Looking out over the Maumee River at the docks near COSI, Dave White remembered the days when he could barely see the water for the boats.
"This place, 10 years ago, you could walk across the river on the boats," he recalled.
Now, the river is often empty. Out of the 26 dealers that used to sell new boats in Toledo, none remain.
Yesterday afternoon, a small but determined group of boaters attempted to reverse that trend at the first Nautical Flea Market at the Portside Docks. Harrison Marine, Brenner 75 Marine, Bi-State Marine Service and several private boat owners were selling used boats and gear.
Although the forecasts for winds of 30 knots over Maumee Bay and western Lake Erie may have driven some potential patrons away, those who braved wind and the whitecaps were privy to expert boating advice.
"We had a young couple, just getting into boating, with a lot of questions," said Clyde Ehmann of Bi-State Marine Service.
Rick Brown organized the flea market, citing the boat show at the Erie Street Market last winter as inspiration. Avid boaters like him and Mr. Ehmann want to see boating pick up again in Ohio and Michigan, which, as part of the Great Lakes region, have a long history as boating states.
"We're trying to promote this waterfront as much as possible," said Dave White of Brenner 75 Marine, 1 Main St.
According to the most recent statistics on the Web site of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, 412,375 recreational boats were registered in Ohio in 2005, down from 414,938 in 2004.
Ohio was ranked eighth in the nation in new boat registrations in 2004 and ninth in 2005.
Michigan, which was ranked third in the nation in 2005, had 944,138 recreational boats registered in 2005, down from 944,800 in 2004 and over 1 million in 2002.
But Lucas and Ottawa Counties had slightly more boats registered in 2006 than in 2005, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Mr. White imagines that many less experienced boaters are afraid to try finding their way through the shallow local waters. He speculates that if the Ottawa River is dredged, more residents will feel comfortable boating near the downtown.
"It is shallower than it was 25 years ago," Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Brown believes that flat boat sales have less to do with new trends in vacationing or recreation or environmental concerns than on the economic situation of the Rust Belt.
"It's more economics than anything else," he said.
Paradoxically, boat sales seem to be doing very well at Brenner 75. Mr. White estimated that they sell about half a dozen used boats every week.
Mr. White hopes to host another flea market in the fall, and possibly even an antique boat show, where boat owners could show off their boats from the '20s, '30s and '40s.
"Just get 'em back on boats again," Mr. White said.