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Bay Bridge Boat Show does booming business on Kent Island

The Annapolis Boat Show is back and business is booming.

Sailboat and powerboat salesman alike reported 2020 one of the most profitable years in recent history under extraordinary pandemic conditions that canceled most exhibition shows. And the Bay Bridge Boat Show’s return to the Bay Bridge Marina Saturday was no different as both modest vessels and outsized ships were quickly tagged “sold.”

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“My wife and I expected it to be our worst year of business but it ended up as the best,” said David Shields aboard a $1.5 million Sunseeker yacht. Shields and his family business sell used luxury yachts and usually market the ships at a dozen exhibition shows throughout a year.

Shields, owner of Ocean Club Yachts, expected all four of his yachts at Saturday’s boat show to sell by the end of the weekend. Ranging from 35 feet to 68 feet, one of the boats was under contract hours after docking at Bay Bridge Marina. But another customer offered to buy the boat cash in hand the next day.

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“After a year and a half this is our first show,” Shields said. “You can tell by the attendance. People are out in force.”

Activities predisposed to social distances, like biking, golfing and boating, have exploded in popularity as people, hesitant to travel, take up family hobbies. Interest rates are currently low and adding fuel to the already hot market, according to Paul Jacobs, President of Annapolis Boat Shows. Charter clubs that allow members to rent boats for hours or weeks have also become trendy.

“You can spend $5 million out here today if you want to. Or you can spend $50,000 and have a boat that you can take your family out and go fishing,” Jacobs said.

The demand put boats in short supply. New yachts can take over a year to build while used power and sail boats available at the boat show can be driven out of the marina on Sunday.

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Rod Rowan, a Jeanneau yacht broker, described the past pandemic year as one of the busiest in his 30-year career. For Rowan, aboard a 41-foot, $380,000 sailboat, exhibition shows are more about making connections and marketing with potential customers. Sailors who frequent boat shows sometimes return to brokers to upgrade their ships in size or model.

Around 25 sailboats were on display Saturday, a stark contrast to the 250 sailboats typically offered at the city’s fall show.

For the first time in years, Saturday’s boat show combined the city’s powerboat and sailboat shows typically presented as separate events in the fall and spring. The four-day event attracted a range of boating personalities in a daily crowd that peaked over 1,000 people. After the city of Annapolis canceled the two fall boat shows because of safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual spring event moved to Kent Island.

Boat shows are major economic drivers for Annapolis, generating an estimated $112 million in economic activity in the city annually, according to a 2014 economic impact study. Jacobs estimates the weekend event will be one of the largest Stevensville and Queen Anne will have all year.

While not all spectators were masked, Queen Anne Sheriff’s deputies were on hand for any serious complaints throughout a day that felt, for the most part, normal.

Boaters from across the country and neighboring states flocked to the sold-out show that featured more than 300 boats from 150 exhibitors. Both children and adults gawked at their dream boats. Some will even take it home.

Pat McGowan, a Philadelphia area resident who docks his 36-foot cruising sailboat in Annapolis, said attending boat shows is part of the hobby.

“This is what you do,” McGowan said. “It’s just nice being around them.”

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