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Harbor opens early to boaters' delight Weather can't dampen their enthusiasm

The day was dreary, at least through the early afternoon. The sun was merely a rumor, and there wasn't even a hint of blue sky. The temperature barely made it over 50.

In short, a perfect day for the avid boaters who celebrated the early May 1 opening of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Boat Harbor.

By early afternoon, about a dozen boats already had made their way into the slips along Fuhrmann Boulevard.

"Why today?" asked Randy Sherk, 51, of West Seneca. "Because they wouldn't allow me to put it in yesterday."

If the boat-launching season was like camping out for playoff or concert tickets, Sherk may have laid claim to the title of the first in line.

"I was here at 7 bells," he said early Tuesday afternoon, as he readied to launch his 33-foot cruiser. "It was important for me to be here first. The early bird gets the worm.

"And the gas prices are going up tomorrow."

With that, Sherk shoved off, taking Knot II Nauti out into the water for an opening-day spin.

At another part of the marina, known to most boaters as the Small Boat Harbor, Chris Overby, 37, of Cheektowaga, had just put his 18-foot inboard runabout into the water.

As soon as he learned that the marina would open May 1, instead of the usual May 15, Overby arranged to take a vacation day so he could transport his boat from Grand Island.

"I was ecstatic to find out that they were going to open up 14 days early," he said. "I'm dying to get back on the water. If there's no snow to ski on, they might as well open up the marina."

There's no mystery why the NFTA Boat Harbor could open two weeks early. The main factor was the mild winter/early spring, leading to a lack of marina-clogging ice and the opportunity to get the docks into the water earlier. "We're able to open early because of Mother Nature and because of the dedication of our employees," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, the NFTA's director of public affairs. "They put their shoulders to the grindstone."

Others also gave the NFTA high marks. Bill Henneberry, of Bill's Boatworks, off Route 5 in Lackawanna, said the weather wasn't the only reason for the early start. "It's better leadership at the NFTA," he said.

"They're actually taking care of their customers a little better."

Henneberry heralded the early start, partly because it allows more time for boat owners to get their craft into the water before the real opening of the boating season, Memorial Day weekend.

The milder winter and early spring also have helped put boaters in the mood.

As of April 13, the NFTA already had 725 of its 1,001 slips rented for the season, compared with 672 on the same date last year, Hartmayer said. So he expects the NFTA to match or exceed last year's total of 90 percent rentals.

"Hopefully, we'll have a great summer," Hartmayer said. "Certainly, we've had a good start."