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There's traffic on the ICW, and that's good for business

If your business is doing poorly now, you don’t need anyone to tell you that it is. But I thought you might be interested in something I’ve been picking up on our annual trip south.

It’s been much colder and windier than usual — we’re riding out a gale at Bald Head Island Marina in North Carolina as I write — but there have also been a lot more boats going south than I expected. We’ve made this trip for many years, and we notice patterns. And from what we’ve seen, this doesn’t seem to be a recessed year in traffic, even though some goofballs in D.C. just figured out we’ve been in a recession for a year. And while some marinas and marine businesses are having big troubles, some are getting by relatively well considering the times.

For example, in the Beaufort/Morehead City, N.C., area, Neal Littman told me that the Morehead City Yacht Basin has high bookings, particularly by large sportfishing boats after tuna. Bookings rapidly increased as fuel prices decreased. Tuna and lower fuel prices are probably just part of the reason. It’s a well-run marina, sells ValvTect fuel, and appears well-situated to weather financial storms.

John Warrington, of Beaufort Yacht Sales, a long-established dealer and broker, says they’re selling boats. Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental looked very busy when we visited to pick up a fuel pump for our generator. The folks at Deltaville (Va.) Marina and Boatyard said they’ve been extremely busy storing and preparing boats for the winter.

Folks at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor in St. Augustine, Fla., said they’re taking a large number of bookings for the winter. Frank Monachello, of Marine Pro in Cocoa, Fla. — they installed a 200-hp Yanmar on my boat — told me they’re off a little but holding their own. He said he’s turning a few more wrenches and pushing less paper, but he likes to keep hands-on and likes to see his many old and loyal clients.

Why are many marine businesses surviving? Although business fate doesn’t always reward the worthy, having run the business well in the good times is definitely an important factor. But there’s another reason. In the areas we’ve passed through, people were using their boats like we always see them — passionately. They were zooming up and down the ICW, in and out the inlets, using fuel and, yes, spending money on boat stuff, because you can’t go boating without that. And I hear that we’ll see more of that as we continue south.

We’re doing what the TV talking heads call “discretionary spending.” But there are a lot of us out here who don’t consider being on the water “discretionary.” I’m one of them. I’ve owned boats since I was 9 years old, and now they tell me I’m 65. I see a lot more like me as we slog down the coast. “Discretionary,” hell. It’s a part of life. And over past years we’ve noticed that some are even more likely to go cruising in bad financial times. Why stay home and listen to the panic pushers on the evening news?

Most of us know we couldn’t be slogging down the coast, or on the water at all, without marine businesses. I’m pretty handy with a wrench (have to be — I’m poor and I travel to out-of-the-way places), but I was totally over my head when my old Perkins died. And Frank Monachello and his guys were there to help.

I, and a lot of people like me, am going to be loyal to the good marine businesses. They help me to be here. I hope I help them to be here.

Tom Neale
Technical editor
Soundings magazine

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