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Nautical Ventures Group expands overseas

When the Great Recession pummeled the yachting industry in the U.S., South Florida’s Nautical Ventures Group got creative and began exporting repossessed boats, capitalizing on a manager’s knowledge of the marine scene in French-speaking nations.

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Now that the U.S. market is stronger, the Dania Beach-based group is becoming bolder overseas. It’s opening offices in Panama and in Colombia to expand its yacht brokerage business and export water toys such as kayaks. Plus, it’s selling hovercraft to China and exploring a major expansion there.

Nautical Ventures Group has earned a reputation since the 2008 financial crisis as an innovator in South Florida’s marine industry. While some boat dealerships and suppliers closed or shrunk, it has grown, diversifying into new businesses from fuel to docking systems and, increasingly, going global.

That strategy has boosted sales from $13 million in 2013 to $23 million in 2014 and likely will top $25 million in 2005, said Roger Moore, chief executive of a business that now employs more than 70 people.

“The forward-looking companies are expanding internationally,” said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Nautical Ventures’ next frontier is Panama, home for many years to one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America and since 2014 the site of an annual boat show produced by the same group that organizes Fort Lauderdale’s boat show extravaganza.

Relocation fuels growth at Danias Nautical Ventures

Relocation fuels growth at Dania’s Nautical Ventures Arlene Satchell, Sun Sentinel Marine outfit expanding after relocating from site near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport Marine outfit expanding after relocating from site near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport ( Arlene Satchell, Sun Sentinel ) –>

The company is opening a store in Panama’s capital city to sell small sailboats and other water toys, Moore said. It’s a partnership with Panama-based Hennie Marais, which developed the Paddle Panama Center. The shop probably will employ an initial six to 10 people and open in early 2015.

“The Panama venture totally complements and in no way competes with what we have in Fort Lauderdale,” said Moore, noting buyers in Panama more likely would come from Central and South America and not from the United States.

In Colombia, Nautical Ventures also is launching a yacht brokerage and sales office in Cartagena, the Caribbean port city that has become a tourist mecca. That venture is a partnership with a Colombian entrepreneur and probably will employ three to four people, Moore said.

Perhaps the biggest expansion will be China, where the marine industry “is just exploding,” Moore said.

Nautical Ventures recently sold 10 hovercraft to China worth about $300,000 total. The two-passenger craft uses a tractor-type engine to rise on a bed of air to travel inches above water, land, mud and other surfaces. A partner in China’s southern industrial city of Shenzhen (population: at least 10 million) bought the vehicles to develop hovercraft races on beaches and around markers over water, Moore said.

Nautical Ventures also is exploring other options with that Chinese partner, whose businesses also include manufacturing rigid inflatable boats used as yacht tenders, Moore said.

In all, the group sees international sales comprising as much as 25 percent of business in a few years, up from roughly 5-10 percent now. That’s a long way from unloading boats repossessed in the U.S. during the recession.

dhemlock@sunsentinel.com, 305-810-5009

Copyright © 2014, Sun Sentinel


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Boat, travel trailer sales increase sharply

Sales of boats and travel trailers are at some of the highest levels in years as consumers feel better about making discretionary purchases.

Tuesday, the National Marine Manufacturers Association said it expects recreational boat sales were up as much as 7% this year compared with 2013. Furthermore, 2014 retail expenditures — which include spending on boats, engines, marine accessories and services — could eclipse 2007, one of the healthiest years for the industry.

Some of the strongest sales were in ski-and-wakeboard, pontoon, and aluminum fishing boats. Sales of larger boats also started to see an uptick, according to the trade association.

“An improved economy, an improved housing market, a stronger job market, increasing consumer confidence, and a multiyear low on fuel prices has bolstered people’s financial outlook, which bodes well for new boat sales,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the Chicago-based association.

This fall, wholesale shipments of travel trailers were at some of the highest levels in decades, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, based in Reston, Va.

RV industry shipments are expected to total 361,400 units in 2015, up 4% from 2014.

The 2015 figure would be more than double the industry’s recent low point in 2009.

“We’ve had a good year in 2014. Our October numbers were up 30% from September and were the best October total we’ve posted in 38 years,” said RVIA President Richard Coon.

Sales of travel trailers and motor homes are big business in Wisconsin, with people coming here from the Chicago area to buy rigs costing tens of thousands of dollars.

