Yacht captains and the Ft. Lauderdale marinas that host them along the Intracoastal Waterway say the $17 million dredging project announced on Nov. 4 can’t happen soon enough.
After more than a decade of talking about it, industry executives finally stepped up to a podium on the day before the boat show and announced that Cashman Dredging of Quincy, Mass. — the same company that dredged the Dania Cut-off Canal two years ago — is going to put a little more water under the hulls of yachts calling on Ft. Lauderdale.
“The fastest-growing segment of the boating industry is boats over 160 feet,” said Mark Crosley, executive director of the Florida Inland Navigation District, which is managing the project. “These boats can go anywhere in the world. Cuba is opening up, the Bahamas. They prefer to be here,” he said about Fort Lauderdale. “Their crews are here, their captains are here. They want to be here.”
The project, which is slated to begin in March, will take the ICW to 15-17 feet between the 17th Street Causeway Bridge and the Sunrise Boulevard Bridge, benefitting the bulk of megayacht marinas in the city.
And it’s about time, according to several captains of the largest yachts in last month’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
“I wouldn’t go back to the boat show again, unless they did something about that shoal, or at least not in that spot,” said Capt. Bill Zinser of the 180-foot Benetti M/Y Cakewalk, which draws about 10.5 feet and sat just outside Hall of Fame Marina beside the 205-foot M/Y Apogee.
“Where they put us, we were aground every tide,” he said. “There was barely 10 feet of water at high tide, and at low tide we were sitting on the bottom.”
Parts of the navigable channel are currently as low as 13-14 feet, but can be as shallow as 10 feet near marinas.
“The challenge is that the vessels are getting bigger and we need more depth,” said John Adams, senior adviser for Taylor Engineering based in Jacksonville. Adams was responsible for designing the ICW dredging project. Adams said. “Without dredging, eventually you would lose that commerce.”
Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort and Marina Manager Jennifer Cognet said the facility eagerly awaits the start and completion of the project.
“We can get bigger boats in,” she said. “We here at the marina have 17 feet sometimes at the face dock. But with the deeper ICW, that’s more guests that can get through. We have trouble getting them through the bridge.”
One of those is M/Y Apogee, the 205-foot charter yacht that has no troubles at its marinas in the Caribbean, but worries when it comes to Ft. Lauderdale.
“For me, the bottom line in navigating to the north of the 17th Street (Causeway) Bridge, I justify utilizing tugboats,” Apogee Capt. John Fleckenstein said. “It’s my risk assessment due to the potential of having damage to my propellers.
“I drive the boat in and out the St. Maarten bridge and, for the last 12 years, have yet to have an incident there,” he said. “I do know I have water, I have the depth. There’s enough flow so it’s just a matter of maneuvering the boat and staying away from the obvious hazards.”
Dredging the ICW in Ft. Lauderdale is necessary to keep boats like his coming back.
“It’s great for the show,” he said. “Having the large vessels there that are there, knowing that they are dealing with that, that’s fabulous.”
Megan Lagasse, too, is pleased. As general manager at Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale, she said her team can’t wait to welcome more large yachts.
“We are greatly looking forward to it,” she said. “We have all of the power for everyone, but the only problem we have is the depth. So getting up to us is a little bit harder. Anything is going to be better than what we’re dealing with right now. We’re really excited for any help.”
Although the dredging project is slated to end at the Sunrise Boulevard Bridge, Marina Manager Brad St. Coeur at Westrec’s Sunrise Harbor Marina on the north side is still happy about the news.
“We are excited that they are dredging,” St. Coeur said. “We wish it was to continue from the Sunrise Boulevard bridge north in front of our facility, but we’re optimistic that we do have deep water at our face dock so it [the upcoming dredge] will generate some deeper draft boats to get up here to Sunrise Harbor.”
St. Coeur, who he has worked for Westrec Marina for 15 years and at Sunrise Harbor for seven, said dredging will do the most good between the Las Olas and Sunrise bridges.
“There are some humps there that do need to get dredged,” he said. “A controlling depth all the way up here would be a benefit for us, to get those deeper draft boats here where we haven’t had them in the past.”
Suzette Cook is editor of The Triton, firstname.lastname@example.org