July 26, 2016

The collapse of sailing

Portland Press Herald 

Once a staple of the Maine summer – and Maine’s boatbuilding industry – sailboats are still the stuff of bad office art and good tourism brochures, but their numbers are dwindling, along with people with the passion for this most sustainable form of recreational boating.

When Matt Minson, who used to coach the sailing team at Maine Maritime  is out on the water in his Lindenberg 28 he sees maybe 15 other sailing vessels. A decade ago, “It would be nothing to see 40 boats,” Minson said. “It is very depressing to me.”

Experts suggest a variety of reasons for the drop-off, including generational and parenting shifts and an American lifestyle that puts a premium on expediency. It’s hard to quantify what the biggest factor is. But industry statistics bear out the fact that observations of less sailboat traffic such as Minton’s are not just longing for some illusionary golden past.

“Sailboat sales are about a quarter of what they were 15 years ago,” said Thom Dammrich, the president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

During the recession, all sales of new boats dropped off, he said. Then as the financial crisis eased, sales of powerboats ramped back up. “They have been growing for the past five years,” Dammrich said. “In the last 12 months, they’re up 9 percent. This has been a good year.”

Not so for sailboats. Sailboat sales encompass only about 2.5 percent of all new boats.
... Hinckley Yachts, once known for the elegant sailboats it built on Mount Desert Island, now puts out a steady stream of powerboats. The success of its picnic boat, a sleek powerboat introduced in 1994, which counts the likes of Martha Stewart as fans (and an owner), put sailboats on the back burner. Hinckley has a few sailboats under construction this year, including a Bermuda 50, an updated model of one of its classics, but for years the company had virtually shut down its sailboat division.

.... “I could have a million sailboats right now, for free or less,” said Michael Chasse, who founded his Freeport business, Northeast Sailboat Rescue, 12 years ago. He’s been buying abandoned sailboats from boatyards around the state, restoring and selling them. Back when he started Northeast Sailboat Rescue, he said he could sell 200 boats a year. So far in 2016, he’s sold none. (He’s planning on retiring soon and moving to some good-sized Maine lake. To sail.)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sailboats are expensive. Maybe if there was still a middle class, that actually got family job wages and vacation time, there would be more sailboats sold. After 3 decades of flat wages, and increasing work week length, few can afford to purchase a sailboat that they will never have any time to use.