Darrell Gones, 32, sat with two-year old Brittany, eating lunch and eyeing the 26-foot Shamrock 1990 Open Fish SE, a $24,000 center-console fishing boat across the aisle at the Convention Center.
The boat had amenities only a true fisherman would admire. There was no carpeting, no cushioned seats, no metal-flecked paint screaming around the hull. Just a bland fiberglass deck and gadgets peppering the steering console. And Gones, who works on the Probation Intake Unit with the D.C. Superior Court, loved it.
"Fishing's an addiction and if I wanted to be selfish I'd get a strictly fishing boat, like that one over there," he said, pointing. "It's just a hard core fishing boat, only luxuries appreciated by fishermen. But as far as having a family, wife, children, they'd kill you if you came home with it."
It was "wishday" yesterday, the opening day of the Washington Boat Show, said Gones, who has a small fishing craft and is looking to move up. But with the economic downturn, the luxury tax and oil prices riding a pogo stick, many middle-range boatowners, mostly young families, are more cautious about buying a boat.
Ironically, the very group effected most adversely by recent economic events is the fastest growing group of boatowners. Through the 1980's racing-style boats or muscle boats bloomed on local waterways each spring like algae in the summer. The slick lines and revving engines conveyed status, image and power. Now, families are taking to the lakes, rivers and bays of the region and, to accommodate them, manufacturers have produced a hybrid boat which satisfies everyone's desires: dad can fish, mom can cruise and the kids can water ski.
"Women are buying more boats, not only on their own but more and more and more it's a family decision on what kind of boat they get," said Alan Simmons of Washington Marina. "They're going to require a type of boat for the whole family."
They're called Fish and Ski boats. Hulls are made of light, space age materials, engines are more economic and still capable of generating enough power for waterskiing, cabin appointments are comfortable and colorful and the hull is fitted or can be with fishing apparatus.
"These boats combine all things you can do in a weekend," said Mike Fahnestock of Holly Acres.
"My next one will be for the family," said Gones. Eight years ago he and his brother were commercial fishermen in Sheepshead Bay in New York. Now Gones would like his wife and daughter to discover the simple joy of riding gentle swells and exploring secret coves. And, he added with a sly grin: "They say it's a home-buyers market and, you know, it's a boat buyers market also."