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Boaters take to the water despite fuel prices

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Elevated fuel prices have increased the cost of pleasure boaters' pleasure but have not forced them to forgo it.

Gas- and diesel-guzzling houseboats and cabin cruisers, which travel about a mile per gallon at cruising speed, remain in use at levels similar to those prevailing before the recent run up in fuel prices, according to marina operators, river lockmasters and boaters themselves.

The weekly price of regular-grade gasoline, which peaked at $4.11 per gallon on July 14, averaged $1 a gallon more than last year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Despite that 35 percent increase, pleasure boat traffic on the Mississippi River "is pretty close to normal, maybe down a little bit from last year," said Lockmaster Marvin Althoff, who tracks boat traffic.

"If you can afford the boat, you can probably afford the gas," Althoff said, referring to purchase prices easily exceeding $100,000 for large, late-model vessels.

"A lot of boaters have a big investment in their boats, and they are still going to be out here having fun, even if they have to spend more at the gas pump," said Dan Rogers, owner of the Coralville Lake Marina.

"Boat sales declined when gas hit $4 a gallon, but the gas dock has been as busy as usual," Rogers said.

Sales of both boats and gasoline have been down this summer at Hartwick Lake Marina on Lake Delhi, "but I can't really say it's because of high gas prices," said marina employee Deb Luensmann, noting that water conditions may be to blame.

Higher fuel prices "have not slowed us down much," said Dick Cornish of Marion, who with his wife, Sherry, spends about three days a week on their 44-foot houseboat.

The 10-ton boat, powered by twin 454-cubic-inch V-8 engines, gets about 0.7 miles per gallon going upstream and about 1.1 mpg coming downstream, he said.

"We don't leave the marina as much as we did, we take shorter trips, and we load more people onboard when we go," Cornish said.

Joel Wikner of Denver, Iowa, said he's "not really feeling the pressure" of higher fuel prices - even though his 50-foot gets less than a mile per gallon.

"We don't waste any fuel, but it's not really affecting our lifestyle," said Wikner.

Nor have high fuel prices detracted from Lynn and Diane Moller's enjoyment of their 31.5-foot Sea Ray pleasure cruiser.

With its twin 260-horsepower engines, the boat consumes about 20 gallons of gas per hour at its 28 mph cruising speed, but the Mollers said they generally travel much slower.

"We are out to enjoy the scenery, not to get anywhere in a hurry," said Lynn Moller.

The Mollers typically are on the water most of the weekend. They anchor over a favorite shallow sandbar, where they swim, grill out and marvel at the brilliance of stars in an otherwise unlit sky. Sometimes as many as 30 boats anchor on that same sandbar, they said.

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