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Personal is made popular yet again

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published May 9, 2004

TAMPA - Rick Phillips is a man with a mission.

"Personal watercraft are the perfect family vehicle," the Yamaha spokesman said. "They are safe, relatively inexpensive and with today's four-stroke engines, environmentally-friendly."

In 1995, at their peak, more than 200,000 personal watercraft were sold in the United States. But in the years that followed, sales slumped, hitting an all-time low in 2002, when only 79,300 were sold nationwide.

At the same time, PWC enthusiasts nationwide were fighting an uphill battle to convince officials to continue to allow their watercraft of choice to operate on waterways that many consider environmentally sensitive.

Adding to the controversy was the fact that many anglers, sailors, kayakers and boaters considered PWC users to be rude and insensitive. The PWC industry had a major public relations problem on its hands and no clear solution in site.

Then in 2001, Yamaha introduced the world's first four-stroke personal watercraft. The engine was 75 percent cleaner, 80 percent quieter at idle, 60 percent quieter at full throttle and 20 percent more fuel efficient than its two-stroke counterpart. Now, seven of the top-10 selling PWCs are four-stroke.

In addition, the introduction of three- and even four-seat PWCs in the $6,400 to $10,000 range gave families another boating option.

"The three-seaters and four-stroke engines have reversed the downward trend," said Phillips, who brought a few of his newer models to the Gandy Boat ramp for a media demonstration day. "The fuel savings are enough to give many people the push to buy a new four-stroke."

But Yamaha isn't the only company cashing in on the four-stroke craze. Sea-Doo, Honda and Polaris also have four-stroke models.

And if you are out on the water next weekend, you will probably get a chance to see every type of PWC made when the Perry Performance Group Florgia PWC Rally Series rolls into St. Petersburg.

In the past two years, more than 500 PWC enthusiasts from 22 states have participated in the Florgia Rally Series. The St. Petersburg event, the second in a four-city tour that began in Sebastian and will end in Savannah, will be held at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort Marina Cove.

The festivities include Watercraft World's Dream Demo Row test rides, featuring the 2004 Sea-Doo Watercraft and Yamaha Wave Runners. On Saturday, the hottest watercraft freestylers and professional skiers participate in the Hydroturf Freestyle Extravaganza.

The weekend will wrap on Sunday with a 45-mile Poker Run that will hit five designated stops on local islands and beaches. At each stop, the participant will receive a playing card in a sealed envelope and at the end of the day, the rider with the best hand of Five Card Stud wins.

The St. Petersburg event is the most popular of the four (the other is in Stuart) events the PPG Rally Series. If you are out on the water Saturday and Sunday, keep a lookout for the out-of-town PWC riders.

[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:40:27]


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