“We had our best year ever,” said Paul Beitzel, sales manager at Ewald’s Airstream of Wisconsin, an Airstream travel-trailer dealership in Franklin.

New Airstream trailers cost $42,000 to $140,000. The Ohio-based trailer manufacturer has benefited from baby boomers not wanting to wait much longer to buy one of the luxury units that sometimes serves as their second home.

“The baby boomers are retiring and want a lifestyle change,” Beitzel said.

Airstream, known for its shiny aluminum trailers with rounded corners, had hoped to double the sales of one particular model but exceeded that goal, according to Beitzel.

“If I ordered one today, I wouldn’t see it until June,” he said.

Wholesale shipments of travel trailers, including fifth-wheel models towed by large pickups, increased 24% in November, according to new data from Robert W. Baird Co.

Low fuel prices have helped bring some people back to the dealerships, a good sign before the start of the winter RV shows that get under way in January.

There’s still pent-up demand from the recession, when people wanted recreational vehicles and boats but postponed the purchase until they felt better about their finances.

“Even when consumer confidence was low, people were still researching RVs, going to shows and dealerships,” said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

Many of the new travel trailers are smaller and lighter to pull, but they have as much room inside as larger models from a few years ago.

Slide-out rooms create more living space in a trailer. Smaller electronics and appliances, such as flat-screen televisions and tankless water heaters, also free up more inside space.

There’s strong interest in trailers that are replicas of models made in the 1960s but have modern amenities such as an air conditioner and a microwave oven.

One of those is a replica of a 1961 Airflyte from Shasta RV, an Elkhart, Ind. manufacturer.

In 2014, the company pledged to manufacture more than 1,900 of the special edition trailers. Dealers, including two locations in Wisconsin, snapped all of them up in just three days, said President Mark Lucas.

The Airflyte “is a lot tougher to build than some of the other trailers. The metal corners are hand rolled with a hammer … a lot of the stuff is more craftsman built than assembly processed,” Lucas said.

The starting price for an Airflyte is $14,998. About 80% of the trailer is identical to the one built 53 years ago, according to Lucas.

“A lot of people think it’s a restoration,” he said.


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Sailing education project sets sail

“I want to share my own personal love of sailing and the water to somebody else,” Carrie said.

The couple recently acquired five hand-built boats from Hudson Sailing Community in Manhattan. The New York-based organization sponsors an afterschool program in the winter where students build small sailing boats, staying busy during the off-season.

The Bergstroms have considered developing a sailing school for a number of years, and Lars happened to find the advertisement for the five skiffs as they began preliminary planning.

“We like to ramble along with certain ideas until things come to fruition,” Carrie said.

Lars grew up sailing large boats on the Chesapeake Bay with his father. Carrie sailed and raced small boats with her family in Wisconsin, New Jersey and upstate New York. They both relocated to Beaufort, N.C., where they met.

Carrie was working in Beaufort as a bread baker and Lars was working in marine canvas when the two decided to relocate to Wilmington to raise their children.

“I was working in canvas shops, mostly on power boats, and we were losing sight of our dream to be sailors,” said Lars.

The two opened Bergstrom Sails in April 2011. The sailing loft recently partnered with Northsails, one of the leaders in the sail-making industry.

The partnership with Northsails has given the Bergstroms access to many of the materials they need to start building the five skiffs for the sailing school. With only the five hulls, the Bergstroms are building the masts, sails and rudders for each boat before they are water-ready.

“In sailboat racing, five makes up a fleet, so it worked out perfectly,” said Lars. “We have just enough for our own fleet.”

They have just started the process of becoming a nonprofit organization. The main goal of the school is to provide sailing lessons for little or no cost.

“We’re hoping for completely free,” said Carrie.

Once the sailing school becomes an official nonprofit organization, Bergstrom Sails will start soliciting donations of money, materials and volunteered time.

“There are already sailing programs with these same boats here in Wilmington and Southport and Beaufort,” said Lars. “But we want to provide sailing for families and children who can’t afford to pay for those summer camps.”

The Bergstroms are planning to have the five skiffs ready for the water this spring. They can be reached at 910-512-2970.

