Archive for » February 2nd, 2014«

Erie ice boaters return after 2 off years

Presque Isle Bay was a mostly tranquil scene Friday morning.

With temperatures creeping up after days of frigid cold and the bay holding on to its thick ice cover, ice fisherman dotted the bay, mostly gathered in the areas south of Presque Isle State Park.

But that calm was shattered when Dave Heitzenrater flew by at about 40 mph.

“He probably doesn’t like us,” Heitzenrater, 66, said while sailing by a lone ice fisherman. “We’re making too much noise.”

Heitzenrater’s ice boat keeps him about a foot off the ice and can propel him about three times the speed of the wind.

As much a sled as a boat, a modern ice boat is basically a seat or pair of seats attached to a sail and a set of skates. An avid boater, Heitzenrater builds his own ice boats with his brother, Scott Heitzenrater, and even sells custom ice boats to others.

The Heitzenraters were proud to say their boats have gone as fast as 70 mph on one trip around the frozen bay.

The two regularly sail from the Erie Yacht Club, where 31 ice boats are docked, and the brothers have a heated trailer to warm up and relax after 15- to 20-minute trips around the bay.

While it might not have been popular with some fishermen, Dave Heitzenrater’s trips around the bay Friday, complete with freezing winds and ice chips barraging his face, were a welcome sight following a long layoff.

After two years in a row with not enough ice for a single day of ice boating, this year’s season started after the first blast of arctic air at the end of December. The persistently cold air has left parts of the bay covered with ice that’s more than 12 inches thick.

Dave Heitzenrater, a retiree from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said he has been making up for lost time the last few weeks, making regular stops at the yacht club on days the wind was in his favor.

But it wasn’t just the wind and cold that has made this such a great ice boating season.

Ice boating requires a particular blend of weather, Dave Heitzenrater explained. It must be very cold to create thick ice and windy to propel the boats. It can’t be snowy, because snow piles slow the boats and snowfall reduces visibility. Too much rain eats away at the integrity of the ice.

To be careful, the yacht club ice boaters start the season by walking the bay ice and checking its depth, looking for areas where cracks converge. They mark these areas with orange cones.

Fellow ice boater David Haller said the bay currently has the best conditions he has seen in the past 25 years.

Haller, who took the day off Friday from his construction job, expects a few more weeks of good ice boating this season. He said the only way the bay could get better would be a short rain followed by a quick drop in temperatures that he said would act like a Zamboni on an ice rink, smoothing out the bay’s ice.

Haller, a self-described “bay rat” who is fleet captain at the Erie Yacht Club, said he got his first taste of ice boating 47 years ago and has been addicted ever since. He said ice boating is something everyone in the area should experience.

“It is just as much a part of Erie as fishing for perch or sailing on the (U.S. Brig) Niagara,” Haller said.

While out on the bay Friday morning, Dave Heitzenrater hoped to take advantage of the plentiful ice and lack of snow cover.

With his brother and Haller well ahead, Heitzenrater laid his body down almost parallel to his boat, as if riding a luge, and steered around small piles of snow. After finally catching up, he banked hard to the left, making his small wooden craft feel more like a roller coaster than a boat sailing the bay.

After the three boats looped back around to the yacht club docks and each sailor climbed out for a brief rest and warm up, Haller was quick to note the effect a trip around the bay has on everyone they take out on the ice.

“You never see anyone coming back in unhappy,” Haller said.

SEAN McCRACKEN can be reached at 870-1714 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmccracken.


Similar news:

Strong boat sales a sign of improving South Mississippi economy

Coast boat dealers say the industry is picking up speed and leaving the recession in its wake.

After the sluggish economy and BP oil spill dramatically slowed sales of recreational items, many area businesses have seen a steady recovery over the past year and are optimistic about 2014.

“Probably one of the best years we’ve had was last year,” said Junie Creel, manager at Seven C’s Marine in Biloxi.

Ocean Marine Group is the largest dealer on the Coast, and its sales manager, Russ Jennings, said 2013’s numbers were encouraging and the company is prepared for this year to be even better. However, he is guardedly hopeful.

“We do anticipate a modest increase,” he said. “We know it’s not going to explode because the economy’s just not there.”

