Archive for » February 9th, 2015«

Rising economic tide boosts Marinemax, boating industry

After a perfect economic storm nearly swamped Clearwater’s Marinemax, the nation’s largest boat retailer is on the rebound — good news for a struggling recreational boat industry and a big thumbs up for Florida’s improving business climate.

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The company’s stock price that sank as perilously low as $1.44 in early 2009 and struggled in single digits for most of the next half decade now shows signs of robust recovery.

Marinemax shares closed near $26 at the close of Monday’s markets, a price range the 17-state, 54-store company has not seen in nine years.

“Not only does it have double digit earnings growth prospects,” stock research firm Zacks said of Marinemax this past week, “and better days are ahead.”

“We are positioned to continue to benefit from the rising tide of the industry,” said Marinemax CEO Bill McGill of his company’s latest quarterly performance. “Clearly the growth we produced is evidence of a broadening recovery, although we believe our growth has outpaced that of the overall industry.”

Marinemax has survived not only the nastiest recession since the 1920s, it also endured the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, which depressed boat sales from the Gulf as far north as the Carolinas. And it struggled through a spike in gas prices that only fed consumer fears that boating was an expensive indulgence in harder times.

Sales first soured in the early days of the recession with smaller and cheaper boats, then progressed to 30-foot mid-sized models before depressing the yacht market.

In the spring of 2008, McGill told the Tampa Bay Times he thought the fall of 2007 was as bad for boating as it would get. “It has actually gotten worse,” he said then.

And worse still by the summer of 2008. “Business is as bad as anybody in this industry has seen it since the energy crisis of the 1970s,” McGill said. By then, Marinemax’s 87 stores were losing sales at such a clip that McGill closed more than 30 locations.

In the most recent quarter ended Dec. 31, Marinemax store sales soared 45 percent on top of a 9 percent increase in the same period a year earlier. Revenue in the latest quarter grew over 44 percent to $158.1 million.

Sales of boat builder Brunswick Corp., maker of Sea Rays and Boston Whalers, make up 40 percent of Marinemax revenues. The company employs about 1,200.

Industry forecasts for 2015 by the National Marine Manufacturers Association are almost bullish. “An improved economy with GDP projected to grow 3 percent, an improving housing market, a stronger job market, increasing consumer confidence and a multi-year low on fuel prices have bolstered people’s financial outlook, which bodes well for new boat sales,” stated Thom Dammrich, NMMA president.

That works both ways in Florida. In a state where time spent on the water is a cultural icon, stronger boat sales help bolster all parts of the state economy.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.


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Designing superfast boats … with an iPad?!

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(CNN)If marrying design and engineering is a fine art, then who better for the job than sailing’s answer to “David Hockney with an iPad?”

Like Hockney, this is man whose canvas is a tablet. His subject? Ultra-slick, quick racing boats.

Dirk Kramers, who counts Ted Turner among his former employers, has been tasked with designing a vessel capable of winning the 2017 America’s Cup — sailing’s most prestigious race.

His new boss is a man who knows a thing or two about winning, multiple Olympic champion Ben Ainslie. The knight of the realm is behind a bold bid to bring the Auld Mug to British shores for the first time.

The competition is still two years away but at the temporary home of Ben Ainslie Racing HQ on an industrial estate just outside Portsmouth, they are plotting victory.

“Everyone wants to see the champagne flying at the finish — that’s the sound bites and visual bites that people live for,” Kramers told CNN.

    “But the main chapters of this are being written now. The America’s Cup is being won now.”

    BAR’s temporary base — they will relocate to a bigger headquarters next May on Portsmouth’s waterfront — gives little indication of the expertise at work with its white, spartan interior.

    Inside there are decades worth of experience among the 55-strong workforce, which will rise to near 100 by the time of the Cup.

    Money and cutting-edge technology are key to this operation but, for Kramers, who modestly downplays himself as “the old guy on the team”, the most valuable ingredient is far more simplistic.

    “Most of the time it’s not the biggest spender that wins,” says the American. “The most expensive commodity is time. You’re always learning and it’s the person that learns the most that will have the fastest boat.”

