Don Walker always dreamed of owning a boat just like the ones he fixed as a service worker at Pleasure Cove Marina in Pasadena. Four years ago, he finally took the plunge, plunking his savings into a 28-foot cruiser.
But last year, high gasoline prices prompted the Linthicum resident to put his dream up for sale.
And with prices climbing even higher as the pleasure boating season begins, marina owners and other boaters fear that he might not be the only one to turn in his keys.
"These people have `X' amount of money put away to run these vessels, and when it's gone, they're done," said Jeff Barger, the manager at Pleasure Cove. "They're going to use up that supply very quickly."
It might be too early to see any selling - the pleasure boating season has just begun - but boat owners are feeling the pain at the pump.
At Pleasure Cove, gasoline is selling for $2.55 a gallon, up from $1.95 last year. With the yachts at the marina taking 100 to 400 gallons of high-octane fuel, the price increase can add more than $100 to the cost of a trip. And Barger said he's keeping the price as low as possible.
"I'm selling it with very little profit involved. I'm barely paying for the crew to pump it," he said. "Can you imagine what it will be in August?"
Barger is particularly concerned because his marina draws from South Baltimore, Glen Burnie and Linthicum, more of a blue-collar clientele than those of some of the other regional docks.
Many customers are paying off boat loans, and an extra $100 in gas money for a trip to St. Michaels might soon be a luxury they can do without. If boats make fewer trips, Barger said, that translates into less business for the marina's service department. The ripple effect also will be felt at its restaurants and shops.
The price woes seem to be affecting more affluent marinas, too. At Harbor View Marina in Baltimore, the South Harbor Yacht Club's schedule includes more short hops than in past years. Instead of going to Annapolis or St. Michaels, the longest trip planned is across the bay to Rock Hall.
Bonnie Ford, a State Highway Administration employee who lives on a catamaran docked at Harbor View, said that in the past sailboat owners balked at traveling long distances because the trips were difficult. Now, she said, it's the power boaters who want to stay close to home because of gas prices.
"The tides have really changed," she said. "Now, they can't afford it."
Boater Eddie Edwards, a semi-retired television executive who splits his time between Pittsburgh and Baltimore during the boating season, said he's seen gas prices around the Inner Harbor as high as $2.79, a dollar higher than they were last year.
Edwards said his 33-foot Rinker "burns a lot of gas, just like all these other gas guzzlers out there." Still, he said, he would rather cut down on trips in his gas-slurping Cadillac Escalade than curtail his summer pleasure.
"I don't take my SUV out as much. I sacrifice my SUV. I can't sacrifice my boat," he said.
Even those who use the cheaper diesel fuel - it sold for $1.51 a gallon last week in Annapolis - are feeling squeezed.
At Yacht Basin Marina along Compromise Street in Annapolis, marine construction worker Matthew Marcy was filling the Mad Hatteras' two 300-gallon tanks with diesel that was costing him about 50 cents a gallon more than it did last year. It takes about $900 to fill the tanks at today's diesel prices, but Marcy said that hasn't affected the family's boat use.
"We still use it just as much, but we certainly feel the difference," Marcy said.
At Pleasure Cove, Walker said he wishes he could still take the cruiser up to Hart-Miller Island. But with prices still rising, he said, selling was his only choice.
"I knew they were going to keep on going up. Somebody offered to buy it, and I said OK," he said. "I still miss it, though."