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At the Commercial Boulevard bridge you'll see a sign that reads: “Welcome to Fort Lauderdale — Yachting Capital of the World.” You really don't need the sign to feel wanted because you'll quickly discover the welcome mat is always out for boat people in Fort Lauderdale.

Probably no spot on earth of equal size offers such an incredible concentration of marine facilities and services and such a population of pleasure boats and businesses that cater to them. The 12,000 boats stuffed into California’s Marina del Rey pale in comparison to Broward County’s 25,000 resident boats and the estimated 10,000 transient craft that visit there annually.

This didn’t happen by accident. In 1954 the city fathers decided to make the city attractive to the boating industry, and built the first municipally-financed yachting center in the world at Bahia Mar. It has been copied and recopied all over the world, but remains one of the biggest, poshest, and best of all marine facilities. And it will be getting bigger and more posh as it undergoes planned, massive redevelopment — with new buildings, parking areas and even its own park!

Fort Lauderdale also calls itself the Venice of America. Do 250-odd miles of waterways qualify the city as a Venice? Perhaps not, but the comparison is not without basis. Much of the area's commerce is decidedly water based, water oriented, and indeed, waterfront.

Restaurants — including some of Florida’s finest — line the ICW in numbers, beginning at the Commercial Boulevard Bridge. Highrises alternate with palatial homes from there south, past Sunrise and Las Olas Boulevards, the city docks, and the only legal anchorage in the area, the mooring field just south of the Las Olas bridge on the west shore. Moorings are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but you'll have to make payment at the Las Olas dockmaster's office. Call 954-828-7200 to check.

North of the bridge to the west are the wide, deep, beautiful canals that separate the famous Nurmi Isles and boast hundreds of docks — and some beautiful boats. Just north of Nurmi Isles, the Middle River opens to the north with more dockage but no facilities.

Fort Lauderdale has three city marinas. One is on the east side of the ICW by the Las Olas Boulevard bridge (near the mooring field mentioned above) and just a short stroll to the beach. The other two facilities are up the New River; one lining both banks in the heart of the city (2011/12 FCD cover photo!), and the third farther up at Cooley's Landing. Both are adjacent to the beautiful Riverwalk district. (More on that follows).

A short distance south of Las Olas is the Hall of Fame Marina, built around the International Swimming Hall of Fame, then Bahia Mar and a couple of miles farther, the beginning of the center of marine activity that clusters around the 17th Street Causeway Bridge — long one of the busiest drawbridges in the world. With a  pair of 55' closed clearance draw spans on the waterway the beautiful bridge is also one of the highest. Only Norfolk's 65' ship channel bascule is higher. Be aware that very strong currents run through this bridge — especially on an outgoing tide. Use caution.

On the north side of the causeway is the famed Pier 66, a world-class resort and marina that offers much in the way of shoreside luxuries. Across 17th Street a brand new marina — The Sails — has some dockage available, but construction on the planned huge complex has not yet begun. The dockmaster's phone is on Chart 10. Across the causeway bridge is the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. Yachts too big to dock inside the marinas often line the marina facedocks on either side of the waterway.

Just north of the Hilton is Lauderdale Marina, the oldest marina in town, with bait, tackle, the busiest (and longest) fuel dock in the area, and one of the best seafood restaurants, Fifteenth Street Fisheries. The marina, in operation for over 55 years, is owned by His Honor Bob Cox, a former mayor of the city. He deserves a great deal of the credit for the city’s excellent facilities for — and attitude about — boats, boating, and boatpeople.

The boats and facilities that line the ICW are only the obvious part of Fort Lauderdale’s marine involvement. The New River, which winds for six or seven miles west from the ICW just north of 17th Street, is a seemingly endless line of marine facilities from docks to engine shops to waterfront restaurants to boatyards capable of handling any type of boat or yacht. Somewhere along the river you'll probably find an example of every type, size, and value of boat that has ever been built. And you'll find all of the facilities it or you might ever require. (Continue...)

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