September 16, 2008

Where Have All the Boaters Gone?

No, it wasn't deserted out there this summer, but there are definite signs that the combination of high fuel prices and a collapsing economy have dampened the spirits of cruising boaters. 

We were in Cuttyhunk harbor for the July 4th celebration and there were many empty slips in the marina along with a special discount for mid-week stays--something I can't recall seeing before in crowded New England. We anchored out in the pond as usual, and generally there was plenty of space except for the occasional boater who anchored too close out of inexperience.

All the talk on the docks and the waterfront was about fuel prices, how to save fuel, and where to go close to home. There is even talk amongst powerboaters about switching to sail, something I haven't heard since the Jimmy Carter era. Of course most sailors, me included, motor a lot, but sailboats tend to be rather efficient motorboats when they have to be. Our motorsailor burns around 1 gallon per hour doing six knots, and with a 115 gallon tank that gives us a theoretical range of about 690 miles. If we throttle back to five knots fuel consumption goes way down and our range goes way up. See my article in the October issue of Ocean Navigator magazine for more details.

Range is becoming more important as we are beginning to see an era where there may be fuel shortages. Shortages may result not only from a dearth of the product on the market, but from fewer marinas selling diesel as the market shrinks (less boats going shorter distances), environmental regulations change, and some marine businesses failing. Also, a long range lets you plan your fuel stops for where it is cheapest. In addition, I think jugging fuel from land stations may become more and more necessary, in order to save money or to obtain the necessary stuff. One bright thought, even with $5 per gallon diesel, we could motor the entire ICW from Norfolk to Miami (1090 land miles) for less than $800, which is not an outrageous amount of money.