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Wet versus dry in the western Med

The western Mediterranean, although a favourite international boating destination, is not big on drystack. Due to rules, laws, limited land space and customer preference, just a few in fact exist – and these are mostly uncovered or only active in the summer season. Donatella Zucca reports

Marina Arenella is perhaps the largest and most efficient drystack in Italy and is located at the northern end of Sicily’s Gulf of Palermo.

Marina Arenella is perhaps the largest and most efficient drystack in Italy and is located at the northern end of Sicily’s Gulf of Palermo.

Roberto Perocchio, president of Italian marina association Assomarinas, explains: “Average Italians, and maybe ‘Mediterraneans’ in general, don’t like being restricted by times and rules. The freedom of having a boat on the water tends to outweigh the advantages offered by a traditional drystack.”
Exceptions to this trend may be found in urban situations where demand for berths exceeds availability but it is nonetheless difficult to modify urban planning, obtain permits or construct drystacks at existing marinas (where sufficient land is not usually available) or build them from scratch.
Variety in Italy
Roberto Perocchio, Assomarinas.

Roberto Perocchio, Assomarinas.

Although it enjoys a central Mediterranean position, a long coastline, many islands and a number of well-equipped marinas, drystacks are a rarity in Italy. This is surprising given the excellent health of its marina sector, which according to Confindustria Nautica enjoyed a turnover of around €1 billion in 2022. In the last ten years, the country has been enriched by 40 marinas and 22,000 berths but, in part due to the challenges of finding sites and obeying laws, drystack development has been difficult.
“Combining a building with access to the sea is always very complex,” Perocchio says. “If a suitable building exists and you can get permission for change of use, this is easier than trying to build new; a mission that is almost impossible due to laws that protect the coast.”
Massimo Acierno,  Marina Arenella.

Massimo Acierno, Marina Arenella.

In years past it was easier, as can be found at the Consorzio Cantieristica Minore della Giudecca in Venice, where a state-of-the-art covered drystack storage operation was created years ago in the historic city centre. Venice is, however, on the Adriatic – and the Adriatic veers more to the east than the west. Perocchio continues: “With Confindustria Nautica, we are trying to explore this type of service by appealing to Article 49 of the New Pleasure Boating Code, which favours the issue of concessions for dry storage. However, the problems of slow urban planning, the scrutiny of various superintendents and other delays remains. Many operations have in fact been developed with only partial permissions, gradually establishing themselves and then obtaining an amnesty.”
Port Inland at Mandelieu La Napoule in France is seen as the first European dry port and has 800 dry berths.

Port Inland at Mandelieu La Napoule in France is seen as the first European dry port and has 800 dry berths.

Most Italian drystacks are to be found in the south, especially in Sicily, although they are often variations on the theme. The largest and perhaps most efficient is Marina Arenella at the northern end of Sicily’s Gulf of Palermo. Equipped with three forklifts to rapidly lift, launch and store boats up to 13m (43ft) in length, the facility houses around 230 boats, 180 of which are stored on multi-storey racks, 30 in a covered building and the remainder on outdoor dry storage space. In the summer, about 100 wet berths are available. “During our 30 years of experience, we have revolutionised the concept of the dry port,” says marina manager Massimo Acierno. “Customers can use their boats 24 hours a day, seven days a week because, once launched, the boat can stay in the water as long as the customer wants.”
“In recent years, we have developed software that allows you to book a lift or launch, make special requests etc., via a smartphone. The requests arrive via the app on displays located on the forklifts and in the back office. The customer is then told where to find the boat and given details on the services provided by smart pedestals. We have car parking, bar, restaurant services, Wi-Fi, fuel, mooring assistance, a mechanical repair shop and shipyard. If we had a quay big enough to host a US-style drystack, we would be truly unbeatable!”
Other dry ports in Catania include the Nautica Glem dry rack business and Vento Maestrale opposite the entrance to the port of Trapani. This efficient dry port caters for dinghies and small boats. Marina Capo d’Orlando has a beautiful drystack facility at planning stage but is not moving forward with it as it is devoting all its usable yard space to large boat storage.
Notables elsewhere in Italy include Marina Santa Marinella’s Porto Castello, a dry port for sailing boats in the province of Rome, and Deiva Marina Service, the only drystack in Liguria. Deiva caters for boats up to 10m (33ft) and uses a hydraulic lift platform, electric forklifts and trolleys. It is active from June to September and then winterises boats. It has no wet berths.
Dry ports for France
Pascal Jourdan, Portland.

Pascal Jourdan, Portland.

There are several dry ports but very few true drystacks in southern France. They strive to offer the ambience of a wet marina. Jean Michel Gaigné, representative of the French and TransEurope marina industry associations, cites the best examples as Port Inland at Mandelieu La Napoule, Portland at Hyères and Port Navy Service at Port Saint Louis du Rhône.
Other examples are mostly in open areas where something akin to drystack is offered in the summer. They are close to maintenance and refit facilities, and space for wintering within first class marinas.
Portland is a busy drystack on the French bay of Hyères with racks for 500 boats and 50 wet berths.