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Facebook Apologizes For Its 'Year In Review' Approach

This month, Facebook launched a customizable slideshow feature called Year In Review. To increase the engagement in Year In Review, Facebook automatically created a slideshow with suggested photos for each of their users. Facebook’s algorithms decided the suggested photos based on the month each photo was uploaded and the number of “likes” they received. The default tagline for the Year In Review slideshow is “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Unfortunately, many Facebook users had a tumultuous year instead of a “great” year and Year In Review served as a reminder of traumatic circumstances.

This year, web designer Eric Meyer lost his six-year-old daughter Rebecca to brain cancer so he did not have any interest in creating a Year In Review slideshow to share with his Facebook friends. However, Facebook’s algorithms automatically created a slideshow for him with his daughter’s face in the center of the first slide with some holiday-themed clip art. Facebook displayed the slideshow at the top of his News Feed on December 24th, asking him if he wanted to customize and share his Year In Review.

“I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault.  This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them selfies at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house,” said Meyer in a blog post. “But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year.”

Meyer suggested several design ideas to avoid potential mishaps for the Year In Review app in the future. For example, Meyer recommended Facebook to avoid pre-filling a picture until they are sure the users actually wants to see pictures from the year. He also said that Facebook should ask users if they want to try a preview instead of pushing the Year In Review app at them using a simple “yes” or “no” box. Meyer pointed out that programmers should plan for failure modes and worst-case scenarios.

Facebook Product Manager Jonathan Gheller oversaw the Year In Review project and reached out to Meyer directly to apologize. Gheller said he will do better in the future. Meyer wrote a follow-up blog post saying that he actually owes the Year In Review team team an apology. “I am very sorry that I dropped the Internet on his head for Christmas.  He and his team didn’t deserve it,” wrote Meyer.

With over 1.25 billion users, Facebook is learning the importance of becoming empathetic to its users and responding positively to feedback. Internally, Facebook is no longer using the term “users.” Facebook now refers to its users as “people.”

At the Atlantic Navigate conference this month, Facebook’s director of Product Design Margaret Gould Stewart said that Facebook also formed an Empathy Team. According to BusinessInsider, the Facebook Empathy Team partners with small businesses and advertisers to help run campaigns and find out what their goals are. Gould Stewart said that Facebook now pairs individuals from the Empathy Team with  people at small businesses to create campaigns. If the campaign fails, then the Empathy Team will also feel the pain and find ways to improve upon future campaigns.

This is not the first time that Facebook launched a Year In Review app. Last year, Facebook allowed users to create a Year In Review video slideshow based on life events like graduations, vacations, engagements and weddings. In 2012, Facebook also had a Year In Review app that showed you the most liked photos and status updates along with the number of Facebook friends you made during the year and the number of Pages you liked.

Facebook “Year In Review” screenshot / Credit: Facebook

What are your thoughts about Facebook’s Year In Review app this year? Do you think it was too aggressive this year? Let us know in the comments below!


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Plane crashes near Hobart yacht race competitors

HOBART, Australia (AP) — A yacht sailing in the Sydney to Hobart race witnessed a light plane crashing into the ocean and other boats later became involved in a search for the plane and its pilot and passenger.

The single-engine plane was filming the boats when it crashed on Monday evening, prompting a ”mayday, mayday … we’ve a plane in the water,” radio call from the yacht Mistraal as it rounded the Tasman Peninsula bound for the finish line.

Crew on board the boat saw the plane go down and its tail disappear beneath the waves.

Up to nine race yachts diverted to help search for the plane. Police said Tuesday an oil slick was found in the area but there was no sign of the aircraft or the two people aboard.


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Handicap field narrows in Hobart race

Only a handful of boats are in the running to take out handicap honours in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

While the overall title will not be decided until Tuesday, rough conditions including gusting winds are proving to be the more pressing issue for competitors yet to finish the 628-nautical mile journey.

At Tasman Island, the point where boats turn from the state’s east coast toward Hobart, cruiser Mistraal reported winds of 40 knots late on Monday afternoon.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts northwesterly winds of up to 30 knots and seas to 2.5 metres in the same area overnight on Monday.

Throughout day four of the race the trying conditions started to show as boats limped across the finish line and others were forced to withdraw.

A front runner for the corrected time category, NSW yacht Wild Rose endured a scare which left the crew fearing they might not be able to continue.

The 43-footer, owned and skippered by race veteran Roger Hickman, struck trouble with a broken steering cable early on Monday as she battled strong, gusting winds east of Tasmania.

