For years the Potomac River sailors fondly called the Washington Sailing Marina their "poor man's yacht club."
There, just off the George Washington Parkway and south of National Airport, they could gather to slip their boats into the Potomac and have a beer with like-minded salts.
A funky fast-food outlet operating since 1948 served as their informal clubhouse where they registered for regattas, displayed their trophies and held boat safety classes. When one of their fellow sailors, Ann Swift, returned after a year as a hostage in Tehran, they decked the clubhouse with yellow ribbons and gave her a welcome-home party.
"Even during the winter we would gather here," said Barbara Wolter, 27, who keeps her yellow Laser sailboat at the marina. "It was a place that induced conversation."
But last December a Fairfax County restaurant firm replaced its fast-food outlet at Daingerfield Park with a chic 150-seat restaurant and bar catering to an upscale clientele.
To some Potomac sailors, the name Guest Services Inc. picked for its new restaurant, "Potowmack Landing," was just another affront. "A silly kind of chi-chi Georgetown type of name," scoffed one sailor.
Not only did the sailors lose their meeting place, but they also found themselves besieged by scores of cars and hundreds of people who came to dine at the new restaurant, which has spectacular views of the river and the Washington skyline.
Although the sailors were allowed free use of the restaurant's multipurpose room -- when it was not already booked -- the sailors said they were uncomfortable in the reservations-only dining room and wanted a setting were they could dine in jeans and windbreakers.
"You just don't sail in coat and tie," said Tim Kenney. "And where can you go in the rain?"
Moreover, the sailors complained that Guest Services, which is obligated to turn over a percentage of its profits to the Park Service, gave priority to promoting a profit-making food service over its other responsibility: serving the sailors and improving the boating facilities at the marina.
"GSI continues to care less for sailing than pushing hot dogs, or perhaps today we should say mesquite-broiled seafood," said Alexandria sailor John Roberts. The restaurant, he said, violates the Park Service's own guidelines that eating facilities be "necessary and appropriate."
"Somehow in the upgrading they forgot about us," said Kenney. "They even have a new name for us: They call us the 'boat people.' But I'm not a refugee."
James H. Pflaging, Guest Services' marketing vice president, said his company is "aware there are some complaints and we intend to meet them . . . . We're trying to be sensitive to reasonable demands and needs of the sailing community."
The sailors, numbering 1,500 in all, formed the Committee for the Preservation of Daingerfield Island last January to voice their concerns to park officials and Reps. Stan Parris (R-Va.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).
Wolf convened a meeting Friday between park officials and the committee. Afterwards, a spokesman for the congressman said Wolf "feels it was a mistake to allow that kind of restaurant to be constructed there; it changes the character of the park."
But now that it is there, Wolf would like to see the sailors' problems addressed, specifically, the need to improve boating facilities, the spokesman said.
"I think they have a very legitimate concern about being welcome in that marina facility," said the Park Service's John F. Byrne, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. "The issue is they don't feel welcome . . . and they have to feel welcome."
Byrne said he told the sailors Friday that the Park Service was taking steps to meet some of their concerns: adding more parking spaces, repairing boat facilities and making some menu changes at the restaurant to reflect the market it is supposed to serve -- recreational users of the park.
"I think the new facility is going through a breaking-in period and adjustments will be made," Byrne said.
"That's a tough question," said Pflaging when asked if "Potowmack Landing" had changed the character of the park. "I think the park is there for everyone to enjoy the view, it's beautiful . . . . We were thinking of enhancing the park for a wider audience of people."
"We think that the Park Service people are really on our side and will do everything they can to try and turn the situation around," said committee member Roberts. "I think we're started down a pretty good road here . . . but we'll have to wait and see."