    With every minute precious in the countdown to the big race, no wonder the pictorial greeting on the first flight of stairs from the entrance for any visitor to Team HQ is a quote from Muhammad Ali: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

    “In terms of setting structure and design philosophy, that happens now,” says Ainslie as he reflects on the process of filling key management roles before steadily expanding the sailing, design and on-shore workforce .

    “If we get this bit wrong, we’ll never recover. And unfortunately until we’re on the start line, we won’t know for sure how we’ve done.”

    Ainslie’s first call was to Andy Claughton, the team’s technical director. In Formula One terms, he is like an Adrian Newey, who has since signed up to the BAR project, to a Sebastian Vettel during their time together at Red Bull.

    Claughton competed in the same era as Ainslie’s coach Sid Howlett and has been involved in America’s Cup racing since 1983.

    He and Ainslie got to know each other during the 2007 America’s Cup when Ainslie was part of the Team New Zealand set-up.

    A keen engineer for as long as he can remember, Claughton likens the project to, “a Mecano set — you have to make sure you pick all the right bits.”

    But, because of the sheer numbers involved, he admits “it’s like playing rugby with 100 players.”

    Fortunately for Claughton, it’s not a case of starting from scratch.

    “The thing is that someone’s always done something similar before so there are rules of thumb,” he explains.

    “A lot of projects aren’t rocket science. We’re not going to invent some new technology that will win us the Cup. What we will do is reassemble existing technology that can help us.”

    That starts with the simplicity of a Kramers sketch either on paper or more often an iPad, which he started to use to share his ideas more easily with his colleagues. This is then fed into a 3D computer model overseen by Francesco Azevedo.

    Portugal’s Azevedo is one of 11 nationalities currently represented on the design team, which also prides itself on a “best of British” approach.

    A rarity on the team as an America’s Cup debutant, the former architect explains: “I try to model the ideas from everybody and try to make it as a 3D model so everyone can sit around and discuss.

    “Everyone feeds it into me and I try to give everyone feedback because sometimes ideas clash and you cannot physically fit them together so I try to come up with solutions and present solutions to everybody else and say ‘this idea didn’t really work – what about this?'”

    How versatile the team can be with their design is curtailed by the America’s Cup rule book. For example, it tells you the boat must have two hulls a certain length apart and be of a certain length and width.

    “Under the rules, it quickly becomes clearer in a picture what the boat looks like,” adds Claughton. “To the naked eye, all the boats will look similar. The disparity will come as these boats are fantastically difficult to sail. There’s lots of opportunity to do things well and badly.”

    The designers may use a wind tunnel to test a certain part but the computational tools at their disposal are so accurate it is not always required.

    So once sent through the 3D model, individual parts are sent to an external supplier with the touch of a button and, as Claughton says, “it turns up in a box at the end of the week.”

    Deciding how long to spend designing products while also minimizing manufacturing time is a balancing act.

    The first testing boat (T1) is already out on the water, T2 is expected to be fully operational in May while the eventual boat on which Ainslie and his team will race for the Cup is set to be finalized in design terms by the end of next year’s sailing season.

    “There is an end point and that’s the $64,000 question when that is,” explains Claughton. “You’re balancing pushing the design time but also the amount of time the guys can spend on the water.”

    A myriad of different organizations are on board with Ainslie’s team from the British Ministry of Defence to big players in aerospace and engineering company Prodrive, which boasts a rich motorsport history.

    And while the majority of the staff have been picked for their America’s Cup pedigree, others have been headhunted from elsewhere.

    James Roche is the boyfriend of British Olympic skeleton gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold and previously worked at UK Sport and latterly McLaren Applied Technologies.

    He helped design the sleds that Yarnold and, before her, Amy Williams, drove to Olympic glory.

    His role at Ben Ainslie Racing is simulation support and the once budding sailor is adamant his skills translate from ice to water.

    “It’s engineering and optimization and working with athletes with equipment so there are a lot of parallels,” he says.

