“… there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
The state of the maritime industry runs the gambit from major customer base loss to overly optimistic, according to boatyard and marina operators along and near the Neuse River in Pamlico County, North Carolina.
Consider, for example, Hurricane Irene, which stormed its way across the County August 27, 2011. Trees fell on homes and cars. Rip-rap boulders were pushed inland by the force of the rivers. Boats floated off their lifts, others were turned on their sides. Torn sails and canvas flapped in the wind. And the highest flood-level water ever recorded destroyed hundreds of businesses, homes and personal docks. Household and yard debris continued to be hauled away well into the New Year.
Disastrous and devastating do not adequately describe this rural County of less than 14,000 full-time residents and non-resident home and landowners. Within hours, local, regional and out-of-state trucks arrived to cut up fallen trees. Blue tarps covering rooftops became commonplace and it seemed anyone who could wield a hammer had a job. Boats needed repair. Sails and canvas needed to be replaced. Docks needed to be rebuilt. The marine industry was on the move.
Sailcraft Service, a do-it-yourself boatyard in Oriental, which specializes in fiberglass, painting and woodworking, kept a crew of seven painters working all winter. “I am optimistic for the long term,” said Alan Arnfast, owner of Sailcraft Service. “It’s a buyer’s market and folks are getting back into boating.”
Although Arnfast said he lost more than $100,000 worth of tools during the hurricane, he is upgrading the yard. “Boats are getting bigger and wider,” he said, explaining the need to replace the current 25-ton boatlift with a 35-ton capacity lift. “We’re back into survey work after a hiatus in 2008, so it will stay busy,” he said.
Across the channel on Whittaker Creek, Deaton Yacht Service also had a good winter. “We’re all hoping the economy improves,” said John Deaton, owner. “People put off maintenance for while, but now they’re taking care of their boats.” Deaton said it is a balancing act to keep everyone busy since they offer so many diversified services, but so far it has worked.
Across town, Greg Bohmert, owner of Marine Mechanical and Electrical Service, points out the area marinas, including his own, have slips available, where there was a “waiting list six years ago.” Bohmert said the marine industry has shrunk and “the small guy” no longer owns a boat. “The mailman and the grocery store clerk can no longer afford a boat,” he said. “The whole industry is getting lean and mean.” Bohmert plans to diversify with innovative ideas to put more people on boats and offer complementary services in the future.
Harbor Master J.C. Cappelmann at River Dunes is “planning on a good season.” He said the marina experienced a “good increase” in 2011 compared to 2010. “Based on comments from southbound cruisers last fall, I expect to keep busy this year.”
Along the Bay River in Bayboro, business at Hurricane Boat Yard and Marina was not affected by Hurricane Irene. “About half our business is do-it-yourself boaters,” said John Buck, owner. “I see a good attitude among our customers and they plan on enjoying their boats.” As a dealer for Caterpillar Marine Engines, Buck said they have some large orders pending. “Right now we are gearing up for a major repower project, including twin engines and a transmission for a commercial trawler in Oriental. “I have a feeling it will be a good year,” said Buck. “Our customers are upgrading and some are planning to buy brand new boats.” Buck expects a flurry of activity with all the personal changes and additions when the fleet of “new” boats arrives to their homeport.
A new marina is coming to the area. Real estate developers at Arlington Place in Arapahoe / Minnesott Beach have obtained the appropriate permits to begin building a marina on its 900-acre property. Completion is expected in 2013.
Marine industry owners and operators are keeping a watchful eye on the price of fuel and the increase costs to maintain new federal and state regulations.
Boat yards, marinas and related services in and around Oriental, are geared up for the transient spring season with hopes of luring boaters to stay awhile, exploring the many rivers, tributaries and gunk holes. Not to mention fabulous dining, art galleries and shopping opportunities while taking care of that “little something” you have been putting off, looking for the perfect spot to spend of few days, or a lifetime.