Just open it and add water - presto, a boat

Show opening Saturday features nearly 600 craft

Outdoors

January 24, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN OUTDOORS WRITER

At first glance, it looks as if someone fell on it, turning it from boat to blob.

But make no mistake. Although Porta-Bote folds for storage to the thickness of two Baltimore white pages directories, it is a real 12-foot skiff made of a material developed for the space industry.

Polypropylene is the same material used on car bumpers that spring back into shape after an accident.

"It's not indestructible, but it's pretty darn close to it," said Porta-Bote president Sandy Kaye. "We've sold 40,000 boats, and we've never lost a single one."

The boat is one of nearly 600 on display beginning Saturday at the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show. The show, at the Baltimore Convention Center, runs through Feb. 4.

Last year, more than 30,000 people attended the show to browse or buy.

In dollar totals, boat sales in 2000 were up 15 percent over the previous year, even though the number of boats sold declined 1 percent, according to statistics compiled by the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

High-end motor cruisers led the way with a 14 percent increase in numbers sold and 31 percent in retail value, with water-ski style boats second, up 9 percent in numbers sold and 10 percent in value.

Thom Dammrich, NMMA president, says the softening of the economy shouldn't hurt the boating industry. He expects high-end sales will continue to be strong.

"We're not crying," he said. "The reports in the first weeks of this year indicate we'll have a pretty good year, but it certainly won't be as good as last year."

The NMMA reports the average cost for an outboard boat and motor is $17,700; inboard motor cruisers average $293,700; personal watercraft, $7,800.

The opening weekend here will have plenty of local experts to give tips on fishing, from a mid-bay trout talk by Eastern Shore author Keith Walters at 2 p.m. Saturday to Capt. Eric Burnley's advice on catching striped bass on light tackle at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Organizers of the Chesapeake Bay show said it will have several family-oriented elements.

Child care will be provided on both weekends for youngsters up to 8 years old. Children under 12 will be admitted for free on "Family Night," Feb. 1.

Children can even help their parents win a new boat when they draw a picture of their "boat of the future," show manager Dan Rae said. A Bayliner will be awarded as the top prize in the contest.

Owners of RVs and powerboats who don't want to tow a motorboat or dinghy are among those Kaye hopes will be drawn to the storage characteristics of Porta-Bote. It looks like a surfboard when folded.

Although the company has been around for 25 years, it has primarily concentrated on the overseas markets, where storage space is at a premium, said Kaye.

"There just wasn't a big market here. We'd run ads, but nobody was interested," said Kaye.

In Japan, the boat is a huge seller because it doesn't require a trailer or garage. Families could haul the boat on the top of a compact car and stand it in a closet or slide it under a sofa for storage, he said.

Some Japanese families hang their Porta-Bote on the wall and cover it with macrame, turning it into a piece of artwork.

Kaye said he noticed the increasing number of Americans living in townhouses and condominiums and decided to redesign the boat and market it here during this season's round of boat shows.

The boats come in 8-foot, 10-foot and 12-foot models that weigh 49 pounds, 59 pounds and 69 pounds, respectively. The largest one lists for $1,495.

Field and Stream and Hunting magazines have given Porta-Bote high marks for its versatility and durability.

Kaye laughed when asked what it's like to be discovered after 25 years in business.

"It's like a veteran actor who wins the Academy Award," he said. "He's been working hard his whole life, but all of the sudden he's an overnight success."

Boat show

What: 47th Chesapeake Bay Boat Show

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

When: Saturday through Feb. 4

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday and Feb. 3; 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday; 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Feb. 4

Admission: Adults, $7; children ages 6-12, $3

Parking: Free in Camden Yards Lot C. Shuttle buses provided.

Information: www.boatshows.com

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