Gulf tough: a region on the rebound

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The Gulf region is nothing if not resilient, tough as the shrimpers, roughnecks, charter boat skippers and others who for generations have made a livelihood on these waters. Since 2004, Ivan, Charley, Katrina, Rita and Ike have barreled ashore. Then came the recession. And this year saw oil spew for months through the runaway BP well. It's enough to make one shutter the old business and move to higher ground.

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But that's not what happened with many of the folks who make up the recreational and commercial marine industries in the region. They've been hurt. Many had to lay off workers. And they've had to scramble and scratch just to hang on. But with the well now capped, there is hope that life and business can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, whatever that means these days.

Our report on business in the Gulf of Mexico after the spill starts on Page 28. As the main story was being reported, writer David Shaw and I spoke several times about what he was finding, how the story was taking shape, what people were telling him. What I heard clearly in David's voice, based on his conversations and interviews, was a deep respect for the perseverance and hopefulness of the people who make up the region's marine community.

"They're used to dealing with hurricanes," David told me. "In fact, almost all of them said they've had to rebuild their homes and businesses more than once due to storms."

But the spill was a new hurdle for even this storm-hearty region. "Nevertheless," David continued, "when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, they stuck with it and did the best they could. When asked why not just leave, I was told on more than one occasion, 'Hey, this is our home. This is where we belong, where we live, a place we love, and we ain't leaving for nothin'.' "

You'll also hear this month from Mississippi resident Jon Overing, a naval architect, lifelong sailor and megayacht designer who recently designed a series of unique skimmers to work the BP spill. Having grown up on the Gulf, Overing was motivated by a strong desire to protect the treasure that is in his backyard.

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"I have a house on the water," Overing tells senior writer Jim Flannery. "I boat. I grew up on boats. ... The marshes are a major part of our ecosystem in the Gulf. We can't let them be destroyed." To that end, Overing also is working with partners to develop microbes that will "eat" or break down oil in near-shore and estuarine waters.

Resilience and hope in a better tomorrow: who doesn't share those sentiments?

As members of an industry so dependent on discretionary income, each of us has demonstrated a good bit of fortitude during the last two years in the face of the worst economic freefall in our lifetimes. And as this summer has demonstrated, not all the rough road is in the rearview mirror quite yet. Some tough miles still lie ahead.

In the Gulf, people are starting to use their boats again, good news for everyone there. And there's talk - or hope, at least - that some degree of pent-up consumer demand due to the missed or altered summer boating season will kick in soon, too.

With the fall shows getting under way, everyone is trolling the new-boat docks for consumers. How many are just looking and how many are ready to bite? Time will tell.

Peter Frederiksen of Viking Yachts, an avid boater himself, says boat shows often remind people of the joy of getting out on the water and give them a better appreciation for the boat they own.

"People need to fall in love with boating again," Frederiksen says, "and remember how much fun it was."

Whether you're in the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf of Maine, that's the reason we're in this crazy business. We all know there are easier ways to make money.

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.

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