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They won't miss the boats


Just about the last thing people at the U.S. Powerboat Show wanted to do yesterday was go for a boat ride.

"Go out in this weather? You're kidding, right?" asked Delaware resident Keith Dawson as he huddled under his raincoat and squinted at a small runabout for water skiing. "We're fair-weather boaters. We don't go out in the rain."

But a rainy morning and overcast afternoon did not stop Mr. Dawson and scores of other power boaters from wandering over the floating docks and onto the more than 700 new boats on display at the 24th annual show in Annapolis.

The show, which closes at 6 p.m. today, features vessels ranging from cigarette boats with go-fast engines to luxury cruisers with top-of-the-line cocktail apparatus.

Vendors selling everything from autopilots to anti-fouling paint filled the City Dock with products and sales pitches.

The less-than-perfect weather made several dealers despondent as they spent prime sales time sitting under boat Bimini covers.

But plenty more boat brokers were ready to cut a deal no matter how hard the winds blew.

"You come on down to our marina next weekend and we'll give you a demo ride -- give you a demo lunch, too," Mike Skreptack, a salesman from Port Tobacco Marina, said as he tried to grab a card from the pocket of the business suit he wore underneath his yellow rainproof pants.

"We've got free Cokes and hot dogs," he coaxed, "and lots of models with sun decks."

Some exhibitors went for a high-glitz approach.

"We are the best boat lifters, so we lift the best" said Hi-N-Dry saleswoman Lynn Norfolk, who demonstrated her company's boat lift by sending a black Mercedes convertible up and down on the apparatus.

"We thought it was eye-catching."

Speedboat salesmen went for the macho appeal.

"This one here's the equivalent of a Corvette on the water," Bob McLean, American Boat Center in Clinton, said as he showed off his Four Winns unlimited, a red and white number with waterproof vinyl seats.

"It's designed for one thing and one thing only: speed."

High-priced sailboats are easy to find, but powerboats of comparable size often cost twice as much. Perhaps for this reason, powerboaters have developed a reputation for being bigger spenders than the folks in town for last week's sailboat show.

"Most of these guys are successful businessmen and they're just looking for a new toy," said salesman Bill Atherholt as he stood next to a shiny $45,000 Caterpillar diesel motor.

"Power boat people just keep trading up, getting bigger and bigger boats."

To be the first to nab the big spenders, salesmen tested all sorts of gimmicks.

Fred Quimby of Quimby's Marine Serv-ice in Easton floated a small outboard boat inside a matching boat in the next-bigger size.

"I just wish they'd have let me turn on the little one," he said. "That would have gotten me some attention."

Just around the corner, Mike Walsh had placed his tuna tower -- a large ladder used for fishing -- on a rotating pedestal.

"How else you expect people to see me over here?" he asked.

Mr. ShrinkWrap didn't need to work hard to get noticed. "People have been coming up to me all day," said the salesman -- aka David Baker -- whose company wraps dry-docked boats in tight blue sheaths of plastic to protect them in the cold weather. "It's going to be a busy fall."

Who's who

Plenty of salesmen look at the show as a way to make contacts. To that end, they might do well to pick up the first-ever International Registry of Who's Who in Boating on display.

The book lists powerful and not-so-powerful people by the kinds of boats they own.

"It makes sense because boaters like to do business with other boaters -- you know, they like to network," said Jon Hill of Long Island, N.Y., who created the book. "You can look up boaters by any profession."

Across the docks, power boaters were ready to be wooed.

Tommy Fouche, an avid fisherman from Frederick, was looking for a new boat Thursday, the first day of the show.

He was all business as he surveyed the latest fishing boats from under the brim of his "Lake Erie -- Walleye Capitol of the World" baseball cap.

"We're prepared to buy right now if the price is right," he said. He walked away a few minutes later with a Wahoo-brand boat for $15,799.

A good soaking

The weekend crowd was full of people who wanted to bob aboard luxury yachts -- one such boat cost $2.9 million -- but didn't have the money to buy.

These mega-yachts were most popular during the intermittent downpours and thunderstorms yesterday.

But what was a haven for some show-goers turned into a small nightmare for the salesmen.

"Miss, please, no sitting with the wet raincoats on the suede chair," cautioned Tom Trainer, Jr. of Northeast-based McDaniel Yacht Basin, Inc., as he gave rain-soaked visitors a tour of a $453,000 yacht.

Mr. Trainer expected to sell two or three of the pricey Carver models, which featured spiral staircase, maple wood interior, intercom system, television hook-ups and, of course, lots of leather.

The smaller-ticket items also drew interest -- some as cure-alls to the inclement weather.

Show visitors warmed themselves with heated herbal therapy packs -- designed to cure the rugged boater of aches, pains and other problems.

Ray Proulx, a boat broker from Clipper Bay Yachts in Tracys Landing, said no matter the weather, the event would be a success.

"These shows are great -- people are smiling, they're happy, they're out and about," he said. "And they never forget their checkbooks."

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