    His job is to work on performance prediction programs and writing code to foresee how the boat will behave and react with sailors and new equipment.

    But for all the brains and cutting-edge technology behind it, there is no guarantee this $130 million project will ultimately prove successful.

    “That’s the elephant in the room,” admits Claughton, though the buzz through the open-plan office suggests a team brimming with confidence that it is currently on the right path.

    Ultimately, Ainslie is a fiercely determined sailor and he is adamant the team can “bring back the Cup to Britain” for the first time in the event’s history. Time will tell.

    Read: Ainslie’s America’s Cup bid gets UK Government backing

    Read: Kate Middleton’s royal stamp of approval for America’s Cup

Sailing the Turkish coast

Gocek Harbour is a well-known departure point for sailing trips. Picture: Brooke Hunter

Brooke Hunter is enchanted by ancient ruins and natural beauty.

Sailing masts sway softly in the breeze as small boats of varying colours sit precariously in the clear waters. The sun is making its presence known, with diminutive clouds accomplishing little to relieve the heat. This is Gocek, Turkey – a secluded harbour surrounded by an archipelago of bottle-green islands.

A well-known departure and arrival point for travellers, Gocek was named Kalimche in ancient times, when it was a Lycian settlement. Situated between Dalyan and Fethiye, the harbour is a perfect starting point for a sail around the Mediterranean – whether it is a short cruise through the deep, inky-blue Turkish waters or seafaring abroad to the neighbouring Greek Islands.

Turkey has one of the longest sailing seasons in the Med, and April-late October is conducive to this. Our sail with MedSailors – a London-based company for ages 20-35 – was to take place over seven days, starting in Gocek and passing through Karacaoren, Kas and Kalkan, followed by Coldwater Bay and Fethiye, ending in the bays of Skopea Limani.

Arriving in Turkey, we head to Gocek Harbour to ravenously fill our stomachs with meze and chargrilled meats cooked in a barbecue-style hibachi. A Turkish man in his late 50s balances piles of pide in his arms while, in the harbour, a yacht proudly displaying the Turkish flag sails past, its occupants soaking up the sun on the deck and giving us a glimpse of what our upcoming sail will hopefully entail.

Gocek has plenty of harbourside restaurants offering delicious local seafood. Picture: Brooke Hunter

Later, we meander down to the dock with our luggage in tow, greeting the sun-kissed captain of our MedSailors yacht and the other travellers in our flotilla.

We peer into the cabin that will be our home, decked out with wooden panels, four small rooms and a kitchenette. We begin our late- afternoon sail soaking up the sun on the hull, a refreshing sea spray showering the front of the boat. Later, on paddleboards, we explore a hidden cave of crumbling limestone before diving into waters so crystal clear that schools of brightly coloured fish can be seen frolicking below.

Then, as the sun begins to dip behind the clouds in a purplish haze, our captain steers the boat into the bay of Karacaoren, just east of Gocek. Partially sheltered by reef, its clear waters and inner moorings make for perfect anchorage and snorkelling conditions. The only sign of human habitation is a rickety wooden taverna. A resident harbourmaster with long, dark dreadlocks and fading ankle bracelets directs us to our mooring point. He speaks in broken English to our captain and we learn of the abundant meze and fresh seafood the Karacaoren Restaurant prepares.

After a snorkel, the harbourmaster ferries us to the restaurant perched high on a hill.

Karacaoren has magnificent sunset views. Picture: Brooke Hunter

With smells of fresh seafood lingering, he hands us menus detailing spicy Mediterranean casseroles, lobster mains and hand-caught fish. He tells us stories of local fisherman spearing lambfish, groper and swordfish near the small islands not far from the restaurant.

Given its height, the view from the restaurant is mesmerising, the lulling lights of the yachts contrasting with the meditative glow of the mauve and crimson sunset illuminating the islands and the faded Moon in the distance.