“It was looking pretty dicey,” said navigator Jenifer Wells.

“We got the emergency tiller up and got the kite (spinnaker) down in 30 knot (winds) and repaired the cable and were back on track in 30 minutes.”

While the weather troubled some entrants, it was the wildlife that proved problematic for others.

The Tony Kirby-skippered Patrice got an eight-foot shark stuck on its rudder and had to take evasive action to shake the unwanted visitor.

“He came off and swam away,” Kirby said, but not before causing some steering problems.

A sun fish is blamed by the crew of Onesails Racing for a violent jolt in the night, skipper Ray Roberts said.

“We broke one of our rudders … and the boat went into a wild jibe and we laid it flat in the ocean and got a lot of water on board,” he said.

The 55-footer was nursed across the line to finish 10th.

With the trail blazer not expected to reach Hobart until Wednesday, the handicap field is narrowing.

Front runners include 29-year-old Wild Rose, which finished at about 8pm (AEDT) Monday within the required handicap time.

Also in contention is Tasmanian boat Maluka of Kermandie, the smallest and oldest of the fleet – measuring 30 feet and built in 1932.

It is not due until Tuesday morning.

An overall win for skipper Sean Langman’s local timber yacht and its crew of five would be a result for the romantics in the Sydney to Hobart’s 70th year.

Veteran supermaxi Wild Oats XI on Sunday took out a record eighth line honours in the blue water classic, holding out newcomer, American Comanche.

Friday’s starting field of 117 has been reduced to 105 through withdrawals, all but one of which are due to damage.


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Fire in ferry with 478 onboard, bad weather hits rescue operations

Athens, Dec 28 (IANS) A ferry with 478 people on board caught fire while sailing from Greece to Italy Sunday. Though more than 100 people were evacuated, adverse weather hampered rescue operations in the vessel off the Greek island of Corfu, officials said.

The ferry Norman Atlantic had sent a distress signal while sailing in international waters in the Adriatic Sea, when the crew realised that they could not put out the fire that started in one of the ship’s garages, the Greek Coast Guard said, according to a Xinhua report.

The ferry was sailing from the port of Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy. The fire broke out in the hold, which was carrying 222 vehicles.

Officials had earlier said 466 people, including 411 passengers and 55 crew members, were onboard.

However, a representative of the Igoumenitsa Port Authority told Greek national broadcaster NERIT that 478 people, including 422 passengers and 56 crew members, were onboard the ferry.

Nearly 50 women and children have already been safely transferred to the Spirit of Piraeus vessel, Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said.

Another 60 passengers have been transferred to rescue boats as the evacuation operation launched by Greek, Italian and Albanian authorities was under way with about a dozen speedboats, a cruise ship, a tug vessel and container vessels surrounding the ferry.

Greek Defence Minister Nikos Dendias said Italy was leading the rescue operation, and a Greek Navy frigate, an Air Force jet and five helicopters were despatched to the area.

The Greek Fire Brigade also sent forces to assist in extinguishing the fire, but the operation was hampered by high winds of up to 100 km per hour and torrential rain, authorities said.

Greek shipping ministry sources said there were also communication problems as the Italian captain and crew could not speak English well.

The Norman Atlantic was chartered by Greek managing company ANEK Lines from the Italian firm Grimaldi Holding.

A passenger, Rania Fyreou, said in a telephonic conversation with Greek television channel Mega that people panicked when the alarm went off.

“We were sleeping and woken up by the alarm and the smoke. We put on warm clothes and rushed outside on the deck,” she said.

Some passengers jumped into the water and were retrieved by rescue boats, according to local television station SKAI.

“They were terrified of the blaze,” Greek passenger Esftathios said.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi were in constant contact with officials taking part in the operation, said Greek government spokesperson Sophia Voultepsi.

So far, no injuries or people missing have been reported, nor has information about the nationalities of the people onboard been released.


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Extreme sailing: why I'm going round the world again


British sailor Alex Thomson skippers his yacht as he prepares for the
Barcelona World Race 2014 (CHRISTOPHER PLEDGER)

Many of us think of round-the-world sailors as simply mad, but to listen to
Thomson is to understand that speeding through crashing waves is his
tranquillity. What he finds alone at sea is not madness, but incongruous
sanity.

“As soon as you leave sight of land, your boat feels really small,” he
explains. “It’s humbling. It makes me understand how small we are as the
human race, and how powerful the ocean is.

