Rocking the Boat

Sailboats and powerboats dock at the apex of luxury.
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If you close your eyes during an April shower, cars passing in the rain can be reminiscent of the soothing sound of waves. April ushers in not only showers, but also boating season -- and a steady wave of boating enthusiasts and dazzling boat shows.

Boating is big business. The number of recreational boats in use has grown steadily, from 14.3 million in 1994 to 17.9 million in 2004, according to the National Marine Manufacturing Association.

But much like other big-ticket items, owning a sea craft isn't all fun.

Last year, barnacles sandbagged hundreds of boats that were slipped and moored in New York's Long Island Sound, says Elizabeth Nochlin, 39, a New York State prosecutor. She and her boat's co-owners paid $150 to have the boat hauled out of the water and the barnacles washed off. "That was one of a myriad of small things we had not budgeted for."

Gas prices are another concern. With U.S. oil-supply tensions building, the price to get around this summer will be unpredictable. Gas could be especially costly for large-boat owners like Bob Verrico, 47, chief of Giant Step Strategies in Vermont, whose power boat holds 400 gallons of fuel and burns 30 gallons an hour at a cruising speed of about 23 knots.

Surveyor Says

Nochlin and her crew purchased the sailboat Victory, a 28-foot Pearson, for $8,500. The foursome hired a surveyor in order to get the thumbs-up for the classic, which is over 30 years old. Like home inspectors, surveyors are crucial when negotiating a deal. Team Victory's surveyor helped them knock $1,500 off the asking price.

"We were not dissuaded by the age. Pearson has been around for a long time, and she is actually in very good shape," says Nochlin.

"I have never figured out who the people are who buy brand-new boats," says Victory co-owner and skipper Evan Augoustiniatos, 38, who runs a law firm. Brand-new boats are incredibly expensive, and there is still always something to fix maintenance-wise, he notes, no matter the age.

Verrico also hired a surveyor four years ago when he purchased the J&B and Water, his $100,000 used 1983 Chris Craft 360 Commander, which measures about 40 feet long, 15 feet wide and weighs 12 tons. After extensive remodeling, the boat now has a fly bridge, salon/living room, galley (kitchen), full bath, dining area, master berth, central air conditioning and room to sleep six.

What It Costs

Maintenance and storage costs are based on boat size. Larger boats cost more to dock and maintain than medium or small boats. And unless the vessel is docked somewhere warm, in addition to storage, you will have to pay annually for winterizing and dewinterizing.

Verrico rents a slip at a marina on Long Island, N.Y. Winterizing and dry-docking a boat like his costs $3,000 to $4,000. Docking for the summer is $4,000, and fixed maintenance fees run about $2,000. On an overnight trip, it costs anywhere from $100 to $175 to dock the vessel.

Team Victory enjoys the cost savings of partnering. Because all costs are split, they can afford to hire help for annual chores, rather than do them themselves, "which adds to the leisure quality of sailing," Nochlin adds.

To cut costs, the Victory is moored offshore on City Island, the Bronx, rather than in a slip (on a dock). Storage runs about $2,000 per year. That's a lot less than at a yacht club or fancy marina, Nochlin points out.

Ships Ahoy

Although many sailboats have motors to propel them, they are not made for speed like powerboats, but rather rely on the mildest of winds to maintain momentum. Sailboats, of course, do compete in races.

The boat is steered by manipulating the sheets -- which are ropes connected to the sails -- along with turning the tiller (it's rod shaped) or wheel. Sheets are pulled in conjunction with changes in the wind, and help turn and control the vessel, Nochlin explains.

"You want someone at the jib (or genoa, depending on the boat's size) sheets at the same time you are manning the tiller or wheel," says Nochlin, who never sails alone.

For powerboats, you turn on the ignition and go -- simple. Operating a power boat does not require a license in the state of New York, notes Verrico. Sailboats, however, require at least one of the owners to have a basic keelboat license.

"A lot a people will think 'OK, I can drive a car, so I should be able to drive a boat,' and that is not really the case," says Augoustiniatos. "You should have some formal instruction in the basics of sailing."

Chart-reading and other navigational courses are crucial, "especially if you are caught in bad weather, your GPS isn't working and you are entering a harbor at night that you have never been in," he explains. "

Then, all you have is the chart to rely on."

There are several boating schools that offer chart-reading and other boat-related courses. Some popular ones are accredited by the

American Sailing Association and the

U.S. Sailing Foundation, says Verrico, who has taken such courses.

SOS

These skills are essential: Verrico recalls sending out an SOS eight years ago, in a boat he owned before he purchased the J&B and Water. He had not quite mastered chart-reading or weather skills, and 12-foot waves had him and his wife "freaking out."

A hurricane was brewing in the Carolinas, he says. "It was snotty out. The water was rough and choppy." Coming around Breezy Point, N.Y., they were hit by seas of 10 to 12 feet, which knocked one of the engines out because it spent so much time out of the water. "My wife and I put on our life vests and put out a mayday."

A Coast Guard helicopter hovered above, but the "New York Police Department heard the mayday and motored out to help us get back to the harbor," he says.

All is well that ends well with team Victory. Last summer, while sailing from Saybrook Point, Conn., to Port Jefferson, N.Y., "the morning started with a thick fog," recalls Nochlin. "We probably had about 10 feet of visibility, which is terrifying since we have no radar. We moved as slowly as we could and took turns blowing a whistle for hours, just to make sure other boats wouldn't hit us."

The fog cleared, but it started to rain and the engine became distressed. "The good news is the wind picked up and we were having a lot of fun sailing fast and riding waves. We must have sailed for 10 hours that day and all we talked about for the last three was the lobster they serve at this place called the Steam Room."

They docked at a slip as the restaurant was closing. "We ran, like we've never run before, down the dock and toward the Steam Room," says Nochlin. They mustered up enough energy to beg the cook to boil some lobsters; he obliged. Twenty minutes later, she says, huddled at a picnic table, eating and drinking, team Victory knew this was one of their best sailing adventures ever.

Inspired? The National Marine Manufacturing Association has a great Web site for anyone

thinking of buying a boat, as does

SailNet.

To stay abreast of the latest boat shows, try NMMA and Sail America's

Boat Shows site or

MarineSource.com.

Anchors aweigh!