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Snowbird storage spawns a business

River Forest Yachting Center will accommodate 350 boats, some in a 45,000-square-foot indoor facility

River Forest Yachting Center will accommodate 350 boats, some in a 45,000-square-foot indoor facility

Snowbird Joseph Charles was tired of wrestling every summer with the same old problem of trying to protect his Neptunus 55 motoryacht from Florida’s sun, hurricanes and barnacles while he was back home in Chicago.

His friends face the same dilemma year after year: Should they keep their boats at the dock behind their Florida homes and let a management company take care of them, or should they keep them in a marina? What if a hurricane roars in? Where will they move their boats, and who will move them? Is the management firm doing its job?

“I’ve had a boat here since 1982,” says Charles, CEO of Charles Industries of Rolling Meadows, Ill., a manufacturer of marine electrical and phone systems. “I’ve been through the same thing over and over.”

Charles, who is 65 and winters in Jupiter, Fla., decided it was time to quit worrying about his boat and work out a solution for himself and others. So he is building a marina near Stuart that will specialize in storing boats for snowbirds and providing a safe harbor during hurricanes.

River Forest Yachting Center’s centerpiece is a 45,000-square-foot climate-controlled indoor facility that can store boats to 65 feet and 27 feet high that weigh less than 50 tons. The building is rated for 140-mph winds, Charles says, and is air-conditioned and humidity-controlled, with 24-hour security and sprinklers in case of fire. Rates are $3.25 per square foot per month.

“It’s another solution to the Florida boater’s problems,” he says.

The marina also will have a 6,000-square-foot building without climate control for smaller boats, outdoor storage on jackstands set on cement pads and fitted with tie-downs, and 1,400 feet of seawall dockage in a freshwater lagoon. Charles says the marina will accommodate 350 boats, including 21 100-footers along the seawalls.

The marina’s 9 acres are on the St. Lucie Canal, a mile west of the St. Lucie Locks. The property used to belong to the Foster Dredge Co., which dug a 700-foot-long, 100-foot-wide, 12-foot-deep lagoon off the St. Lucie Canal for a barge repair facility. Charles says locks at both ends of the St. Lucie Canal protect the marina from hurricane surge. The marina is accessible from Florida’s east and west coasts — 26 miles from St. Lucie Inlet and 13 miles from Lake Okeechobee — and is far enough inland to be a safe harbor, he says.

For those who would rather keep their boats at a coastal marina in the summer, Charles offers Hurricane Club membership. For $1,000 to $5,000 per season, depending on boat size, members get preferential haulout over non-members and a guaranteed wet or dry slip at River Forest when a hurricane threatens. In addition to the annual fee, members pay standard non-hurricane rates for haulout, and wet or dry storage when they seek safe harbor at the marina. Charles says these rates are 50 percent less than the hurricane rates charged to non-members.

He says club membership can earn boat owners a 20-percent discount on their insurance premiums, and most policies reimburse owners up to $500 to hire a captain to deliver their boats to a hurricane hole like River Forest.

Charles says River Forest should make boat ownership less worrisome for those who can afford what the marina offers. “You have a guaranteed spot to go to,” he says. “Boating should be a fun experience; it shouldn’t be a hassle.”

For more information, contact River Forest Yachting Center at (772) 287-4131 or visit