David and Liz Weinstein didn’t launch their Wilbur 42 until the last day of July, a direct result of the cost of diesel fuel. “No question that’s the reason we left it on the hard so long this summer,” says David Weinstein.
After wintering in Key West, Fla., the Weinsteins brought Blueberry Gull home to Oxford, Md., in the spring and parked it on land. “The price of fuel was making it a lot easier to not put it back in the water in a hurry,” says Weinstein, who is 72 and retired. The Weinsteins are among scores of boaters who have changed the way they approach their pastime in the face of this summer’s high fuel prices.
A Travelers Insurance study of fuel prices at about a dozen marinas around the country this summer indicated boaters were paying an average of $4.89 per gallon for gasoline and $5.25 per gallon for diesel. Compared to the national average for roadside fuel at the time, gas was about 78 cents more per gallon at the fuel dock and diesel 42 cents more per gallon.
The state with the highest roadside fuel prices was Alaska at $4.62 for gas and $5.23 for diesel, according to the Automobile Association of America. At press time, however, some relief had worked its way to boaters and motorists. Highway fuel prices were down by 33 cents over the summer high-water mark of $4.11 in July, and the price of crude oil had fallen more than $30 from its July 11 high of $147.27.
It goes without saying that the cost of fuel is on the minds of most boaters these days. The boaters Soundings contacted for this story were paying a dollar or more a gallon for fuel this summer than last year.
“They suck,” was Morgan Malone’s initial reaction when asked about fuel prices. “Earlier this spring, because of my financial situation, I had to go from two boats down to one. Unfortunately, the more fuel-efficient one was the one that sold.”
Malone, 33, a mechanical engineer from Swansea, Mass., runs a 23-foot 1989 Pro-Line with a 225-hp 2-stroke Evinrude of the same vintage. He says he typically spends $100 on fuel every time he goes out. “I still trailer it, so I have to pay for the cost of auto fuel and then the cost of the marine fuel,” he says. “I used to take my boat out three or four times a week; now it’s more like one or two times a week.”
Malone says he spends about $300 a month on the 20 to 30 gallons his boat usually takes when he tops it off during fueling. “By the end of the year, I will have spent about $1,000 on fuel alone,” he says. “It used to be that as long as the water was flat … I would be out there. Now I look for the particularly nice day.”
Malone typically boats on Buzzards Bay or out of Bristol, R.I. However, he finds himself staying more in the Bristol/Narragansett Bay area because he can launch closer to home. “It’s less than five miles versus 30,” says Malone. “I see the difference on the water, too. A lot of people are going slower than they used to, and there are a lot more full crews. There are a number of small vessels out now that are under 20 feet and [with] double the number of people on board.”
Lincoln Ross, 38, an electrical engineer from Warwick, R.I., says he also sees boats taking it slower and bringing more passengers. “I’ve changed my habits a little bit. I’m less likely to go on a distant trip only for an afternoon,” says Ross, who owns a 30-foot 2001 Osprey pilothouse with twin 200-hp Volvo diesel sterndrives. “Instead of going to Block Island [R.I.] for a day, I’ll spend a whole weekend there.”
Ross says he is also doing more of his own maintenance to offset the cost of fuel, and has made other sacrifices. “For instance, I wanted to get the gelcoat repaired this year because it had minor scratches and nicks, but I decided it’s not that bad, not a critical thing to do,” he says.
Ross says he upgraded to the Osprey in 2001 to replace his 19-foot Aquasport center console powered by a 150-hp 2-stroke. “I was thinking ahead that diesel would be more efficient, even if it is more expensive,” he says. “I’ll probably end up paying $3,000 more for fuel than last season. I usually pay about $5,000 each year, but now it’ll be more like $7,000.”
Still, Ross says he takes his boat out five days a week. “This is what I love to do,” he says. “I get so much pleasure out of this that I wouldn’t give it up. I would cut back on cable or the phone bill before I cut back on the boat. … I use my boat 100 days out of the year or more.”
In a recent study by the online magazine Mad Mariner (madmariner.com), 200 male and 200 female boaters were asked a range of questions about fuel prices. Roughly 45 percent say they will boat less, and 32 percent say they will take shorter trips, thanks to the price of fuel. Forty-three percent say they delayed launching this year, while 18 percent report fuel prices led them to buy or consider buying a smaller boat.
While the Weinsteins — the Wilbur 42 owners — delayed launching this year, they aren’t changing their cruising plans. They will head to Key West again this fall, though they say they have talked with a lot of friends who have limited their cruising.
“We’ve cut our speed a bit,” Weinstein says, because the price of fuel is “very much on our minds.” Slowing down helps both “actually and psychologically,” he says. Cruising at 15 knots, Blueberry Gull — with its 18-ton semidisplacement Down East hull and single 503-hp Caterpillar engine — burns 14 gallons an hour, he says. Consumption drops to 5 gallons per hour by reducing speed to 9 knots.
Blueberry Gull is the third Down Easter that Weinstein and his wife, who is 65 and also retired, have owned. They have cruised to Florida the last six winters, first on a Wilbur 34 and then on a Duffy 37. Two winters ago, they bought Blueberry Gull in Sarasota, Fla., and brought her home by way of Key West. Last winter and spring, between the Keys and the Intracoastal Waterway, they saw diesel prices rise from $3.25 a gallon to $4.40 in April, when they hauled out. When they fueled up Aug. 1, the price was $4.76 a gallon. The next trip to Key West, Weinstein says, “is going to cost us darned close to 13,000 bucks, round-trip.”
Peter Poirier and his wife, Pam, both 50, are dealing with fuel prices by reducing speed and cutting back on cruising. The Grosse Point Farms, Mich., couple, who live aboard a Sea Ray 460 Sundancer with twin Cummins 480-hp turbo diesels, are visiting usual ports of call closer to home, but aren’t doing longer cruises.
“We would go north up toward Mackinac Island through Lake Huron and do extensive powerboat cruising with several different groups,” says Poirier, vice president of accounts for EGT Group, a printing company. “Even with our diesel engine, we are staying closer to home.”
Poirier estimates he is paying $1 more per gallon than last year. “We do see it leveling off around here though,” he says. He believes prices will continue to fall, so he and Pam will weather the storm. “We’ve had our Sea Ray for three years, and we love it,” he says. “All my life I’ve owned powerboats, and because we live on our boat, we’re not at the point yet where we want to go smaller. We enjoy our cruising lifestyle.”
Jim Gillespie, 74, a credit advisor from Sarasota, Fla., who owns a 25-foot Sea Fox walkaround with a 150-hp Yamaha 4-stroke, says fuel prices have affected his fishing habits. “I’m glad they went up, in a way, because I am a big believer that we must drill offshore for fuel,” says Gillespie. “But it really hurts me as a fisherman when I burn a gallon and a half or 2 gallons every mile, and I have to go 40 or 50 miles for the fish.”
Gillespie says he’s made various modifications to the 4-year-old Sea Fox, and he carries less when he goes out and takes more people with him. He also fishes more from his canoe. “Whether fuel will go up or down, take a coin out and flip it for that one,” he says. “There are so many factors ahead that will determine that.”
Whatever the cost, it’s clear many boaters are determined to not throw in the towel. “The cost of fuel is still less than half the costs of the year in terms of boat ownership,” says Malone, the Pro-Line owner. “Whatever happens, I’m still going to go.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue.