By Cecil Hoge
Something is happening here. But what it is ain’t clear. We have a new President. He seems to be concentrated on reversing everything that the past President did. The Past President, by the way, concentrated on reversing everything his predecessor did. So, now we have a tradition of Presidential Reversal. The New Edict: Do the opposite of what your predecessor did.
In a way, that makes things simple: you just to reverse whatever the previous guy did. Your platform for the next election is set. All you have to do is promise the opposite of the person before you. In this system, there seems no middle way. Rather, it is like a light switch going on and off…today no immigrants, tomorrow, immigrants come what may, today tax relief for the rich, tomorrow tax relief for the poor, today get rid of socialized healthcare, tomorrow expand socialized healthcare.
But even these differences are not very clear, because there are some subtle exceptions. It seems both of the last 2 Presidents think tariffs are good…at least, tariffs on China. Both the new guy and old guy agree that the guy before them left them an empty chest and a stack of problems that was created by their previous predecessor. Of course, they disagree on what problems each former President left.
The young 2020s are beset by an array of problems…some of which are new and unique, some of which are as old as the republic itself, some of which are as old as humanity itself. We are still dealing with the fallout of the country beginning with the institution of slavery. We are still dealing with the history that immigrant Europeans took over lands formerly occupied by Native Americans. We are still dealing with the battle between States’ rights and Federal rights. We are still dealing with free speech and what that entails. We are still dealing with myths and theories of conspiracies. We are still arguing over what is true and what is not.
At the same time we are still in the midst of a Worldwide Pandemic. An interesting fact that should catch somebody’s attention is that there have been more cases and deaths worldwide from the Pandemic in the first 6 months of this year than there have been cases and deaths worldwide in all 12 months of last year. As I write these lines we are passing through the 4th of July Weekend, our present President is getting ready to celebrate what he calls “Independence” from the virus (aka Coronavirus, aka Covid). And while there are many reasons to be grateful about the progress against the virus in this country, there are also some outstanding concerns that may make that celebration premature.
This is not the first or the last plague to sweep across different parts of the world, but this Pandemic is truly unique in its own way. It is true that at the end of World War I there was a similar Pandemic that swept across the world. It is true that after that Pandemic, the memory of the spread of that disease and war that had just ended faded fast and the 1920s became what was called The Roaring 20s. And so, shortly after World War I and the 1918/1919 Pandemic, the 1920s proceeded in a gay and vibrant manner.
It is thought by many a pundit that such will be the case in the 2020s. And so, all the economic gurus, all the stock market mavens, all the business billionaires, all the respected financial observers are predicting boom times ahead for foreseeable future…whatever that may be. And yes, the assumption is the same presumption as our present President – we have achieved “independence” from the Pandemic. With that presumption, there is this belief that “normal times” are just around the corner.
We now have inoculated more than 60% of our population with one vaccine dose or more. The economy is blasting ahead…but the upturn is from the lows of the Pandemic and not above the previous economic activity before the Pandemic. The number of people getting jobs is increasing rapidly. Restaurants, bars, hotels are welcoming people back. And yet, and yet, some strange things abide. We are still far short of the economic and employment levels achieved before the Pandemic.
And while the American public seems inclined to accept that Coronavirus as a thing of the past, the Coronavirus does not seem inclined to agree. Instead, it hesitates and mutates and pops up with surprising virulence in other parts of the world just as it seems to diminish and become more controllable here.
But controlling the Pandemic in the U.S. and having it rise up in other parts of the world is not the same as having it disappear and be forgotten. It is true that the number cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined rapidly in this country in the last several months. Yet it is pretty hard to say it is under control – even now, 5,000 to 20,000 cases are being announced each day and while that is a lot less than this winter, it is not that much less than same time last year.
There are big differences this year. About 47% of the population has received both doses of the vaccine (the full course needed for full protection) and over 60% plus has had at least one dose. There have been some Snafus with the vaccines. Our present President had hoped 70% of all Americans would have had at least one dose of at least one the 2 vaccines in use. That did not happen, but we came mighty close.
More concerning is the fact that new variants of the Coronavirus have popped up – the Alpha virus, the Delta Virus, the Delta Plus virus. So it is obvious that just as we have a plan to protect our population against the virus, the virus has a plan to infect our population anyway. And this might be considered to be simple evolution in motion.
