The boat show is in town through this weekend. Hours are 5-10 p.m. tonight and Friday; 1-10 p.m. Saturday; 1-8 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults, for children under 12.

If anybody should be crying the snow blues, it's the boat show, which comes to town only one week a year. But shed no tears for show organizers June Campbell and Peter Carroll.

"We had to close Monday," said Campbell, in her 18th year of operaing the venerable show at the D.C. Armory. Tuesday and Wednesday, crowds were decimated by Metro's shutdown.

But still Campbell was smiling. "We had such a fantastic weekend that the storm didn't really hurt us that much, when you compare total attendance to last year."

Campbell was bouyed by the weekend crowds and she expects a repeat performance this weekend, once the storm-induced chaos drops back to simple confusion.

She'll probably get it.

The 18th annual Washington Boat Show is as pleasant an escape as a seafarer could hope for in these dismal times. There are more than 500 boats and 600 exhibits, including a hot tub, of all things.

"We have it here for two reasons," said the salesman. "We figure if you buy a big enough boat, you can put the tub in it. And if you buy a small enough boat, you can put it in the tub."

The boat show actually doesn't offer anything either that small or that big. This year the emphasis is on midsized boats. Gone are the 50-foot and bigger "queens of the show" from years past.

That's a trend, according to salesmen. "Gas prices are doing it," said one. "Trailerable boats have to be smaller because the cars are smaller. You don't want to have to buy a truck just so you can haul your boat around. Where five years ago the average person might be looking at a boat 24, 26, even 30 feet, today he wants one 18 to 20 feet."

Just for fun, I gave myself a mythical $10,000 to see what it would buy. In my dreams, I glide around in a fancy, center-console fishing machine, a true macho man at sea.

I surprised myself. I came up with the boat I wanted (I think), complete with motor, trailer, depth-sounder, compass, anchor and lines, chrome bow rail and all the other fixings and walked out with a mythical $2,800-plus in change.

Tri-State Marine of Deale, Md., had the boat, which was a 20-foot Floridabuilt fiberglass model called a Flare. It's a mofified-vee hull and has lines very similar to the Mako, but is much less expensive.

It came with an 85-horse Chrysler outboard, which is probably less power than it deserves. But the price tag -- $7,150 with everything -- seemed pretty complelling.

The only problem, if I really were buying, would be that I knew nothing about the company.

According to the salesman, John Slattery, I was making a popular choice. He claimed to have taken five deposits on the Flare already at the boat-show price.

All the salesmen interviewed said prices are knocked down significantly for the show. The idea, Slattery said, is to get some boats moving in this slack time and also to judge what the public is going to buy this year, so the dealers can make their orders to the factories.

"Just like this Flare," said Slattery. "It looks like people are going to buy this boat this year. If we sell 10 at the show, then we know we can order 30 from the factory. That order for 30 gives us some negotiating power. We can get a better price, too."

One other boat intrigued me and my mythical $10,000. It was a 24-foot Pro-Line cuddy cabin model with a 150-horse Evinrude and trailer.