OCEAN CITY – The 35th Annual White Marlin Open officially got underway early this morning with most of the seven-year-low 300 boats parading out of the Ocean City Inlet in the middle of the night in front of hundreds of spectators.
After weeks of speculation about the possible effects of soaring diesel prices and a shaky economy on the annual showcase event in the resort, the questions were answered when the final tally came in at 300 boats after registration closed on Sunday. The figure represents a considerable drop-off from recent years including a record 449 in 2005. In 2006, 429 boats participated in the WMO and last year’s total came in at 398.
The 300 figure for this year represents a drop-off of about 25 percent from last year, but it’s just about where insiders guessed it would be considering fuel prices and uncertainties about the economy. Despite the smaller number of boats participating, the anticipated total purse for the tournament is still expected to come in at around $2.2 million.
Day one of the tournament featured a different wrinkle driven largely by the high cost of diesel fuel. The boats were allowed to leave the Ocean City and Indian River Inlets at 3:30 a.m. this morning instead of the usual 5 a.m. The rule change was put in place to allow the competing boats to conserve fuel and save money by chugging out to their destinations at a lower speed, saving an estimated one-third on fuel consumption. The earlier leave time did not put a damper on annual tradition of watching parade of boats leaving the Inlet on Day One however as hundreds reportedly lined the Inlet to watch the spectacle.
As usual, most of the competing boats are fishing today, the first of five official fishing days. Captains must choose to fish three of the five days and most like to get one under their belts right off the bat. The marine forecast for the week is solid with little fluctuation in the conditions anticipated. The offshore forecast for today calls for west to northwest winds at 10-15 knots with seas at 3-4 feet.
Tomorrow looks like the best day with south to southwest winds at 10-15 knots and seas at 2-5 feet. On Wednesday, the forecast calls for the winds to increase to 15-25 knots with seas building to 5-9 feet. On Thursday, the winds are projected to back down to 5-10 knots with seas subsiding to 3-6 feet. Friday appears to start out nice with winds at 10-15 knots increasing to 20-30 knots later in the day with seas building again to 5-8 feet.
Harbour Island Marina on 14th Street will be tournament headquarters each day with weigh-ins from 4 p.m. to about 9 p.m.
See Friday’s print and on-line editions of The Dispatch for the up-to-the-minute standings and the highlights of the tournament.