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$1,000 Fill-up? Gas Prices Slam Norwalk Boaters

Paul Rosenblatt of Westport is one proud papa: He started his son in boating when he was just 4 months old. And now, 33 years later, Andrew Rosenblatt is on the way to yet another glorious summer on Long Island Sound with a new-to-him 46-foot boat.

It's the Norwalk resident's third boat, made possible because of the economy: "Buying opportunities are pretty good right now," said his father. But the economy is a double-edged sword, because the pleasure craft goes through 33 gallons of gas in an hour. "It's a problem for all of us," Rosenblatt said, waving a hand at similar-sized boats in the vicinity.

Workers at Rex Marine on Water Street in Norwalk are busy getting boats ready for a season they say may be quieter than usual, because of the economy and the price of gas. "We saw the same thing a few years ago when the storm hit and the oil rig was burning," said a marine technician. "Boats didn't move. With gas prices heading up to the same area, we can only expect the same thing. But we're hoping the economy will help us out a little bit."

Workers said it isn't unusual for boat owners to pay $1,000 for a weekend fill-up. But the people hurt are the blue-collar types, who spend $150 to fill their boats. "I bought a sailboat instead of a powerboat," said Ken White, a Rex Marine worker. "I saw a few people trade in their powerboats and go to sails."

Economic pressures have changed the boating community, the technician said. People are opting to fix their boats rather than buy new ones. Even if they buy a new boat, his business is affected; the average price of an installation of electronic equipment in a new boat used to be $10,000 to 15,000, now it's $7,500.

"It's a buyer's market out there for used boats," said White. "If they want to buy a boat for the first time, it's good to buy a used boat."

Ermine Allford, a longtime office worker at Rex Marine, said that even with the economic pressures, life at the marina is good. "We're lucky, we're a full-service marina," she said. Whether people are buying new boats or fixing old ones, there's business to be had.

Rosenblatt was at Rex Marine on Wednesday, supervising work on what will be his son's second boat named "@Sea.Calm." That included trying to "get the propeller right." "Once we get that all set we're hopeful that we'll put it into the water in the next couple of days," he said.

Rather than travel to Long Island a lot over the summer, his son may go to the Norwalk Islands , especially Cockenoe Island , which is off Westport. He'll take his girlfriend's two children, ages 7 and 9. "They're dying to go," Rosenblatt said.

"Believe me, people who are into boats just want to be out on the water," said Allford. "The nice thing about this area is we have these beautiful islands."

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