Sales surpass expectations at boat show

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Surprisingly strong sales for what has been a down market, and a growing of sense of optimism, were the story at the U.S. Sailboat Show, held Oct. 8-12 in Annapolis, Md.

"I spoke with almost all the exhibitors, and everyone came away happy. It seemed to be universal, from production to one-design builders," show manager Dee Newman told Soundings Trade Only. "It was amazing."

The weather was great all five days, and attendance - 50,000 people according to preliminary figures - was higher than last year, which was the third-best in show history. It was the overall mood of those in attendance, however, that had exhibitors enthusiastic.

"We were expecting lots of lookers and not buyers, but it was the opposite," says Tom Wagner of Passport Yachts.

"We were selling engines and services right at the show, which is unusual," says Stanley Feigenbaum, of Beta Marine. "We typically pass out a lot of information at the show, then make our sales in the weeks and months following."

Island Packet and Catalina Yachts both reported numerous boat sales. Jeanneau reported upward of 10 confirmed sales, ranging in size from 36 to 57 feet, which president Paul Fenn said was among the best starts the company has ever had for a new model year in North America.

Wayne Burdick, president of Beneteau USA, says the change in consumer mood was striking.

"It appears the doom and gloom is over," he says, noting a dozen retail contracts "across the board" on boats from 31 to 49 feet. The company is also in negotiations with two potential buyers for the new Oceanis 58, introduced in September at the Cannes Boat Show.

"The tide is rising, the current is changing, and we're starting to get some wind in our sails," Burdick says.

Bill Bolin, vice president of sales and marketing for Island Packet Yachts, also came away from the show optimistic.

"I believe that boat buyers are returning after being gone for almost a year. They're tired of the bad news in the media and are ready to get on with their plans," he says.

The U.S. Powerboat Show opens Thursday and runs through Sunday.

— Rich Armstrong