There are buyers out there

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Here’s a sampling of people who thought now is the time to purchase a boat

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There’s no doubt there are fewer boat buyers out there, but contracts nonetheless were being signed at several boats shows we attended this winter.

One Connecticut dealer, who preferred to be “low-key” and unidentified, says the Harford (Conn.) Boat and Fishing Show in January was the best show he’s had in two years, tallying 14 signed-and-sealed sales. “It’s not the glory days of doing 30 units, but 14 boats is a good show,” he says. The dealership did $723,000 in sales, led by a $220,000 35-footer.

Attendance at the Hartford show was down only 5 percent from the previous year’s roughly 16,000 attendees, according to Grant Westerson, executive director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association.

“In a normal economy, that would be a good show,” says Westerson. “In this economy, it was a great show. I don’t know anyone who attended that walked away dissatisfied.”

The dealer who reported having such a good show broke his 14 sales down as follows: half were 2009 models (Four Winns, Stingray and Yamaha), one was a leftover, and six were new boats acquired through dealership repossessions. “That’s what’s going to sell this year,” the Connecticut dealer says, adding that right after the show he made a deal to buy 10 more boats through dealership repossession. “The buyer that is out there is looking for a deal, so you’ve got to give them a deal.”

Three dealerships teamed up and sold four Triumph boats in Hartford: Guilford (Conn.) Boat Yards, Xtreme Marine of Brookfield, Conn., and A&S Boats of South Windsor, Conn. “I was really encouraged,” says Anne Duhaime, owner of Guilford Boat Yards. “We partnered with these dealerships before at the Norwalk [Conn.] show last year, and it worked so well we decided to do it again.”

Meanwhile, the Providence (R.I.) Boat Show in January saw about a 10 percent increase in attendance over the typical turnout of 20,000, recovering from last year’s drop of 20 percent. “We estimate we’ve sold close to 20 boats between the Providence and the Hartford shows,” says Diane Bassett-Zable, president of Bassett Boat Co., a dealer with locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “We are very encouraged. The consumer is being reminded to go out and enjoy life again.”

Not everyone who bought a boat was anxious to talk about it because of the difficult times and the impression their purchase might make on friends and neighbors. “They are happy they bought the boat, but there was a little bit of guilt because they know others aren’t doing so well right now,” says Doug McKenzie, vice president and general manager of Boats Incorporated in Niantic, Conn. “They’re feeling some peer pressure, and I understand that and respect that.”

Boats Incorporated featured Grady-White and Parker boats in Hartford, and McKenzie says they sold five boats and two from leads after the show.

What follows is a snapshot of who was buying boats recently and what they bought. The boats range from a Skeeter ZX190 to an Outer Reef 63. We also found a pair of anglers who were ready to buy but didn’t find what they were looking for, and a kayaker in the market for his first sailboat.

The Stebbinses
Doug and Lynne Stebbins of Port Washington, N.Y., bought a new Nordic Tug 32 late last year from Wilde Yacht Sales, in Essex, Conn., after trading in the 25-foot Chaparral they had owned for a year.

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“The Chaparral had a 380-hp MerCruiser I/O that really went pretty fast,” says Doug Stebbins, 58. “Neither Lynne nor my son Gregory, who is 12, felt comfortable at the helm when the boat was planing at higher speeds. It wasn’t as steady as we’d like.”

The couple became interested in the Nordic Tugs line last fall and contacted Ben Wilde to make an appointment. “We both come from an avid sailing background, and we wanted something slow and steady,” says Lynne, 55. “Gregory sails, and we wanted something we could follow him in during his races. He sails an Opti now, but will be graduating to a Laser soon.”

Lynne says the gas engine on the Chaparral typically burned around 12 to 13 gallons an hour. The Nordic Tug’s 280-hp Volvo Penta diesel gives the boat a range of 700 miles with its 205-gallon fuel capacity, according to Lynne.

