It's hard for flooring business manager Ray Novak to say how many hours he worked to buy his 21-foot fishing boat, Rug Rat.
But he knows how little time it took for that prize possession to burn beyond recognition - along with close to 100 other boats - early yesterday at the Pasadena Boatel and Beach Club in a multimillion-dollar marina blaze.
"We traveled all the way up here to cry a little bit," said Novak, who interrupted a family vacation in Ocean City to see the devastation.
He wasn't the only one in mourning. Boating season came to an abrupt end for dozens of families as their toys and treasures were buried under a charred and twisted four-tier dry dock by a predawn fire off the Patapsco River.
Investigators from Anne Arundel County Fire Department, state fire marshal's office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sifted through tons of debris, but did not determine a cause, said Lt. Robert Rose, a county fire spokesman.
A tally of the damage had barely begun, but unofficial estimates began at several million dollars.
"It's devastating," said Pasadena Boatel co-owner Al Tenneson. "It's an inanimate object, but these boats mean a lot to people. There are a lot of memories."
Tenneson wasn't able to estimate when repairs would be complete.
"We have insurance. None of the basins or equipment was damaged, but about half our customers lost their boats," he said, thankful that no one was hurt. "We have a lot of cleaning up to do. It's just a mess. But we'll survive. We'll come out of it, with a lot of hard work."
In addition to the boats destroyed, 50 might have been damaged by heat on a nearly identical dry dock rack a few hundred feet away.
Richard R. Hower said insurance will cover most of his loss - a $35,000, 27-foot Baja performance boat named Power Trip - but the retired Arnold banker said his season is over.
"It will take another year to find a used boat like that one. Boating is my life. This is just heartbreaking," said Hower, whose waterfront Moorings Circle townhouse had no place to moor a boat.
"It's like losing a child," said Paul Evans, a veteran marina employee who operates its forklift and paints boats. "People enjoy their time away. It is really a club. The cookouts, the beach. It's like one big family. It's a way of life."
Evans, who lives at Pasadena Boatel, said he woke about 4 a.m. to what sounded like rapid gunfire - apparently boat gasoline tanks rupturing. "As soon as I hit the door, I saw the glow. I came down to see if I could stop it. But it was engulfed."
The four alarms brought more than 70 firefighters and paramedics, with 24 pieces of equipment, Rose said. The blaze was brought under control within two hours. Wind blowing away from nearby trees and houses helped to contain the fire to the boatyard, Rose said.
Leaking gasoline and foam used by firefighters were contained before reaching the Patapsco River. The state Department of the Environment sent a emergency spill-response team to assist in the cleanup of hazardous materials, a department spokesman said.
Pedro Hill and his friend Lloyd Thompson, both 18-year-old Federal Express employees from Laurel, said they weren't sure what they'd do the rest of the summer without the 25-foot Bayliner they bought a little more than a year ago and named Beach Party.
"I've never heard of a boat burning up," Thompson said. "We're just shocked."