En route to our scheduled second-day destination we pass the Blue Cave. At 50m long, 35m wide and 17m high, it is said to be the largest-known sea cave in Turkey. The distinctive blue colour comes from the reflection of the water, which captures the shine of the sky on its surface. We anchor near the cave and, after some snorkelling, we put together a lunch organised by MedSailors – a salad of roasted peppers, olives and cheese just perfect for a warm day on the Mediterranean.

Houses spill down the hillside in Kas. Picture: Brooke Hunter

We soon arrive in Kas, a former fishing village characterised by rich limestone cliffs, cobblestoned pathways and a bustling waterside area. As we wander the town looking for a bite to eat, the locals greet us with a nod or a gesture.

Cascades of purple bougainvillea shade the winding ancient paths, giving colour to the white stalls poking out from underneath shady umbrellas offering colourful fruits, spices and nuts, and an array of arts and ceramics. After dining on tahini and hummus, we finish the night off with a spot of shisha at a rooftop bar, the lights of Kas Marina sparkling below.

In the morning we are greeted by the early rising sun, the soft oranges creating a misty hue across the undulating mountains protecting the marina. The yachts can be heard rocking gently as the town sleeps on. We indulge in an early breakfast of fresh fruit before heading off to Kalkan, a short few hours sail away. Nestled at the foot of the Taurus Mountains, Kalkan was once a convenient hiding place for pirates before becoming an important port in the 19th century.

A tour bus arrives to meet our flotilla at Kalkan’s port and we board, heading towards Saklikent Gorge. Also known as the Hidden City, it is the second largest gorge in Europe. To make our way into the 300m-deep natural wonder, we make use of our rented water shoes and wade through the icy river, where locals and tourists alike are bathing, undeterred by the temperature of the water. The grey sculpted walls of the canyon tower above us, casting a welcome shade as we trek through the slippery rocks.

Later, we head back to the banks of the river, where locals have set up wooden seating areas for restaurants. We sit on the rugs and pillows with a drink – cooled by the icy temperature of the river – in hand.

The last of the daylight at Patara Beach. Picture: Brooke Hunter

Passing the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins at Letoon and Xanthos, we make it to Patara Beach just before sunset. The long, wide stretch of pure white sand is bordered on its ends by mountains and along its length by sand dunes.

From May until October, the beach closes after sunset and, as the sun sets behind thatched umbrellas, people float in the warm waves while Turkish men pack up the remaining sun beds and close the cafe resting on stilts overlooking the water.

The next morning we sail to Coldwater Bay, or Bestas Limani, named after the spring that feeds the bay from the Taurus Mountains. From here, we wander the marble streets of the Greek ghost town of Kayakoy before feasting in a local taverna. Kayakoy was abandoned following the Turkish-Greek population exchange of 1923, leaving its houses, about 500 of them, untouched.

We awake in Coldwater Bay to some homemade pancakes from an elderly woman who approaches us on a tattered boat. En route to Fethiye, we sail a short distance towards the historic Gemiler Island where we take a dinghy to its harbour. Once on the island, we explore the remains of some Byzantine buildings, churches and scattered mosaics, climb hills and walk over broken steps and archways, including an ancient covered walkway which, according to legend, was built for an albino princess who had to be protected from the sunlight.

Ruins at Gemiler Island. Picture: Brooke Hunter

While waiting for the dinghy to pick us up we dangle our feet over the tilting jetty, watching the schools of fish swim below.

When all five yachts are ready, we have a friendly race to the buzzing town of Fethiye, its natural harbour tucked away in the southern reaches of a broad bay scattered with pretty islands.

For lunch, we visit a lively fish market where we pick the fish we wish to eat and have it cooked in front of us. After lunch, we indulge in a traditional Turkish bath, or hammam.

On our sixth sailing day, we reach the beautiful bays of Skopea Limani. With numerous sheltered coves dotted with pine trees, this enclosed gulf is renowned as one of the most stunning sailing areas in Turkey.

We climb the hill near our flotilla, to get to the secluded beach on the other side.

Swimming in the clear waters, we spot loggerhead turtles and dolphins from afar – the perfect ending to an awe-inspiring holiday filled with natural and historical wonders.


The West Australian


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