Looking for a bargain in a sailboat? Something roomy enough for a family of 12, with all the comforts of your average Beverly Hills mansion? Ted Hood has the boat for you, tied snug in Annapolis harbor during the United States Sailboat Show.
It is 62 feet long, air-conditioned and equipped with satellite navigation. It has a washer and dryer, a trash compactor, a microwave oven and four bathrooms. At only $665,000, this modest dinghy is a steal.
"Two years ago at a boat show a gentleman saw the sister to this boat . . . and bought it," said Hood, skipper of the 1974 America's Cup champion Courageous and a designer of very fast, very expensive sailboats. "It doesn't happen very often."
This year it has been happening even less frequently. The sailboat market, which had proven immune in the past to the economy's changing tides, has begun taking on water in the last eight months. Nationally, brokers report a drop in sales of 30 to 40 percent. Locally, many builders have either cut back production or closed shop.
"This is the worst year since I've been in business in 30 years," said Hood, watching boat watchers walk by, none of them reaching for their wallets. "During other recessions we never got hit at all. This is the first year we've had such high interest rates and people are still scared there's going to be a deeper recession or depression."
There are more than 500 sailboats on display at this show, among the largest and most prestigious in the country. There are catamarans, sloops, schooners and ketches and not one could be called cheap. But for the $6.50 price of an adult admission, crowds are getting the chance to walk the decks, snoop below them and at least fantasize about owning some of the sleekest sailboats in the world.
"There is enough here to take care of any appetite and any pocketbook," said Bill Steinberg, the manager of a law firm in Georgetown who took off work Friday to take his wife and 11-year-old daughter to the show.
Steinberg had blue sailboats on his white pants, white sailboats on his blue tie and a visor on his head that read SAIL. He looked like a walking advertisement. He sounded like a man with a serious addiction.
"I took a weekend sailing course three years ago . . . then took the bull by the horns and bought a 38-foot Morgan," said Steinberg. "Once you start going out into the wind and the sea . . . it brings out the adventurous spirit of a little boy."
While Steinberg waxed eloquent, his wife Marie-Claire made mocking complaint: "His original fantasy was to live on the boat forever. His wife wouldn't go along." She laughed.
When it was noticed that her own belt was decorated with sailboats, Mrs. Steinberg claimed she wore it out of a sense of duty.
"This is the day of the year when I'm a good wife," she said. "When the storm is blowing and my husband yells 'Get the sheet' I bring the bed sheet instead. But when the boat's not moving I'm okay."
Steinberg sails his boat for only two weeks each year. The rest of the time he charters it out to qualify it as a tax shelter. That option has become more popular in recent years, say boat owners and sellers. People are looking for new ways to stay on the water without going bankrupt.
One option is to buy second-hand boats, without going through brokers who usually charge a fee of 10 percent. At the Annapolis show a 3-year-old company out of Boston that sells multiple listings of boats for sale occupied one of the 100 booths set up beside the harbor.
"We're like a computerized dating service for boats and buyers," said Roy Tilsey. "We bring both of you together and you do the rest." Tilsey's company charges boat owners $45 to enter their boat in its computer and then charges potential customers $25 for the list. With the advent of fiberglass, says Tilsey, boats that used to rot away are now lasting longer than boat dealers would like.
"The fiberglass boats just don't wear out," said Tilsey. "That's the problem."
Dealers at the Annapolis show said small boats are not selling any better than the larger ones. But on Friday there seemed to be an unusual amount of crowd interest in a 17-foot day sailer called a Marsh Hen. The double-ended, flat-bottomed boat, which has just one catamaran sail, costs $7,000. And that includes a car trailer.
"I designed this after the work boats, like oyster skiffs that were used in the late 1800s," said Reuben Trane, who with his wife Rosanne is the Florida Bay Boat Company. Trane and his wife travel the boat show circuit. But Annapolis, they say, is the best of the lot.
"You have an educated consumer here. They come from all over the eastern seaboard," said Trane.