Lauderdale boaters lose another yard

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Summerfield Boat Works, one of the granddaddies of Fort Lauderdale boatyards, is being converted to a megayacht marina

Summerfield Boat Works, one of the granddaddies of Fort Lauderdale boatyards, is being converted to a megayacht marina — good news for big-boat captains, but a blow for cruisers and others who long have enjoyed doing their own work on their boats at Summerfield’s.

Greyhawk Marine Group, a Dallas development company, plans to build 40 covered “yachtominium” slips for boats 80 to 160 feet on the 5-acre property, renamed Pier 17 Marina and Yacht Club.

The slips will be offered for sale for between $1.5 million and $3 million, says Ginger Hornaday, a spokeswoman for Greyhawk. Four hundred linear feet of dock will be reserved for transient yachts.

The supply of megayacht slips has not kept pace with demand in Fort Lauderdale as big-boat construction has skyrocketed, says Michelle Corson, a partner in Greyhawk. “There’s just not anything out there,” she says. “A lot of these [yacht captains] can’t find a slip. … I think we’re filling a real void in the market right now.”

Some 1,400 megayachts visit Fort Lauderdale annually, each spending on average $400,000 per visit on repairs and maintenance, equipment, provisioning, crew housing, meals, entertainment and other needs, according to a Marine Industries Association of South Florida study.

The megayachts’ contribution to the local economy is small consolation to the many cruisers who routinely stopped at Summerfield’s when they were in Fort Lauderdale, a jumping-off point for cruising the Caribbean. The yard offered full service to those who wanted it, but attracted many cruisers because it also allowed owners to do their own work on their boats while they lived aboard.

“It’s a big loss for the cruising community,” says Reiner Schwebel, 69, a cruiser and owner of a 39-foot yawl. “But I guess that’s ‘progress.’ ”

A patron of Summerfield’s, Schwebel lives in a house around the corner from the 72-year-old yard. “For all these years it has been a boatyard. Now they want to make it into a club — just for megayachts.”

He knows of only one other self-service yard left in Fort Lauderdale, Playboy Marina on the DaniaCut-offCanal at the city’s south end.

The loss of Summerfield is part of a larger problem for cruising yachtsmen, says Jeff Kuhlman, 58, a longtime cruiser with his wife, Glenna, aboard their 45-foot Sea Master ketch, Quiet Passage. Affordable liveaboard slips for midsize cruising boats like his have become scarce as the city has enforced laws against renting liveaboard slips behind condominiums in the Las Olas Isles. Yards also are specializing in work on the big luxury yachts, and their rates reflect this, he says.

“There are people who spend half their lives in Florida and the other half sailing,” says Kuhlman, a research vessel captain. Many of them cruise with their families on tight budgets. “These are the kinds of people who are being hurt,” he says. “This is not a friendly community to sailing anymore. It’s only friendly to boats over 70 feet.”

Fort Lauderdale’s remaining yards have the capacity to absorb Summerfield’s boatyard business, says Robert Koch, general manager at River Bend Marina across the river from Pier 17. River Bend, Playboy and LauderdaleMarineCenter all work on midsize boats, though the marine center is geared mainly to the bigger yachts. Koch says that many cruisers are also going to yards in the Caribbean — in Trinidad, St. Lucia, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico. Stuart and Fort Pierce also are options for cruisers looking for service or slips.

Located on the south fork of the New River three miles from the Intracoastal Waterway, Pier 17 will be a megayacht club catering to owners, captains and their crews. Each slip will have a two-car garage with second-story storage loft designed in island motif. Amenities will include a yacht club with crew and owner lounges, a restaurant and bar, pool, business center, office space, laundry, restrooms and showers, sewerage and blackwater hook-ups, 30-, 50-, 100- and 120-amp electricity, cable TV, telephone and wireless Internet service, transportation to and from the marina and concierge service.

“We’re taking all their needs into consideration,” Corson says.

The marina will allow transient liveaboards, which means crew, owners or guests can live aboard a yacht there for up to 60 days.

Greyhawk bought the yard Jan. 18 for a publicly recorded price of $5 million, and the makeover will cost another $8 million, Corson says.

Pier 17 will keep doing yard work while the marina is under construction, but will cease yard operations before the project’s completion in mid-2006, says Brad Tate, Florida regional manager for Flagship Marinas of Dallas, which is managing Pier 17.

Nestled into what is now a residential neighborhood, Summerfield built boats for the military during World War II.

Corson promises neighbors that as Pier 17 the property will no longer be used for painting, fiberglassing or engine repair.

“There will be no boatyard component,” she says.