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Barnacled Bargains

Have you been longing for a lazaretto, hankering for a halyard, perhaps burning for a binnacle? Well, this is the weekend to make those yearnings come true. The 24th annual Dania Marine Flea Market opens today, and more than 500 vendors take over the Dania Jai-Alai Fronton parking lots for a four-day frenzy of nautical binge buying.

The marine mart, which attracts thousands of visitors from across the nation, Canada, South America, and the Bahamas, is a perfect example of one hand washing the other. Not only do folks come to search for that hard-to-find part or coral-encrusted antique ship's wheel or bell but manufacturers, distributors, and dealers come to offer articles that are overstocked, returned but hardly used, "scratched and dented," and obsolete due to model or design changes. "Thousands of boating-related items are bought and sold... at a fraction of their retail value," says Al Behrendt, founder of the world's largest nautical swap shop.

A quarter of a century ago, Behrendt owned a marina; when he closed it, he tossed out unsold items. People came by to root around in his Dumpster, and the marine flea market was born. From a humble 56 vendors in 1979, the mart has grown to more than 900 vending spaces filled with tremendous variety, from new fishing rods and tackle to highly varnished, fish-shaped coffee tables or boat-shaped bookcases.

But the rain-or-shine event is not just about consumption. "We've found that the marine flea market is also a major 'social event' for boating enthusiasts.... Company executives and customers mingle with thousands of the same breed with a common interest in the water," boasts Behrendt.

If you don't have a boat, here's your chance to buy one. The flea market has a special section of used boats for sale -- small and trailerable -- with notaries available to seal the deal. And if you're not a cruiser, sailor, angler, or diver but just like things vaguely related to the sea, there are acres of sunglasses and T-shirts with nautical themes and three food courts that just might serve fish 'n' chips.

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Tomi Curtis

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