More concerning still is that the latest versions of virus are succeeding in becoming the most deadly, the most infectious and most dominant versions of the virus. Just as we are developing better pharmaceutical solutions to protect against the virus, the virus is mutating into more infectious and deadly versions of itself to infect people.
And it should be noted, just as we have been quite successful in reducing the present number of cases here, the Coronavirus has been successful infecting and killing more people than ever in other parts of the world. So our victory against this particular Pandemic can hardly be declared final. It may be that defeat the virus is just around the corner, but it also may be that virus is just about to sprout up again in the good old USA.
And so the new normal is not the old normal. And while it is true that the 2020s have begun to pick up speed, it is premature to say that the 2020s have reached the stage of roaring. To be sure, things are happening. Lumber prices for houses exploded in ways never before seen and now have recently retrenched some portion of their upward motion. Copper, that ancient commodity that has been so useful to the many purposes of humanity, whether to make brass, electrical wiring, jewelry, tools or pipes, has also exploded in price and is still happily in the stratosphere.
It is thought by the Pundits and the Mavens and the Experts and most Economists and the Fed that this explosion of prices is but a temporary blip that will soon pass away. All think we will soon be roaring along with little inflation.
Surely, prices have begun to roar. Many commodities and materials are also exploding in price. So the issue of fast rising prices is spread across almost all materials that are used to make things. Other prices, food, gas, heating, air conditioning, rent, house buying and transportation are going up rapidly. Getting containers to ship goods to the States is difficult and frustrating- it sometimes necessary to wait several weeks just locate a container and several weeks more get it on a ship.
And within this period of rising prosperity there are many shortages of different goods and many delays in getting those goods shipped from one place to another.
So something strange is happening, something hard to quantify. This is not my father’s Roaring Twenties. I remember what he had to say about that…it was a fun and exciting time…the alcohol flowed, the stocks roared and the Pierce Arrows, the Duesenburgs, the Packards reigned the highways. The parties were grand and the more Prohibition was ostensibly enforced, the more alcohol was indulged in.
All the economic pundits tell us another Roaring Twenties boom is upon us and it will last as far as the eye can see. Growth will be the new permanent condition. But somehow it feels as if we are not quite there.
This week new unemployment numbers are announced for June. And happily the numbers showed a strong increase in the number of people getting jobs. 850,000 people found jobs this last month, but strangely the percentage of unemployment increased in this country from 5.8% to 5.9%. Go figure. It would seem that the more people who get jobs, the more people who want jobs and so the percentage of unemployed to those wanting employment actually increased.
Heavens to Purgatroid, what does that mean? Something does not jive.
But do the stock markets care? No way, Jose. They blew it off and went on to higher highs because that is what the markets have been doing…going on to higher highs just like prices of just about everything. The pundits come out one and all and say, it is obvious the markets will go higher! Bonds, that former safe investment that used provide the elderly and the cautious with some reliable returns offer no returns that can outrun the debilitating effects of inflation. So we must invest safely in stocks…they are insurance in these fast moving times. And besides, the market mavens add, The Fed is your Friend.
I have to say I am agnostic about these opinions. Anyway, I feel I gamble enough in my businesses so I am not going to take the time to learn about gambling on some smart stock investments.
Speaking of higher highs, New York State has recently officially legalized Marijuana. Truly happy days here again. A more cynical person might think the Governor of New York was looking to divert his constituents from the fact that he had bad habit of hitting on young ladies. What better diversion than to legalize pot? But there is a complication – there always is, you know – you cannot buy Marijuana yet – at least, you cannot buy it legally. The State has to figure out how to maximize taxes from it and that will apparently take a year. In the meantime, you can smoke it and plant it, if you can find dealer to sell you the weed and the seed.
So big things are happening in the 2020s.
But all is not the same. Many of us now still work at home and some of us like that and some do not.
I spend two days working in my office and three days working from home. And when I work at home that allows me to schedule paddles or rows around the tides at my house – sea water is in my backyard twice day for 8 hours at a time and out for 4 hours at time. And so by working around my office and home schedules I manage to get out on the water 3 to 5 times a week, depending on weather and obligations.
