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New dry-dock storage to float boats on air

Computer dry-dock storage has just been taken to the next level by Solamar CEO, engineer and entrepreneur Richard Lydle, whose innovative Aero-Docks technology moves boats from the water to their custom-designed cradle for indoor storage on a cushion of air.

The new project is called Solamar and will reportedly have indoor dry-dock storage for 400 boats from 30 feet to 65 feet, rotating on carousels that ride on a cushion of air, as well as 40 wet slips for boats to 100 feet and a world-class yacht club with luxury resort-style amenities.

Solamar Yacht Club will be located in ritzy Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on more than four-and-a-half acres on the Intracoastal Waterway. The parcel was formerly the site of E&H Boatworks and a self-service yard called The Ways. The location is a quarter-mile north of the PGA Boulevard Bridge and six miles north of the Palm Beach Inlet.

The dry-dock storage, marina and yacht club project will top $100 million. Lydle-owned companies developed and built systems using this same technology more than 20 years ago to move locomotives and aircraft. He now has four patents that bring this technology to the marine industry.

“After lifting and moving locomotive engines that weighed over 350,000 pounds, moving a 120,000 pound yacht is a piece of cake,” Lydle says.

The indoor storage using the Aero-Docks system will be temperature- and humidity-controlled, is to be built to withstand hurricane force winds up to 200 miles per hour and will be built by GSM Construction of Fort Myers, Fla. The facility is designed to house boats up to 65 feet with beams of 22 feet and heights of up to 30 feet or more. Other dry-dock storage facilities, both forklift and computer-driven, are limited to lower heights. Solamar’s indoor storage will also be able to furnish electricity to stored boats, meaning refrigerators and other equipment can continue to run.

The Aero-Docks’ patented system uses carousels similar to those used at airports where luggage is claimed. But Aero-Docks’ carousels are stacked five high. The carousels, run around the circumference of the entire storage building at different levels, travel on 40-60 psi of air pressure, similar to a hovercraft. Lydle says using carousels instead of racks to store boats, and an elevating platform instead of a forklift, gives boats kid-glove care and eliminates the scarring and damage to hulls associated with older forklift systems.

This system also eliminates the need for wide aisles inside buildings that are needed for the forklift system to maneuver and slip boats into their racks. This feature allows Aero-Docks to store more and bigger boats in a smaller area — a real advantage with waterfront property so pricey.

The Aero-Docks technology works like this: When an owner wants to take his boat out of storage, he calls the 24-hour concierge dockmaster who keys the boat into the computer system. The computer locates the boat on its customized cradle carrier on one of the oval-shaped carousels. It brings the carrier and boat around on the carousel to the loading platform, which has risen like an elevator to the carousel’s level. The computer transfers the boat and carrier from the carousel to the loading platform and lowers them into the water, where the boat is launched. The whole operation is said to take 7 or 8 minutes.

Solamar will have six lift systems on site instead of one or two lifts typically offered at other facilities.

“The lift and launching time at other facilities may be 7 to 8 minutes, but if only one or two lifts are available, boater owners will have to wait their turn,” says Lydle.

The Palm Beach location is the first of what Lydle anticipates will be a chain of Solamar International Yacht Clubs in the United States and Europe. Plans are to build four to eight of the membership clubs during the next three years. “There is a shortage of dockage in so many places. People want to buy boats and can’t find a safe, secure place to dock them.

“The response to our project has been incredible,” says Lydle.

He has been contacted by marina site owners in Chicago, Baltimore, New York and the Florida Keys, and also land owners in Europe. He says he is presently investigating sites in France, Italy, Chicago, Baltimore and the Florida Keys. Lifetime memberships in the club are now being offered.

These memberships can be sold, transferred or passed on to an heir. Members are entitled to lifetime use of a slip, club facilities and services. Slip owners can also change the size of their boat and stay at Solamar.

In addition to the indoor storage utilizing the revolutionary Aero-Docks technology, Solamar will have a “premier marina” complete with a 24-hour marina concierge, yacht repair and maintenance, full-service catering and provisioning, marina store, and air-conditioned fish cleaning.

“The yacht club will be chic, yet comfortable and inviting,” says Lydle. It will have a rooftop pool with cabanas and five-star dining, boasting a view of the ICW and city lights. The club will also have a business center, six guest suites, a Kids Klub, dockside European-style bistro and bar, and other amenities of a world-class luxury resort, including a fitness center.

Solamar will also have a small rental fleet of 40-, 50- and 60-foot boats for member use only. As Solamar Yacht Clubs International grows, plans call for the development of reciprocal privileges at all of the clubs. This will include dockage and use of the yacht club for boats.

Cost of a membership is based on a boat’s volume starting at about $170,000 for a 35-foot boat and running up from there. The projected opening of Solamar is November 2009 with groundbreaking anticipated in late-December.

The system can be designed to lift and move much larger boats, and Lydle expects the second dry project to handle yachts up to 80 feet. His equipment company is consulting with other marina operators to design new marinas and to reconfigure existing facilities to use the Aero-Docks equipment and raise their storage capacity.

A 30-year boater himself, Lydle has cruised the Bahamas, Exumas and Abacos, and has brought his own 61-footer through the ICW eight times, traveling from Lake Erie to Fort Lauderdale.

“I’ve been in some of the best marinas and some of the worst,” he says. “We have taken the outstanding features and service techniques from them all and have combined them into one extraordinary place for boaters, their family, their friends and, most important, their boats.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue.