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Smooth sailing or a ‘bumpy ride’?

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It’s been a long time since anyone has suggested we’ve been too effusive in our reporting on the state of the industry. For much of the last four years, just the opposite has been true.

We’ve been criticized for being too negative in our coverage, for reporting on the industry not so much through rose-colored glasses, but with a glass-is-half-empty perspective. That was especially true in the fall and early winter of 2008, when the economy pulled a Thelma and Louise and went over a cliff. Little did we know then just how far down the bottom was.

So it gave me pause when Brian Sheehan of Fortress Marine Anchors wrote to say that he thought our coverage of the Miami International Boat Show this year went “way over the top with its giddiness.” The sales and marketing manager for the lightweight aluminum anchor maker, Sheehan took exception to our description of the foot traffic at the convention center being “steady and brisk” throughout the show, especially given the fact that overall attendance was down about 3 percent this year.

Fair point.

“I know that the industry is starved for good news, and no one wants to read more doom and gloom, so a bit of a positive spin might be nice. But I would prefer we keep it realistic,” Sheehan wrote.

Although sales of boats may be improving, Sheehan said he did not hear similar positive reports from accessory exhibitors, some of whom were down significantly.

I wrote Sheehan back, saying that although it’s been my impression from recent reports that things are improving, the recovery remains “inconsistent and choppy” — an assessment Sheehan agreed with — for a host of reasons, from geography to product and price to target audience, and so on. Some are feeling sunshine; others are still trying to get out of the rain. It all depends.

I spoke earlier this month with a dealer at the Palm Beach International Boat Show who sold five Ranger Tugs in Miami — a 21, a 27, two 29s and a new 31 — and was coming off his best year in 2011 in almost 20 years. A new Ranger dealer, he also sells EdgeWater, Parker and Yamaha.

Conversely, I talked with a couple of small builders in Maine in March who were anything but excited about the current level of demand. In their words you could hear the weariness and fatigue from holding on for so long.

Our senior reporter, Chris Landry, spent two days at the Suncoast Boat Show in Sarasota, Fla., last week, where he interviewed more than a dozen builders and dealers. He said he was surprised by how upbeat most were regarding the re-emerging consumer.

“These were the buzzwords they were using: credible and qualified,” Landry told me. “You’ve got to put it in perspective,” he noted. “We’re coming off some bad times.”

Keeping things even-handed and in perspective is what we strive for in our reports. And with that in mind, the last word today goes to Brian Sheehan, who writes:

“I simply think it would be best to stay factual with the industry news, and while it is good to hear success stories, I think they should be balanced and not the only ones being reported. With $4-per-gallon gas and very heated upcoming fall elections, I think we need to strap ourselves in for a bumpy ride over the summer.”

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