Recently, I have noticed some changes on the waterways where I paddle, row or motor. This year there is a new, more prolific crop of algae about my bays. It is thicker and denser than last year’s variety. I am not a marine biologist, but I would guess a new species of algae has come town with thicker and denser strands that hold together as one great clump. When your paddle or oar hits one these dense clumps of green/brown algae it gets stuck. You have to maneuver your paddle or oar to carefully disengage. That doesn’t bother me. Last year I developed quite good disengagement skills and those skills still work with this year’s crop.
I am not quite sure what happens when one of our local knee boarders or water skiers whiz by at 30 mph+ being towed by their magnificent MasterCraft. I imagine when they hit one of these clumps they go for an unexpected ride and get the extra thrill of flying through air 20 feet before splashing down in the not so clean bay water. To each his own.
But the presence more algae and more pollution is not all I have noticed. It seems to me that the tidal currents in our 4 bays are running faster and stronger. I cite as example of this that I can now see tidal strong currents with running waves being created by the outflow or inflow of the tide. In the 40 plus years I have lived on these bays, I have not seen that kind of visible current in these bays. So I can only wonder: what is going on?
No matter, I watch the currents, paddle the waters and go my way…it is still a wondrous privilege to paddle, row or motor on the waters of the Seven Seas.
My wife spends her time reading, planting vegetables and flowers and fruits, keeping the house going. The garden is a big production each spring and summer. I am not the best helper, but I do bring 20 or so 40 lbs. bags of garden soil each year, spread them around and aid in the planting of various fruits and vegetables. My wife is the main boss in that department. I just work around edges because frankly, I am more of a hunter gatherer than a farmer, but my little efforts do aid her bigger efforts and strawberries and eggplants and tomatoes and asparagus and sweet potatoes and various herbs (not the above mentioned marijuana) are the results of her efforts.
My hybrid office/home work schedule allows us to take lunches with my wife at the local beach one or two days each week overlooking Long Island Sound. We pack simple sandwiches and simple beverages, drive to the beach and watch the scene of people walking, exercising, sunning, picnicking, enjoying the scenery like us, some wearing masks, most not now. Recently, because the mask regulations have been reduced, we also head to a local restaurant and have lunch or dinner once or twice a week. It is not bad way to pass through the Pandemic.
In my spare time, I work on various new inflatable prototypes and work on new designs. I do not think of designing inflatable boats or other products as work because I truly like to do it. And surprisingly, the older I get, the more new designs I seem to produce. This year I introduced new boat called the Sea Eagle FastCat 12. Now I am working on a larger model of that – see the picture above.
The first shipment of FastCat 12s, which were just introduced in May, was sold out before it arrived. The second shipment is already partially sold out and since it only arrives early next month, I am guessing that shipment will also be sold out before it arrives. It is not a terrible problem, but I do look to the day when we catch up with demand and actually have stock on hand.
FastCat 12s have been caught up in the worldwide logistical problems that are afflicting overseas production and present day shipping. They were designed by me and are made in Korea. The production was slowed by high demand for materials, inflatable boat parts and accessories. That resulted in long waiting times for delivery of materials and that resulted in the boats being produced later than they were scheduled to be produced. It is a common problem these days.
So, both production runs were delayed. The first production was supposed to be produced and shipped December (2020) and arrive in February 2021. That did not happen. Production of both the first and second productions were held up by lack materials and then both the first and second shipments were delayed, first because containers in Korea were not available and then because container ships were not available to take them to the States.
Welcome to the new world of delayed everything.
In short, materials/metals/commodities, inflatable boat materials are hard to come by, production is difficult to schedule, and inevitably, there are multiple delays in shipping and delays in receiving. The FastCats, as mentioned above were supposed to be here in February. Instead they arrived at the end of May. No matter, we have been blessed paradoxically with booming sales even as we struggle to keep up with the many things people demand . This situation is true in both our fishing lure business and our inflatable boat business.
I am presently finishing up with 2 new models…a larger FastCat and a larger Travel Canoe. The Travel Canoe was a product I designed about 5 years ago and have a patent on. The first year of sales was tiny…less than a 100 units. But the selling price was quite high – $2,000 – so it seemed valuable to continue. The first two years we offered this product with inflatable canoe seats…they were very comfortable, but not appealing to canoe enthusiasts who were used to and who preferred wood/mesh seats. In those two years the sales gradually and steadily increased. I surmised the gradual sales increase was a problem about seats.
