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Boat show era ends at Hartford civic center

With their two young girls in tow, Mike Kandrysawtz and his wife, Beth, braved the blustery winter winds and the disruptive renovations at Connecticut’s Hartford Civic Center to attend the 36th annual Hartford Boat Show in late January.

Though they own a 32-foot Carver, the couple is considering buying a new boat for the upcoming season.

“Life changes,” says Beth Kandrysawtz of Canton, pointing to their energetic

2-year-old who was scrambling around the deck of a Parker sport cabin. “We’re looking to see what other options there are,” says her husband, Mike. “Maybe we’ll buy something smaller. Maybe we’ll buy something bigger.”

“And [the show] gets us out of the cold,” adds Beth.

That’s what the Hartford Boat Show is all about — checking out new boats, jump-starting the boating season, and (temporarily) getting away from the chilly New England winter.

Despite the construction, with boarded up doors and sections of the building undergoing demolition, the arena and the adjoining lower floor of the Civic Center were intact and wall-to-wall with boats. The event, organized by the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, drew a 13-percent increase in attendance over last year, according to executive director Grant Westerson.

“We had an excellent show,” Westerson says, including an opening ceremony that was well-attended by dignitaries and patrons alike. “It was a cast of thousands and a good ribbon-cutting ceremony,” he says.

Westerson credits a more aggressive advertising campaign for the increase. He also suspects many attended the show to get a glimpse of the Civic Center while under construction. “People wanted to see the renovation in progress,” he adds.

This is the last year the show will be held at the Civic Center, which was built in 1975. The CMTA has contracted to host the 2006 show at the new Connecticut Convention Center, a 540,000-square-foot facility being built at the city’s Adrian’s Landing, a retail and entertainment complex on the banks of the Connecticut River.

The new convention center is bigger and more amenable to a boat show, Westerson says. Moving large vessels in and out of the Civic Center has always been challenging, he says. In addition, with more floor space and easier access at the convention center, the CMTA plans to expand by including sailboats, which will in turn attract more vendors selling sails and other sailboat-related items.

“It gives us an opportunity to expand and spread our wings,” says Westerson.

While sales figures weren’t available, Westerson says at least one dealer reported 17 sales.

Jennifer Lynch, an attendee, was shopping for a boat that day. With a bundle of brochures clutched in her hand, Lynch confidently strolled around the arena, examining boats and asking questions. Her mission, she says, was to find a midsized powerboat. Lynch, a Groton resident, and her husband already own a 22-foot sailboat and a Sunfish.

“We want a powerboat to add to the experience,” said Lynch, as she grabbed another brochure from a Four Winns display.

Tucked in a remote corner of the building, Henry Thorpe was attending the display of his 20-foot mahogany retro-style runabout called the Monaco. “Everyone likes to look at it,” he says of the only wooden boat in the show. “I spend my day wiping fingerprints off,” he quips.

Thorpe, who recently retired as owner of Deep River Navigation, a now-defunct sightseeing cruise company in Deep River, Conn., has been building small boats in his shop in Middle Haddam since 1986. He was also handing out brochures featuring his newest project, John’s Bay 24 with cuddy cabin. Thorpe says he designed the boat because his wife was weary of open runabouts. She wanted a small cabin and a head, he says. n