Portland is a busy drystack on the French bay of Hyères with racks for 500 boats and 50 wet berths.

How do they differ from drystacks in the UK and northern Europe? “We started up in 1989 and we represent the first European dry port,” says Erika Drouard, director of Port Inland, which has 800 berths for motor boats up to 11m (36ft) and 5 tonnes. She believes they have an edge because customers can access their boats seven days a week year round (except Christmas and New Year) and have access to maintenance, free parking, speciality shops, a bar, restaurant and a huge range of on-site industry professionals.
Erika Drouard, Port Inland.

Erika Drouard, Port Inland.

Customer trends show increased storage demand for boats of 9m (29ft 6in) and above and recent frustrations lie in the regional drought. “The inability to wash their boats has annoyed customers a lot,” she admits, “so much so that some have even given up using theirs.”
Further south, on the bay of Hyères, Portland offers 500 dry berths and 50 wet berths and has been in operation for 25 years. Pascal Jourdan, manager of both dry and wet port, explains the dry operation: “We have no roof or sides for 75% of the racking. We do not use apps. The staff record customer requests via telephone or when they arrive.” Customers appreciate the reduced boat maintenance, excellent security, comfortable waiting area, the successful ‘parking formula’ (various fees for different usage), management of boat shares and summer aperitifs.
Customer practices and demands have changed in recent years. “Boaters go out less, but for the whole day – from 10.00am to 7.30pm – to make the most of the opportunity. What hasn’t changed is the strong demand in August,” she says, and notes the new demands as being for categories the marina cannot cater for – like sailboats and catamarans. “There are currently about 130 ongoing requests for space and, when offered at reasonable prices, most customers also want follow-up maintenance. All appreciate the turnkey ready-to-sail option.”
Jourdan believes the scarcity of drystacks in the Mediterranean is less about demand than feasibility. “You need to have a lot of land for car parking. On a rotational basis on average you have to calculate two cars per boat.”
While Portland is forced to turn away catamarans, Port Navy Service in Port Saint Louis du Rhône is a very different story. Nicknamed Cataland, it hosts sail and motor boats up to 120 tonnes for maintenance and mooring on a 22ha (54.4 acre) site, which includes large hangars and extensive outdoor space. Considered the largest dry port in Europe, it is also popular for winterising. But although it guarantees fast delivery and short waiting times, it is far more a fantastic dry port than a traditional drystack and in 2010 enriched its offering by opening an elegant yacht club for its members.
Plan first in Catalonia
Although detailed information is harder to come by, Spain suffers a similar dearth of drystacks. Javier Garcia Camps, manager of the Yacht Harbour Association in Catalonia (ACEPT) says there are only three in Catalonia: Marina Vela Barcelona; Marina Badalona; and Port Forum.
Why only three? “The reason is very simple for Catalonia,” he says. “When a group, a company or a private entity builds a marina, the project must include a drystack. If the concession doesn’t cover this from the very beginning, costs and permits make it very difficult to introduce. It can sometimes be done towards the end of a concession but the costs involved and the time remaining can’t deliver a good return on investment. It’s better to give the idea up if it wasn’t part of the original project plan.”
Marina Seca at Marina de Badalona offers 211 drystack spaces on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain.

Marina Seca at Marina de Badalona offers 211 drystack spaces on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain.

Customer choice is also a factor. “In the Mediterranean, people prefer to have their boat on water. When they arrive, they want it ready and available. In the Costa Brava, which is cold, drystacks work well but in the Mediterranean I don’t think they are a good idea. This is demonstrated by the fact that there are only three in Catalonia out of 23 marinas.” He does, however, report that there are some ongoing projects that include dry shelter areas that could possibly be transformed into drystacks.
Javier Garcia Camps, ACEPT.

Javier Garcia Camps, ACEPT.

Barcelona, however, offers proof that drystacks can work in cities as it has Catalonia’s three drystacks at Marina Vela, Port Forum and Marina de Badalona. Marina Vela is a modern automated operation for 222 boats up to 9m (29ft 6in) long. It offers swift turnaround (five to eight minutes) and all the top level services of the associated wet marina. Port Forum in Sant Adria de Besos, a few minutes from the centre of Barcelona, accommodates 220 boats of 6 to 11m (20 to 36ft), racked on a Bellingham Marine Unistack system in the mix of its vast technical area and wet berth marina.
The third drystack – on the outskirts of Barcelona – is Marina Seca, the drystack associated with Marina de Badalona. This offers 211 drystack places in a 640-berth marina. Boats are handled by crane and housed in a sustainable building with a roof of solar panels.

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