High fuel prices and early signs of slow boating season worry some Islanders
The early boating season on the Island has been affected by the high price of gasoline. As the summer season gets under way, early indications point to a slow year for those residents who rely on a steady flow of boat traffic to the Island to keep their finances in the black.
This week, gasoline prices at marine fill-up stations on Island ranged from $4.87 per gallon at the Tisbury Wharf to $4.97 at the North Wharf Company on Chappaquiddick. The price at Falmouth Wharf was slightly lower, at $4.75 per gallon.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the New England Average this week was $4.03 per gallon, up from $3.02 the same week last year. Gasoline purchased at marinas tends to be slightly more expensive than gasoline for sale for autos at roadside stations, because of the seasonal nature of sales and reduced volumes.
"The marina gasoline sales are definitely being affected and have not been as brisk as other years," Ralph Packer, owner of R.M. Packer Company, said in a phone interview with The Times this week. "We feel like it very serious situation. I don't know if it has hit home to everyone yet, but it will, because it appears that the prices will continue to increase. It affects everything... everything. People will to start to conserve."
Most of the Island's marinas and charter boat operators are also reporting a noticeable decrease in sales compared with previous years. At Menemsha Harbor the drop in boat traffic is as much as 30 percent in the spring months and gasoline sales are down as much as a 10 percent. Oak Bluffs Harbor has experienced only a slight drop in boat traffic, though harbormaster Todd Alexander is uneasy at the prospects for the summer.
"It is slightly down, but not enough to be big problem," said Mr. Alexander in a phone call this week. "If fewer people show up in the next couple of weeks, it would be a real problem. Our bookings were really slow in May but are starting to pick up. A lot of people have been panicked about it [fuel costs] and have waited to the last minute."
Waterfront business operators suspect boaters of staying close to their home ports in an effort to keep the cost of operating their boats down. The effect on the Island economy of a summer long decline in boating traffic and fuel sales is unclear.
Photo By Winthrop Roosevelt
"We are staying local instead of going to the Cape or somewhere farther away," Edgartown resident Tony Bettencourt said last week, during Harbor Fest in Oak Bluffs Harbor. "Just going from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs is expensive enough."
Mr. Bettencourt owns a 26-foot boat, which is powered by twin 200-horsepower engines. "It saves us a lot of gas to stay around the Island," chuckled Mr. Bettencourt. "Just putting seventy gallons in the two hundred gallon tanks on this boat came out to about four hundred dollars. That's not cheap."
Some islanders say they will tie their boats to the dock for the season. Scott Peterson of Oak Bluffs owns a 37-foot boat, which will remain in Oak Bluffs harbor for the summer.
"Oak Bluffs is where we live, so I guess this is where we want to be," said Mr. Peterson as he boarded his boat last Saturday. "We would go on trips to Menemsha and around the islands in the past but not this year. It's a little more than twelve hundred dollars to fill up. We are staying right here this year."
Charter boat captains are also seeing early warning signs. A trip that would cost eight hundred dollars in fuel just last year could jump to well over a thousand this season. Kurt Freund, owner of Fishstick Charters in Menemsha, has felt the early effects of discouraging fuel prices, but he remains hopeful that his clients will accept increasing costs.
"I don't want to use the word devastating, but it really is starting to come to that," explained Mr. Freund. "Most of the charter captains I know readjusted their prices before the season started. We never guessed the price of gas would get so high. Some of us have had to adjust our prices once or twice more after the original increases. You hear grumbling from the clients, but in the end they understand that this is how it is for everything. So the amount of business has stayed somewhat steady but, of course, it has affected my bottom line drastically."
The Fourth of July weekend is considered by many a bellwether for the rest of the summer, according to Mr. Todd Alexander. If the weather is good on that weekend, he said that the effect of gasoline prices will be minimal this summer.
"If the weather is really good, hopefully it [his business activity] won't be that bad," said Mr. Alexander. "On the Island, it's always been the weather, but this year it's something to watch and hope for."