-day event touts boats in the water and on the hard.

The first day of a regional show — especially a Thursday — is "sometimes a throwaway day," said Al Baurley, president of Arid Bilge Systems in Deerfield Beach, Fla., "but not this year, judging by the number of people I've seen walking the show today and how much the back of my throat is sore. I have been talking quite a bit. It has pretty much been non-stop this afternoon. It has been a real busy day."

Tim De Vries agreed. He's the sales manager of Formula Boats of Tampa Bay. "It has been a very good first day," he said. "We had good-quality people here and we had several good 'ups.' "

De Vries pointed me to a couple across the dock examining a Formula 270BR (bowrider) and a 290BR (bowrider). Dee and Michael Sharples of St. Petersburg are thinking about trading in their current boat — a 28-foot Formula — and buying a new one.

Dee Sharples told me they enjoy taking their grandchildren boating, but "they are getting older now and have competing activities, so we're trying to figure out if this is 'it' for us as boat owners or whether we should buy."

She would prefer the latter. "These are incredible waters here in Florida," she said as her husband listened to a salesman explain the boat's Mercury engine-monitoring system at the helm. "How can you not own a boat? You get out on the water and you are in another world." And a boat show is the place that gets people excited about that world, she added.

Organizers said this year’s show is larger, with expanded in-water displays featuring nearly 300 exhibitors and hundreds of boats in the water and on land. There also will be an extensive schedule of marine seminars from Sail America, children’s fishing clinics presented by the non-profit Hook The Future and refreshments and live musical entertainment along an expansive waterfront area.

The show is endorsed and sponsored by Sail America, presented by Lincoln and sponsored by Budweiser, Gosling’s, Sail Magazine and Power & Motoryacht Magazine.

Serious buyers often use the first day of the show to lay the groundwork for making a transaction, DeVries said. "We have three people who are bringing their wives back tomorrow — you know, the real decision-makers."

@CPLandry

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