Why did they choose to buy a boat now, in the midst of a recession? In part because they feel comfortable with their jobs and financial situation. Doug is a trial lawyer, and Lynne is an insurance brokerage lawyer in New York. They also said they got an offer they couldn’t refuse: three years of free fuel, dockage, storage and maintenance.

“It was something we couldn’t pass up,” says Lynne. “They also offered two weeks of training on the boat with the purchase. We realized if we had gotten more training with the Chaparral that we would’ve realized it wasn’t the boat for us.”

List price for the Nordic Tug 32 was $399,000, according to Lynne. One of the features that appealed to Doug was the combination of a heavier boat and a more efficient diesel. They were eager to test-drive the boat, but knew that would be difficult because the New England winter was setting in.

“We really wanted to find time to get the boat in the water,” says Doug.

The dealer stepped up and played a key role in the sale, arranging for a sea trial in early December, when the Connecticut River was littered with ice. Doug says Wilde was very knowledgeable and managed to get the boat in the water with assistance of Brewer Dauntless Shipyard, also in Essex. The Stebbins bought the boat that very day.

“Doug and I have very good credit, so it was easy for us to get a loan,” says Lynne. “We’ve been married for 30 years, and we’ve always had a stable income.”

Lynne says they were able to negotiate a 20-year loan at an interest rate of 6.87 percent, with a negotiable down payment. The couple declined to say what they paid upfront.

“The bottom line is if we personally thought we were in real trouble [financially], there’s no way we would’ve done this,” says Lynne.

Greg Gondek
Essex resident Greg Gondek bought a Skeeter ZX190 bass boat from Reynolds’ Garage and Marine in Lyme, Conn., at the Hartford Boat Show. “It’s got a 175-hp Yamaha on it, and I’m having it built,” says Gondek, 54, the president of a company in Cromwell, Conn., that provides office equipment and management services. “I traded in a 20.5-foot Skeeter with a Yamaha 225. Things have changed for me; my son’s in college, and I just need something small.”

Gondek says boat shows are invaluable to him because they allow him to compare several brands in one location. “Of the last six boats I’ve owned, half of them I bought at boat shows,” he says. “You can do a couple months research in a day.”

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Gondek, a boater since childhood, was impressed that Reynolds not only had knowledgeable staff on hand but also factory representatives to answer questions. “This is my second boat I have bought from [Reynolds],” he says. “They have a very low-pressure attitude, and they are completely professional.”

Gondek says Reynolds goes the extra mile after the boat is sold, providing service, parts and maintenance. “I’ve dealt with another Connecticut dealer before Reynolds, where I had to chase parts I ordered, calling them constantly,” he says. “These guys are true boaters and have a true love for the sport.”

The base price of the Skeeter ZX190 is around $48,000, according to Gondek. He says he did not have to put a down payment and got a decent trade-in for his previous boat, since it was only two years old. He says he has yet to decide on whether or not he will finance the new boat, though he has good credit. He says he likely will finance around $10,000 if interest rates move lower than 7 percent; otherwise he’ll pay cash.

As for the general state of the economy, Gondek says he saw a lot of optimism at the Hartford show. He says things will get better, because he doesn’t think they can get much worse. “Last summer people used their boats less because of the price of gas, but now it’s become more reasonable, so that may change,” he says. “The point is, if people want to do something, they will do it.”

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The Boudreaus
Michael Boudreau bought a Pursuit C 310 with twin 250-hp Yamaha 4-strokes in January from Striper Marine in Barrington , R.I. He bought the center console after looking at one at the Hartford show.
“We had seen the Pursuits online, but my wife, Jeannie, and I wanted to see one for ourselves,” says Boudreau, 58, of Glocester, R.I.

Boudreau says they’ve gotten into tuna fishing and wanted something they could comfortably fish on at night. He has a stable job at the State Department of Corrections and figured since his investments were going down anyway, he might as well get the boat of his dreams.

“We have very good credit, and I was planning to get a boat like this before the downturn,” he says. “We had a 26.6 Sailfish with Yamaha 4-strokes, but it was just getting a little too small for us. We were ready for a bigger boat.”