The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported the first signs of a turnaround in 2012 with a 10 percent increase in new powerboat sales, according to a press release. There was an additional 5 percent increase in 2013, and the group predicts a 5 to 7 percent spike this year.

“The housing market has improved, consumer confidence has steadily increased the last two years, and consumer spending is on the rise — all factors that are helping to fuel stable growth for the U.S. recreational boating industry,” said NMMA President Thom Dammrich in the statement.

Coastal areas are also seeing better sales than the rest of the country, said Rob Lynch with Odyssey Management Services. Odyssey puts on boat shows nationally, including the new one in Gulfport harbor.

He said manufacturers are having trouble keeping up with demand after they had pared down operations during the recession. It is much easier to cut back production

than build up infrastructure to increase it, he said.

“There is a production issue,” he said. “There are a lot of boat manufacturers at this time that are four, five, six months out from building product because you can’t get components fast enough.”

Jennnings agreed, saying it is a good problem to have.

“It doesn’t mean that boats are not available,” he said. A custom order could take a month or two, but he said the business has a large stockpile of inventory.

Two reasons for improved sales is customers are having an easier time getting loans and interest rates are low.

“Banks and credit unions — credit unions especially — have kind of opened up the purse strings, if you will, and allowed some easier credit terms, lower down payments, all those things that create a buying atmosphere,” Lynch said.

Oil spill was a setback

The smaller dealers were hit hard by the 2010 oil spill.

“It died after the oil spill,” said Tyla Simmons at Darrin Auto Marine. “That was not good.”

She said each year has been better than the one before it, and they are definitely selling more new boats.

Wendy Gaspard, whose husband builds aluminum boats at Rookie Boats of MS in Bay St. Louis, said they have not seen an increase in business.

“Since after BP, our sales went down probably 40 percent,” she said.

The national trend, though, offers signs of hope.

“It was devastating, there’s no question about it,” Jennings said. “Thank goodness we survived it, and now it’s over and we hope to never have another one of those.”

Time for boat shows

Winter is typically slow for boat dealers on the Coast, but business picks up with the start of boat shows in February.

Ocean Marine owner Keith King said his company will be a part of the Mobile Boat Show next month.

“That will be a pretty good indicator of where the year is going to go,” he said.

The Biloxi Boat RV Show is set for Feb. 21-23 and the outdoor Gulf Coast Yacht and Boat Show, which moved to Gulfport’s harbor for the first time last year, will be April 3-6.

Lynch said the event outgrew its venue in Orange Beach, Ala., after three years.

“The only place from South Padre Island in Texas all the way over to Tampa that can hold this show is Gulfport harbor,” he said. “It’s the only marina large enough.”

The show is different from most because it includes larger vessels and yachts. He said people came from 18 states and three countries to see the vendors’ offerings.

“We saw record crowds, record boat sales, pretty much record everything,” he said. “But the show’s been catapulted to a national spotlight and we’re looking forward to an even bigger event here in a couple months.”

Party barges

As for the types of boats that have been selling, the NMMA said small fiberglass and aluminum outboard boats 26 feet or less have been leading industry growth nationally, with a 6.7 percent increase in sales last year. Ski and wakeboard boats also increased 11.7 percent.

King said he has seen a marked increase sales of pontoon boats, or party barges, both nationally and locally. He said demand has increased nationally about 15 percent to 25 percent, and Ocean Marine has seen an even greater increase.

He attributes the growth to a new brand the company began carrying, and the fact that manufacturers are making them bigger and faster.

“Today they’re making triple pontoon boats with large-horsepower motors and you actually see people taking them out to the islands,” King said.

He said their best-sellers historically are 21- to 23-foot boats. Creel also said he has been selling a lot of bay boats that size.

Jennings said used boats continued to sell despite the economy.

“Used boats sales are very strong and they didn’t really take a big downturn when the economy crashed a few years ago like new boats did,” he said.

Many water-loving Coastians were not willing to turn down a day on the water, recession or not.

“In this part of the country it seems that people are going to get on the water in a boat no matter what,” he said.


Similar news:

Australians Zeb Walsh and Brad Gaul to attempt first Bass Strait crossing on paddleboards

Two Australians are on a mission to become the first people to cross the Bass Strait on paddleboards.

The treacherous 300-kilometre stretch of ocean between Victoria and Tasmania is often crossed by ferries, sailing boats and even sea kayaks.