At the end of 2019 I went off to Korea on one of my many Asian trips and redesigned the Travel Canoe to have wood/mesh seats. My theory was most canoeists would prefer traditional wood/mesh seats. And that proved to be true, I think.
Then the Pandemic came and with that tragedy came a strange new interest in inflatable kayaks, Travel Canoes and anything outdoors, so sales doubled last year and sales are way up again this year. So, my idea that wood/mesh seats would double sales might have been true. Of course, it also might have been the strange and strong new interest in outdoor goods driven by the Pandemic.
Indeed, it is strange to think, as hotel and airlines and restaurants and bars and stadiums and theaters struggled to survive, we were blessed with this new found interest in outdoor activities. The reason, of course, was clear – you can solo distance outdoors pretty safely and people figured that out real quick.
It is kind of strange that when I was in Korea, I predicted to my supplier that we might double our Travel Canoe sales just because of offering wood/mesh seats instead of inflatable seats. I am sure my supplier thought there was a bit of blue sky in that prediction. Anyway, the sales did more than double, but in truth, I cannot say whether it was my new wood/mesh seats or the Pandemic that made that happen. No matter, I will happily take the credit.
Back to designing inflatable boats and new models, so this spring, I have been concerned on creating these two larger models – a larger FastCat and a larger Travel Canoe. The larger FastCat takes up to a 20 hp motor and goes 22 mph with 3 people. It is a kind hybrid pontoon boat. Pontoons boats account for almost 50% of the total rigid boat market in the United States. Of course, my larger FastCat is considerably smaller than a lot of cruise about, cocktail pontoon boats. And it is also as lot cheaper.
This introduces a theory I have: I think America is divided between people who can afford to buy a rigid boat – I guess 30% – and people who cannot – I guess 70%. Consider the fact that almost any rigid boat these days costs $30,000 or more. And if you look at the general average cost of boats, more is an understatement. Because the average may be much closer to $100,000 or $200,00 when you take into account everything from lowly 14’ aluminum duck boats to billionaire boy toys measuring 350 feet or so. Yup, rigid boats can be mighty expensive and that don’t begin to include that actual cost of maintaining, docking, launching and storing such things.
So, in my mind, I produce the only kind of boats that the majority of Americans can afford. And yes, some of the products we sell are expensive compared to other inflatable boats, but way cheap when compared to the rigid alternatives. So, I think I am in the right place at the right time.
Back to the models and explaining how designing them occupies time and mind. The larger Travel Canoe will be designed to carry more stuff, to run whitewater rivers, to take enough stuff to camp for weeks along a river or on an island in a lake or bay. So you could say that product is geared to a different segment of the market our 16’ Travel Canoe is after. The 16’ Travel Canoe is more like a day to week or so paddling canoe that fits in your car trunk.
To create these two new models takes a lot of time. I make simple drawings on my iPad showing dimensions and angles and views…top, side and bottom. I send them off to one of my suppliers and ask if they think can make that type of product – each product has different design needs, different materials, different construction techniques and each supplier has different manufacturing skills. If they say yes, they think they can make it, I ask them to make one or two prototypes from my drawings. When we get them, we test them – usually they work in some ways and don’t work in other ways. We then consider other changes to remake or improve them. I make more drawings and we make one or two more prototypes to see if were are getting close.
If we are getting close that is the time my brother starts getting interested in the project. He then makes new drawings in a much more sophisticated drawing program that I have no idea how to use. Anyway, that takes a lot more time, but it produces 3D views and true CAD drawings that are far more precise than what I can do. Then and only then, if all goes well, we issue an order for a production of 50 or more and an order to make production prototype for approval of final production.
As you may or may not imagine, it is a long process, usually at least 6 months to 12 months from the time of my first drawing to the time of the product on sale. But my part, making first drawings and getting first prototypes made never seems like work. For me it is pure pleasure because I feel I am developing things that never existed before. So, all through the Pandemic I had this kind of work and pleasure to pursue and that made the time easy to pass and the concerns of disease and danger and being closed in by the Pandemic much, much less. I can say I have been truly lucky in that respect.
Through all of the last year and half I always have the almost daily ability to walk out into my yard down to my dock and get on a boat and paddle or row or motor out. So I have been truly lucky in this strange period of flux and disease and opportunity, with hopes now of better times and still looming threats and doubts that all is not right, all is not yet booming, yet all is something new and unknown and uncharted.