Boudreau says they began researching online in the fall, and the Pursuit caught their eye. They went to the Hartford show to take a look at the boat. “We bought it from the dealership in Rhode Island because it was more convenient for us,” says Boudreau. “Everyone was just so incredibly helpful and open to negotiations. The doors weren’t shut like in the past.”

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Al Elson, president of Striper Marina, says the retail price of Boudreaus’ Pursuit is about $206,525, but the buyer declined to say exactly what he paid for the new boat.

Boudreau says he easily got a 20-year loan with a 4.8 percent interest rate. The only difference was that the bank was looking for a higher credit score than before — 680 versus 620. “Fortunately, we were fine,” he says.

Boudreau says boat shows are essential to the marine industry in that they give customers a good sense of what is available. “Without boat shows, the whole system would go down the tubes,” he says. “They open up all avenues to prospective buyers.”

Regardless of the economy, Boudreau believes that people who love boating and fishing will   continue to do so.

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“I tell my wife that I would sell blood to pay for the gas on my boat,” he says. “I think the media is scaring people to death. Life’s going to go on, and we’re going to have good and bad times. … This is just a tough time right now.”

The Colemans
Bob and Linda Coleman were looking for a boat they can retire on — something that would accommodate their large extended family, including 10 grandchildren. The Colemans, first-time boaters from Kingsville, Md., bought an Outer Reef 63 in January at PassageMaker magazine’s Trawler Fest in Stuart, Fla.

“The timing was perfect with the economy,” says Bob Coleman, 56, the owner of a successful landscaping company. “I read an article in BoatU.S. [magazine] saying if people wanted good deals on a boat, this was the time to start looking.”

They decided to buy a boat rather than a summer home because it would allow them to travel. “My wife always wanted waterfront property,” says Coleman. “Now we can have it all the time.”

Coleman says they first saw the Outer Reef 63 last fall at the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis, Md., and spoke with Fred Azar, one of the principals with American Global Yacht Group, a dealer with several U.S. locations, including two in Maryland. As first-time buyers, Coleman says they took a cautious approach.
“We weren’t going to write a check for the first boat we saw. We wanted to do research,” he says.

Coleman says they looked at hundreds of boats online, and when AGYG sales associate Noelle Semmes suggested they go to other shows, the company gave them three-day passes to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. “We looked at the Outer Reef again, but we also looked at lots of other boats,” says Coleman. “There was no sales pressure.”

At 6 feet, 4 inches tall, Coleman says he liked the fact that the Outer Reef has standup headroom in the engine room, which houses twin 503-hp Caterpillars. And he says the topside layout is such that he won’t have to worry about the safety of his grandchildren. “It was as if the boat was built for children,” says Coleman.

At Trawler Fest, they drew up a contract and put a down payment on the boat. The price was $2 million, but Coleman says they were able to negotiate a “significant” discount. They put about 10 percent down.

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“It was a great deal. It came fully loaded, [including] electronics,” he says. “It has its own watermaker, granite countertops, two stainless-steel anchors, and the deal included all the interior décor, bed sheets and pillows. It’s ready to go.”

Coleman says they had made the decision to stay within their budget and not finance the boat. “I would think the hardest thing in today’s economy would be getting loans,” he says. “That’s why we avoided the whole thing.”

The Colemans are taking boating classes through the U.S. Power Squadrons and look forward to taking the boat south, with an eye eventually toward cruising to Central America, after Coleman retires. He also plans to work on obtaining his captain’s license. “We just can’t wait,” he says. “I can’t say enough about AGYG. They were a pleasure doing business with.”

Andy Newman
South Florida resident Andy Newman was considering a repower for his 1996 Aquasport 225 Osprey. He had bought the boat, equipped with twin 200-hp Johnson 2-strokes, in 1999.

