“#People splash out on boats for pandemic-safe summer escapes”
So the foot-and-ankle surgeon purchased his first boat in April: a 38-foot Beneteau yacht with two staterooms, a swim platform and enough bells and whistles to impress his four daughters, ages 6 to 21.
“This is our summer escape,” says Gambardella, who lives near the coast in Connecticut’s New Haven County. “I thought, ‘What a great time to have a boat.’ You can have fun on it with your family and you don’t need to be near other people.” After he and his wife completed a safety course for the vessel, which costs in the low six figures secondhand, Gambardella retained a captain in order to learn more before he navigates around the Long Island Sound’s rocky Thimble Islands and, farther afield, to popular vacation destination Block Island.
With many camps canceled, hotels closed and air travel iffy at best, well-off locals are turning to boats and yachts on the open seas for warm-weather fun while still social distancing.
Boat owners, shops and marinas are witnessing the surge in interest, especially from first-timers. “Demand for the yacht is through the roof. I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Lewis Liebert, who owns Frivolous, a 70-foot luxury yacht he rents to stir-crazy New Yorkers for $6,000 a day, including a captain and a mate, a massive sky bridge, plus three staterooms and bathrooms, a galley and a barbecue. “People have canceled their international trips, their kids’ camp is canceled, and in places like the Hamptons, it’s social and all about friends,” adds Westport, Conn.-based Liebert, who says these folks turn to boating as a safe outlet.
When he decided to opt out of a Nantucket trip due to uncertainty around coronavirus restrictions, Paul Pawlowski, a 41-year-old property developer from Mattituck, LI, booked Frivolous for a long weekend next month with his wife and two other couples with an eye toward their “comfort level.” He’s looking forward to enjoying the “floating hotel” and all the “toys,” he says, including Jet Skis and inner tubes — plus the chef who’ll whip up three meals a day on board. “It’s not a bad pivot,” Pawlowski says. “It’s still enjoying the East End and Rhode Island, but on a boat versus a hotel.”
“There are more first-time buyers than I’ve ever seen in my 10 years of doing this,” says Patrick Hopkins, a New York broker for Denison Yachting, who sold Gambardella his boat. Many vessels getting snatched up, Hopkins says, range from 35 to 60 feet long and are priced from $200,000 to $1 million. All the new boaters can crowd popular vacation spots, especially when slips to dock are already packed (although Hopkins uses his connections to squeeze in clients at the last minute). In Nantucket, fees for those precious slips can add up fast — $8.75 per foot per night “in season” for a 39- to 59-foot boat.
Yacht broker George Samalot, owner of Samalot Marine Inc in West Haverstraw, NY, says he too is drowning in a constant stream of inquiries from would-be sailors. “Two months ago, I couldn’t give away a boat and yet, within the last week or so, it’s been like a dam has burst,” adds the Hudson River-front business owner, whose current inventory ranges from $30,000 to $500,000. “Cabin fever” is the reason why so many first-timers are taking to the water, Samalot says, “because you can disconnect from everything so it’s just you, the clouds and Mother Nature.”
After canceling summer vacations at two Pennsylvania amusement parks — Sesame Place and Dutch Wonderland — Allison Giacoppo joined a boat club to help salvage the summer. Freedom Boat Club, which has six locations on Long Island and typically charges $8,000 to join with $400 monthly fees, was a saving grace for boating novice Giacoppo, who, along with her husband, took a safety course before setting sail with her three kids under age 4.
So far, they’re enjoying fishing during day trips. “We had to cancel everything — and think about safety and to limit our exposure [to the coronavirus],” says the Wantagh, LI-based Giacoppo. “Boating is the way to go.”
In May, the Boat Owners’ Association of the US, known as BoatUS, recorded a 250 percent increase in sign-ups for their certification courses from people seeking activities with a low risk of virus transmission.
“It’s a record for us,” says Chris Edmonston, vice president of government affairs at BoatUS. “There has been a huge demand for access to the water because of the pandemic, because people are in need of an escape … When I think of getting in a car and driving along a highway such as I-95, I am still very concerned about the ability even to stop and use a restroom. But that is something that boaters can get around.”
The coronavirus motivated Mamaroneck, NY, couple Daphne Then and Joel Almonte to sink $7,500 in to a used 27-foot cruiser for summer 2020.
They bought it to replace a smaller boat they sold last year — which they have been dearly missing for trips away from it all.
“We have a 5-year-old daughter, Ella Blu, and I’ve been not so comfortable taking her out to parks and other crowded places because of the virus,” says Then, 41, a teacher. “Having a boat gives you so much more freedom to move around.”
Because of pricey mooring fees at tony marinas on the Long Island Sound near Mamaroneck, she and Almonte, 30, a limousine driver, opted for the much more economical Yonkers Yacht Club on the Hudson River, on the other side of Westchester County. There, mooring fees are a relatively low $40 per foot for six months use of a slip.
Says Then, “We’re trying to keep our hobby as economical as possible.”
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