But Victorian Zeb Walsh says he is keen to be the first to cross it on a 12-foot paddleboard.

“I think everyone, the human race, you’re always trying to better something,” he said.

“Our thing is, we’re trying to do bigger and better paddles.”

The trip leaves from Wilsons Promontory, the southern-most point in Victoria, in March.

Last year, Walsh took out a world title in the sport, paddling between Oahu and Molokai across Hawaii’s fabled “channel of bones”.

He will be joined across Bass Strait by Californian Jack Bark and Sydneysider Brad Gaul, who have also won titles in Hawaii.

“I guess it’s just the next step in pushing yourself, when you’ve trained so hard for Molokai… we kind of get stuck in that mindset of ‘what next?'” Walsh said.

Walsh trains in Torquay, on Victoria’s Surf Coast, but he says he is expecting a rougher ride on Bass Strait.

“From all the stories I’ve heard out there, it doesn’t take much to change and it changes very quickly, so from a nice flat day like this to pretty terrible and scary,” he said.

Fear and respect for ocean fuels the challenge

Gaul has raced in Hawaii three times. He says that will be good preparation for the Bass Strait challenge, but it will not be easy.

“It’s something where you’ve got to have a level of fear, a little respect for the ocean,” he said.

“But that fuels the challenge.”

Sailor Brendan Garner has raced in the Sydney to Hobart six times.

He advises the paddleboarders to prepare for all conditions.

“The first time I did the Sydney to Hobart, we had 50 to 60 knot winds for about 30 hours,” he said.

“So we had storm sails up the whole time and it was up to 10 to 12 metre seas.”

Walsh says the trip is also hoping to raise awareness about the environment.

“We all use the ocean and play in the ocean; we all have a responsibility to look after it,” he said.


Similar news:

Strong boat sales a sign of improving Coast economy

Coast boat dealers say the industry is picking up speed and leaving the recession in its wake.

After the sluggish economy and BP oil spill dramatically slowed sales of recreational items, many area businesses have seen a steady recovery over the past year and are optimistic about 2014.

“Probably one of the best years we’ve had was last year,” said Junie Creel, manager at Seven C’s Marine in Biloxi.

Ocean Marine Group is the largest dealer on the Coast, and its sales manager, Russ Jennings, said 2013’s numbers were encouraging and the company is prepared for this year to be even better. However, he is guardedly hopeful.

“We do anticipate a modest increase,” he said. “We know it’s not going to explode because the economy’s just not there.”

The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported the first signs of a turnaround in 2012 with a 10 percent increase in new powerboat sales, according to a press release. There was an additional 5 percent increase in 2013, and the group predicts a 5 to 7 percent spike this year.

“The housing market has improved, consumer confidence has steadily increased the last two years, and consumer spending is on the rise — all factors that are helping to fuel stable growth for the U.S. recreational boating industry,” said NMMA President Thom Dammrich in the statement.

Coastal areas are also seeing better sales than the rest of the country, said Rob Lynch with Odyssey Management Services. Odyssey puts on boat shows nationally, including the new one in Gulfport harbor.

He said manufacturers are having trouble keeping up with demand after they had pared down operations during the recession. It is much easier to cut back production than build up infrastructure to increase it, he said.

“There is a production issue,” he said. “There are a lot of boat manufacturers at this time that are four, five, six months out from building product because you can’t get components fast enough.”

Jennnings agreed, saying it is a good problem to have.

“It doesn’t mean that boats are not available,” he said. A custom order could take a month or two, but he said the business has a large stockpile of inventory.

Two reasons for improved sales is customers are having an easier time getting loans and interest rates are low.

“Banks and credit unions — credit unions especially — have kind of opened up the purse strings, if you will, and allowed some easier credit terms, lower down payments, all those things that create a buying atmosphere,” Lynch said.

Spill a setback

The smaller dealers were hit hard by the 2010 oil spill.

“It died after the oil spill,” said Tyla Simmons at Darrin Auto Marine. “That was not good.”

She said each year has been better than the one before it, and they are definitely selling more new boats.

Wendy Gaspard, whose husband builds aluminum boats at Rookie Boats of MS in Bay St. Louis, said they have not seen an increase in business.

“Since after BP, our sales went down probably 40 percent,” she said.

The national trend, though, offers signs of hope.

