Hundreds of people clustered around a shallow pool Saturday afternoon, some of them children, some of them standing with mere feet and a wide-woven wire fence between them and an eight-foot-long alligator snapping its jaws and whipping its tail.
They and their parents clearly trusted Jeff “The Swampmaster” Quattrocchi to deliver a performance that was as safe as it was entertaining.
Quattrocchi and his audience were part of the Progressive Insurance Atlantic City Boat Show, which concludes its five-day run today.
His half-hour-long show typically concludes with a question and answer session during which the audience can pet a baby alligator. In Atlantic City, however, that wasn’t possible because New Jersey law prohibits Quattrocchi — or anyone — from letting the audience handle the alligators because they are not indigenous to the state. Only one other state — Ohio — has such a law, he said.
The 2013 Atlantic City Boat Show was the resort’s 34th, but it was the first for Quattrocchi, 48, in the resort. The city quickly struck him as a potential permanent or seasonal home for his traveling show, which will be featured on the May 8 season premiere of The History Channel’s “Larry the Cable Guy.”
Quattrocchi performs with each alligator — which he rescues from trappers — for five shows before
retiring the reptile to his farm on his property near Naples, Fla. The securely gated, two-acre expanse is home to about 150 alligators. During his two decades handling the animals, three of them have nearly cost Quattrocchi first his leg, then his arm and, most recently, his thumb. The arm episode in 2010 afforded Quattrocchi the most publicity, and some scars, which underscore the burly sort of image Quattrocchi said requires training for an hour at least once, some times twice, daily.
“It’s important to look the part,” he explained before breaking away to talk to a young fan who wanted to know how he gets the alligators. Quattrocchi answered those questions, and more, much of the information overlapping with what he conveys during the shows, which he stressed are meant to be educational and family-friendly — and that he’s not wrestling with the gators.
In addition to Quattrocchi, the Atlantic City Boat Show also features daily autograph sessions with Captain Dave Marciano from National Geographic Channel’s Wicked Tuna, along with 401 power and sail boats, some as small as 12 feet long and selling for less than $10,000, and others as large as 45 feet long and selling for upwards of $825,000.
At least for the Atlantic City show. Price ceilings at the New York show one month ago, for example, reached as high as $5 million. Live entertainment highlights included appearances by Phil and Bob Soven from the MTV Reality Show, WakeBrothers, and an interactive scuba demo that let participants learn techniques and test equipment in a heated pool, according to the event’s website.
Progressive tailors each event to the host market, although some elements can be consistent among locations, organizer Jon Pritko said.
Quattrocchi, for example, would work pretty much anywhere because the danger and education elements nearly guarantee a hit among boaters of wide-ranging interests. Marciano, meanwhile, fit particularly well in Atlantic City because the resort and surrounding area boast a “huge fishing market,” Pritko said.
The specific watercraft models on display depend on what local merchants have in stock, he said.
During 2012, boat sales increased for the first time since 2007. That year, they started to plummet as discretionary income — even among the $100,000-plus household incomes typical of boaters — evaporated during the recession. But sales jumped 10 percent last year.
Still, neither the vendors nor the guests expected to engage in many actual business transactions during the event itself.
Vineland residents Sharon Biondi and Eva Sparacio admitted they made the 50-mile trek with absolutely no intention to shop. They said they have enough fun cruising from Cape May’s Harborview Marina, where Biondi docks the 31-foot Sportcraft she and her husband own, during May through October. But the show provided a good reason to get out of the house during those slower, colder months, Biondi said.
“It’s just a nice day out,” she said. “I’ve seen some neat boats, and think maybe I want one — and then I see the price and think, ‘Maybe not.’”
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