July 20, 2008
From the "Things are tough all over" department

The repo man cometh.

In a bad economy, fun is often the first casualty.

For James Hedrick, that means it's a busy time in his line of work. He's one of those dreaded repo men.

He spends his days scanning megayachts, sailboats and fishing skiffs as he steers his dinghy through a marina west of the city's skyscrapers, looking for a piece of the American dream.

This particular piece is a gleaming white, 65-foot Hatteras with two master bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a full galley kitchen with glossy teak cabinets. The owner is $35,000 past due on his $1.5 million boat loan.

Hedrick is an agent with National Liquidators, considered by industry experts to be the world's largest marine repo company. The Fort Lauderdale-based company has tripled its business in the past three years, and now takes possession of about 200 boats a month in Florida, Ohio and California. The company's competitors also say they've seen similar increases in business.

"They're going to hang on to the car, they're going to hang on to the house. But they're going to give up on the boat," said Hedrick, whose employer has doubled its staff in two years to 85 repo agents so they can meet demand from the banks and lenders.

It's not just boats: Repo agents say banks and lenders have been asking them to reclaim all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, small planes, snowmobiles, semi-trucks and, of, course, cars. Vehicle repossessions were up 10 percent in 2007 over the previous year, said Tom Webb, an analyst for Atlanta-based Manheim, the largest car auction company in the nation.

And I'll bet they all whined about it, too. Because that's what we as a nation would do.

The main thing I got out of this article was a reminder that it's been way too long since I've seen the movie. "Put it on a plate, son, you'll enjoy it more." Yeah, I need to see it again.

One more thing:

Rising gas prices have also made it harder for owners to make room in their budgets for boat trips. Marine diesel fuel is over $5 a gallon in some places, which means a five-hour jaunt on the water can easily cost $250 for some gas-guzzling yachts. Last year's marine diesel cost about $3.40 a gallon.

If fuel consumption in the United States drops even a teeny tiny bit because yacht owners are unwilling to pay higher diesel costs for their weekend jaunts, I don't think I'll be grieving that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 20, 2008 to National news
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