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“[It] served me pretty well up until last spring,” says Newman, 53, a public relations executive. “When gas began climbing through the roof, the Osprey was really becoming a burden, and I wondered what to do about it.”

Newman began pricing new 4-strokes for better fuel efficiency, but discovered it was more economical to buy a boat, especially with the low prices he was seeing in the current market. In January, he bought a used 2007 Sailfish 2660 with twin 150-hp Yamaha 4-strokes from Coastal Marine Center in Brunswick, Ga.

“I had socked some money away with the intent that something like this might happen,” says Newman. “When I was down in the Keys in September, I saw someone with a Sailfish 2660, and though I wasn’t familiar with the boat, I thought, ‘Wow, it looks nice.’ ”

Newman says he was looking for something in the 26- to 28-foot range because he prefers to trailer, rather than find dockage in the competitive Florida market. “Technically I could still trailer a 31- or 33-footer, but I don’t have room for that at my house,” he says.

Newman found his Sailfish late last year through a Coastal Marine Center advertisement. However, it came with twin 200-hp Yamaha 4-strokes. Not needing that much horsepower, he asked if it could be outfitted with 150-hp Yamaha 4-strokes, and the dealer was able to oblige. Also, Yamaha was offering an extended warranty on the engines: six years as opposed to the standard three.

“The fact the dealer was able to switch the engines and get the warranty deal — that was the clincher for me,” says Newman. And Coastal Marine delivered the boat to him in Florida for the sea trials.

Newman says it was pretty easy to negotiate financing for part of the boat, but declined to give further details. “I will say this — Sailfish does stand behind their product in terms of customer support,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting the same level of service to transfer over to the second owner, but when I contacted them after the purchase to ask a few questions I was pleasantly surprised.”

As for Newman’s Aquasport, he was able to sell it in December within days through Craigslist. “This indicates to me that the market is not dead. People are just looking for a good value,” says Newman. “I priced [the Osprey] about $1,500 to $2,000 below what I should have been able to have commanded in a normal market.”

Newman says he is excited about his Sailfish and hopes to enjoy many years with it. “Each individual only lives once, and I had my Osprey for nine-and-a-half years,” he says. “I hope to keep this boat at least that long.”

A sailboat someday
Ed Hogan and his wife own 13-foot kayaks and plan to someday buy a sailboat. He attended the Hartford Boat Show to get an idea of what’s available in his price range.

“I don’t have a particular brand in mind, but I was thinking a small dayboat in the 21- to 23-foot range,” says Hogan, a retired mechanical engineer from Waterford, Conn. “I would be looking to buy new in the $15,000 to $25,000 range.”

Hogan says he and his wife have never owned a boat, although they have been interested in boating for the last 10 to 12 years. “This show was mostly all powerboats with a very small sail selection,” says Hogan. “I’m looking for something with a little less glitter and flash.”

Hogan says the advantage of the market now is that prices are lower, since many dealers want to move boats. However, he has no set time frame for when he will buy his dream vessel. “Boat shows are still good ways to see what is out there on the market,” he says. “I’ll just keep my eyes out.”

Ready to buy, but …
David Taylor, 57 and Frank Rocchii, 70, both of Johnston, R.I., were in the market to split the cost of a new, larger fishing boat at the Providence show, but couldn’t find what they were looking for.

“We’d like to find something that’s trailerable,” says Taylor, who currently has a 19-foot Stur-Dee with a 125-hp Mercury outboard and a 16-foot Sylvan with a 50-hp Honda. “But we definitely need something that’s bigger at this point in time.”

Taylor is an operating engineer and would like a boat that will allow him to do some trawling with a group of friends — possibly a Robalo, he says. Rocchii, a retired construction worker, does not currently own a boat but often fishes with Taylor.

“We’re looking in the range of $10,000 to $15,000,” says Taylor. “We’ve seen some good deals out there, so we’re hoping we’ll find something soon.”

Taylor says he is looking for a boat now because prices are down. “I figured I could save a little money while still getting the most bang for my buck,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue.

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