Irene Stirs Boat Storage Frenzy
STUART — At River Forest Yachting Center this week, workers have been busy blocking sportfishing boats and strapping down trawlers. Megayachts have filed into the protected basin that angles off the Okeechobee Waterway, seeking security from the threat of a potential Category 4 hurricane.
Keeping your boating investment safely out of harm's way comes at a price. But for members of the innovative storage facility's Hurricane Club, being able to sleep at night is well worth the cost.
Ever since he began running and delivering boats while he was a finance major at the University of Florida, John Smith, 60, has understood how weather can affect a boat, and consequently, a boater's level of enjoyment.
So when fellow boater and neighbor Joe Charles came to him with a radical concept, Smith had a pretty good idea there would be a large enough clientele to make it float.
"There's a certain 'pain-in-the-butt' factor to owning a boat — we know that," Smith said. "I've seen people get out of boating because of it. One thing we try to do here — and something we need to do more of in the marine industry — is to try to take the aggravation out of owning a boat."
Charles knew what he wanted for his own boat, but he struggled to find a facility that provided those types of services. He and Smith decided to build one of their own.
Five years after the first River Forest Yachting Center opened in Stuart, there are now facilities in Labelle and a small one in Michigan.
The concept is novel — provide climate-controlled comfort for vessels as well as the ability to offer complete services for nearly all boat systems. Smith said that enables the boater to actually spend more time enjoying the boating experience.
"We service about 90 percent of the boats that are stored here," Smith said. "We're all boaters here, cut from the same cloth, so we're able to and strive to provide a high level of service."
Smith said since the Stuart facility opened in 2006, it's climate-controlled storage building — all 45,000 square feet of it, about an acre — has been sold out.
This option is not for short-term or in-out storage used by a weekend boater with a center console. However, for a seasonal traveler with a bigger boat, the indoor option protects a boat's systems very well.
"We all know how harsh Florida summers can be," Smith explained. "You're basically trying to protect the vessel from the three 'H's' — heat, humidity and the occasional hurricane."
Smith actually had several test runs already. Frances and Jeanne whacked the Treasure Coast during River Forest's design phase, and Wilma walloped the area in October 2005 when construction was nearly finished. It opened in February 2006.
The Stuart site sits on nine acres and is — depending upon the size of boats stored — can accommodate about 130 boats inside and another 50 outside.
The Labelle facility sits on 30 acres along the Okeechobee Waterway just beyond the Ortona Lock and has two climate-controlled buildings, each covering about an acre of storage.
Boaters are charged an all inclusive $3.25 per square foot of space needed per month. That includes maintaining power systems, hauling and more.
Large sportfishing boats with fixed towers and elaborate bridges are about the only types of boats that cannot fit inside. But yachts as large as 90 feet sit inside the Labelle facility, Smith said.
Most storage memberships are set up following the storm season. The Stuart site offers right of first refusal to its clients, but there is still some availability in Labelle.
River Forest's Hurricane Club offering outside storage with complete protection does have some availability.