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Lauderdale’s Port Marina packs ’em in

A laser-guided bridge crane allows the marina to stack the boats higher in its dry storage facility

A laser-guided bridge crane allows the marina to stack the boats higher in its dry storage facility

Port Marina in Fort Lauderdale is a dry stack storage barn built like a hardened silo — hurricane-proof, with luxury amenities for boaters who buy a dry slip there, and a laser-guided bridge crane that can lift 52-foot boats 80 feet in the air to the top tier of racks.

The 125-slip “rackominium” on Fort Lauderdale’s 17th Street is the country’s first dry stack to use a bridge crane instead of a forklift for launching and hauling boats, says Chris Rosenberg, president of Vertical Yachts Storage Systems, the St. Thomas, Virgin Islands-based company that designed and built the facility at the old Everglades Marina site.

“I love boats. I love technology,” says engineer and developer Rosenberg, and he has married the two at Port Marina. He says his prototype design opens dry stack storage to more and much larger boats, which enables developers to justify building a dry stack instead of a high-rise residential condominium on pricy waterfront. Port Marina slip costs run from $189,000 to $350,000, depending on boat size and slip location.

Port Marina stores yachts up to 52 feet long and 18 feet high, and weighing 35,000 pounds. The patented system can be designed to lift vessels up to 80 feet long and weighing 135,000 pounds, and move them in and out of racks 150 feet high, Rosenberg says. He says he already is designing another South Florida dry stack for 72-foot boats.

Hauling and launching the boats doesn’t depend on the skill of a forklift operator but on an automated laser guidance system accurate to a quarter-inch as the bridge crane slips boats in and out of racks. That means no operator error and no dings on the hulls, Rosenberg says.

“The computer doesn’t have a bad day,” agrees dockmaster Jason Williams. “It doesn’t not have its coffee in the morning.”

Williams drove forklifts for 10 years and has operated a 50,000-pound Travelift. Now he runs the bridge crane. He says the laser-guided crane — 30-year-old technology used to move big loads in commercial ports, steel mills and auto plants — is just about foolproof.

When a new boat arrives at the marina, Williams customizes a rack slip for it and enters the boat’s and slip’s dimensions into the computer. The computer can then direct the bridge crane to the slip, and ease the boat in and out of the rack automatically with the help of the laser guidance system. Launching a boat takes about 15 minutes with the bridge crane.

The four-tier racks are integrated into a building that has cement walls and a roof rated to withstand hurricane winds more than 140 mph. The dry-stack is climate-controlled. The bridge crane is electrically driven, so it emits none of the fumes or soot that a fossil-fuel-driven forklift does. The bridge crane cradle is fitted with air bags to prevent damage to the hull when it picks a boat up. An automated washdown system uses softened water so the owner doesn’t have to chamois the hull to prevent water spots, and the dry-stack is equipped with high-end AFFF foam fire-protection sprinklers.

The marina has an owners’ lounge with showers, a breakfast room, plasma- screen TV and a concierge. It is next door to The Port Condominiums, a new 16-story high-rise with clubhouse, pool and fitness center. Residential units there cost $500,000 to $1.8 million.

Rosenberg says the bridge crane system costs just 10 percent more than a standard forklift dry stack system, and it reduces aisle space between racks by 20 to 50 feet because a forklift requires more room to pivot. This enables the developer to stack boats higher — up to 150 to 200 feet. He says operating costs are substantially less than a conventional dry stack because you can stack more boats on the same footprint.

“This technology allows us to pick up boats of any size and put them anywhere in the building at any rack height,” he says.

Where the highest and best use for a piece of waterfront once might have been a residential condominium, now it could be a dry stack marina. “It’s more cost-effective,” he says.