“It was devastating, there’s no question about it,” Jennings said. “Thank goodness we survived it, and now it’s over and we hope to never have another one of those.”

Shows time

Winter is typically slow for boat dealers on the Coast, but business picks up with the start of boat shows in February.

Ocean Marine owner Keith King said his company will be a part of the Mobile Boat Show next month.

“That will be a pretty good indicator of where the year is going to go,” he said.

The Biloxi Boat RV Show is set for Feb. 21-23 and the outdoor Gulf Coast Yacht and Boat Show, which moved to Gulfport’s harbor for the first time last year, will be April 3-6.

Lynch said the event outgrew its venue in Orange Beach, Ala., after three years.

“The only place from South Padre Island in Texas all the way over to Tampa that can hold this show is Gulfport harbor,” he said. “It’s the only marina large enough.”

The show is different from most because it includes larger vessels and yachts. He said people came from 18 states and three countries to see the vendors’ offerings.

“We saw record crowds, record boat sales, pretty much record everything,” he said. “But the show’s been catapulted to a national spotlight and we’re looking forward to an even bigger event here in a couple months.”

Party barges

As for the types of boats that have been selling, the NMMA said small fiberglass and aluminum outboard boats 26 feet or less have been leading industry growth nationally, with a 6.7 percent increase in sales last year. Ski and wakeboard boats also increased 11.7 percent.

King said he has seen a marked increase sales of pontoon boats, or party barges, both nationally and locally. He said demand has increased nationally about 15 percent to 25 percent, and Ocean Marine has seen an even greater increase.

He attributes the growth to a new brand the company began carrying, and the fact that manufacturers are making them bigger and faster.

“Today they’re making triple pontoon boats with large-horsepower motors and you actually see people taking them out to the islands,” King said.

He said their best-sellers historically are 21- to 23-foot boats. Creel also said he has been selling a lot of bay boats that size.

Jennings said used boats continued to sell despite the economy.

“Used boats sales are very strong and they didn’t really take a big downturn when the economy crashed a few years ago like new boats did,” he said.

Many water-loving Coastians were not willing to turn down a day on the water, recession or not.

“In this part of the country it seems that people are going to get on the water in a boat no matter what,” he said.


Similar news:

Australians Zeb Walsh and Brad Gaul to attempt first-ever Bass Strait crossing on paddleboards

Two Australians are on a mission to become the first people to cross the Bass Strait on paddleboards.

The treacherous 300-kilometre stretch of ocean between Victoria and Tasmania is often crossed by ferries, sailing boats and even sea kayaks.

But Victorian Zeb Walsh says he is keen to be the first to cross it on a 12-foot paddleboard.

“I think everyone, the human race, you’re always trying to better something,” he said.

“Our thing is, we’re trying to do bigger and better paddles.”

The trip leaves from Wilsons Promontory, the southern-most point in Victoria, in March.

Last year, Walsh took out a world title in the sport, paddling between Oahu and Molokai across Hawaii’s fabled “channel of bones”.

He will be joined across Bass Strait by Californian Jack Bark and Sydneysider Brad Gaul, who have also won titles in Hawaii.

“I guess it’s just the next step in pushing yourself, when you’ve trained to hard for Molokai… we kind of get stuck in that mindset of ‘what next?'” Walsh said.

Walsh trains in Torquay, on Victoria’s Surf Coast, but he says he is expecting a rougher ride on Bass Strait.

“From all the stories I’ve heard out there, it doesn’t take much to change and it changes very quickly, so from a nice flat day like this to pretty terrible and scary,” he said.

Fear and respect for ocean fuels the challenge

Gaul has raced in Hawaii three times. He says that will be good preparation for the Bass Strait challenge, but it will not be easy.

“It’s something where you’ve got to have a level of fear, a little respect for the ocean,” he said.

“But that fuels the challenge.”

Sailor Brendan Garner has raced in the Sydney to Hobart six times.

He advises the paddleboarders to prepare for all conditions.

“The first time I did the Sydney to Hobart, we had 50 to 60 knot winds for about 30 hours,” he said.

“So we had storm sails up the whole time and it was up to 10 to 12 metre seas.”

Walsh says the trip is also hoping to raise awareness about the environment.

“We all use the ocean and play in the ocean; we all have a responsibility to look after it,” he said.


Similar news: