People think boating is expensive--they're right. But in Newport, Rhode Island, you don't even have to leave the dock to spend a wad.

Here, where the America's Cup season is slipping into midsummer high gear, there are hordes of boats and plenty of big water close by for sailing. It's an ideal port. Just slide out of the harbor, turn south and you're in Rhode Island Sound. Turn east and the next stop is England.

The waters are so inviting, in fact, that there's a summer premium on places to park. When boatman made his sea voyage last week from Block Island, 20 miles across the open ocean in his little 17-footer, he knew he might encounter danger and excitement. And he did, as soon as he got to Newport.

"We could probably fit you in," said the man at Goat Island, "with a $25-a-day minimum charge. You'd be better off going over to Oldport Marina and getting a mooring. It will save you a lot of money."

At the gas dock, boatman, reeling at the mere thought of $25 a day to tie up a fishing skiff, asked the lady attendant where Oldport was. "You can't get there," she said. "Just call them on channel 68."

"Fine," said boatman. "I've had this little boat 21/2 years. Perhaps you could help me find the radio."

At Oldport (which you can get to) boatman tied up next to American Eagle, the magnificent old wooden 12-meter, and waited for the attendant who was very prompt.

"You can't tie up here. You can't tie up here," he shrieked as he raced down the dock, waving his arms. "What do you want, anyway?"

Boatman learned the smallest mooring available was a 500-pound mushroom anchored out where the hard winds blow. It was $15 a night, plus $1.25 per person to the launch driver every time you went out or in. Some bargain.

"Plus there's always the danger it'll get ripped off out there," said the attendant.

Boatman hied himself over to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, where a friendly yachtie said protected moorings were available for $10 a night and the launch service was free.

"Do you belong to a yacht club?" asked the snooty attendant.

"Don't even like 'em," said boatman.

"Well," said she, "our facilities are only for visiting yacht-club members and we're very strict about that. Could you please get your boat off our dock? That's where the launch ties up."

Someone said the Newport Yacht Club had a free something called a "30-minute dock" and overnight dock space at 50 cents a foot. Boatman began to have the feeling everyone wanted him to go somewhere else, but he went anyway.

At the Yacht Club they came running out with the Newport battle cry: "Can I help you? Can I help you?" Loosely translated it means, "Can I rob you? Can I rob you?"

It was $1.10 a foot for non-members, the fellow said, but with a minimum of $25 or $27, boatman can't remember anymore. "But you can try around the corner at Long Wharf. They're cheaper," he was told.

The truth at last. Long Wharf was cheaper. They would put him on a mooring, they told boatman, for only $22.50 a day. There was no luanch service, "but we'll find a way to get you in and out."

Boatman thought this an offer so preposterous, he couldn't refuse. When he agreed, the Long Wharfers were appreciative and decided to let him tie up in an even more convenient spot, against a stone breakwater at the foot of a busy street. Boatman found that at only a modest risk of life and limb he could scramble up the weedy rock wall by clinging to some rusty old chains, thus giving him land access to his little yacht.

He wrote a check for $67.50 for three nights and threw his bags on land.

At the corner of America's Cup Avenue, boatman dropped his bags again and stood for a long stretch staring at the traffic and the dust and the crash and clatter of civilization. He'd been a week on an island.

"Can I help you?" he heard someone say. Boatman lunged for his belongings and found that between him and them a woman had stepped. She was nice. She actually meant it.

"You look so lost," said she. "You look like you just got off a boat from Block Island or something."