“We are a tiny cog in the wheel. It’s strange that our planet is called Earth
when most of it is covered by water. We know less about our oceans than we
do about the Moon.”

Thomson is meant to be discussing his latest non-stop global challenge, the
23,000-mile Barcelona World Race, setting off from the Spanish port at 1pm
on New Year’s Eve with the return scheduled for late March.

It is a double-handed race, with each of the eight competing boats crewed by
two, and Thomson will sail his boat, Hugo Boss, with Pepe Ribes. It is the
only race of its kind – yet time and again Thomson’s conversation finds its
way back to the ultimate in ocean racing… the Vendee Globe.

Once every four years, a field assembles for the test unlike any other.
Thomson has entered three times before. Twice his boat failed him (once
almost at the cost of his life), but in February last year he attained
membership of one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet, finishing third
in 80 days, 19 hours, 23 minutes – fully two weeks under Ellen MacArthur’s
famous circumnavigation in 2001 – to become the fastest British solo
non-stop global sailor in history.

It does not require powerful insight to observe that Thomson’s very heart
beats for November 6 2016, the start of the next Vendee Globe.

“The pleasure of round-the-world racing is performing and doing well and
winning,” he says. “There isn’t any other pleasure. Double-handed is
actually much tougher physically because two can push the boat much harder.

“But mentally it’s far easier than the Vendee Globe, because in this one, when
it’s my turn to sleep I can switch off, knowing Pepe is in charge, whereas
solo you can never rest properly because you’re thinking you might crash
into something or there’s going to be ice or the wind’s going to come. The
danger and isolation are extreme. You can’t wave a flag and say, ‘I’ve had
enough, get me off.’ Only polar exploration is anything like it, but even
that’s not a competitive environment.”

Small wonder that Thomson is not much given to calm repose. Even during the
interview he shifts constantly in his chair.

Perhaps it is not so surprising, given the instability of his formative years.
He was born in the village of Rhosneigr, on Anglesey, where his father was a
search-and-rescue helicopter pilot at RAF Valley (where the Duke of
Cambridge performed the same duty), but the family moved frequently – to the
Middle East, Cork, Shetland and Gosport.

Always the outsider, Thomson attended 11 schools; and amid all that, his
mother died from bowel cancer when he was 16. Fewer than 12 months later,
his father met the woman who would become his second wife.

“The relationship is good now, but it was difficult to accept at the time. I
became good at making the best of difficult situations.

“I got used to being one of the unpopular kids. I didn’t want to be one of the
others. I wanted the difficult side, because it made it more interesting.”

At 11, he discovered sailing, and his course was set. He never wanted to do
anything else. In 1999, at 25, he became the youngest-ever skipper to win a
round-the-world yacht race.

Among his Clipper crew was the Air Miles magnate Keith (later Sir Keith)
Mills, who has personally backed Thomson ever since, helping establish
landmark sponsorship by Hugo Boss, whose name all Thomson’s competition
boats now carry.

In 2005, he also found time for a bit of internet dating, and met his wife,
Kate.

“She challenges me,” he says, with a wolfish grin. “To do what I do, you have
to be quite opinionated that you’re always right. That wouldn’t be good in a
relationship. Kate doesn’t allow me to be like that.”

Their son Oscar will be four next month, while baby Georgia arrived last June.
“The sleepless nights were never a problem for me,” grins Thomson, who has
endured far worse.

Just before Christmas they moved into the first house they have owned, an
1830s “wreck” in Gosport which Thomson has been fixing up. But ocean racing
is always on his mind.

“Kate craves stability. We both suffer when I’m away, although she wouldn’t
necessarily agree with that. Being at sea five months of the year is normal
for me, and I’m as comfortable there as at home. I don’t know what else I’d
do if I couldn’t sail. I’ve thought about it because at some point I’ll have
to stop.

“Will I ever be satisfied? I don’t know. To me, success is winning the Vendee
Globe. But if I did it, I think my definition of success would change.”

What Thomson is really seeking somewhere across those thousands of ocean miles
is a point of resolution, the certain knowledge that he has had enough. So
the real question is not why he continues, but how he can stop. He has yet
to find the answer.

Hugo Boss sailor Alex Thomson will be taking part in the Barcelona World
Race. For more details, see alexthomsonracing.com


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