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Vero Rowing Club’s gift to the public: a floating dock

Photo: Rowers Caroline Granitur and Sarah Garavaglia connect two platforms with coach, Gary Marra.

As the Vero Beach Rowing Club searches for a $1 million donor who will make its dream of a boathouse come true, the club has given a gift of its own to the boating public: a floating dock to use for launching kayaks, paddle boards and – if they have them – rowing shells like the ones the club will eventually launch from the dock.

The 100-foot modular dock, which floats parallel to the southern shore of the boat launch area at MacWilliam Park, is the first part of a new $2.2 million rowing center planned by the club. Construction of the $28,000 structure started two weeks ago when concrete footers were poured.

The aluminum ramp that connects the dock to a city-owned tract of land leased by the rowing club in an agreement reached a year ago rises and falls with the tides. It was attached to the footers by three rowing club members who were more than qualified for the task. They included Todd Young, senior engineering designer for the City of Vero Beach, and Chris Ryan, who has three degrees from M.I.T. and ran a global engineering firm. Then last week, volunteers helped assemble the sections of the dock made of industrial-grade grey plastic.

“People were going by and worried that they wouldn’t be able to throw a cast net there anymore. But they can,” says Shotsi Lajoie, an avid rower who has spearheaded the boat house effort for several years. “Our agreement with the city is that people can use the dock for any non-powered vessel.”

Next comes a chain-link fence to be installed near the dock to serve as temporary storage for the fleet of boats owned by the club. While a few palm trees had to be removed to bring in truckloads of dirt for site work, no oak trees have been disturbed.

When it came time to click the modules in place, the club’s paid executive director Gary Marra recruited members of the Vero Beach High School rowing team, a group that has grown from nine students two years ago to more than 80 participants today. Guided by assistant coaches Clay Mathieu and Casey Dalal, the 15 kids who turned out to help did the work in less than two hours, cheering all the way.

“They are jazzed,” says Lajoie. “They were clapping their hands.”  Last year, the Vero Beach High School freshman girls rowing team won the state championship.

The rowing club has already raised $750,000 toward its $2.2 million goal, mostly at “very quiet high-powered cocktail party gatherings,” Lajoie says. Completion of the floating dock ought to enhance that ambiance; the group will no longer have to launch from a spot behind the Vero Beach wastewater treatment plant.

Along with its occasional offensive odors, the plant location was too windy at least half the time club members tried to row, LaJoie says. And it precluded giving beginners a shot. Now, they hope to recruit a senior team as enthusiastic as their youth rowers, Lajoie says.

And while their former location had a nickname – the poo-poo plant – the new one will likely be formally named after whoever donates that $1 million.

The club, formerly known as Indian River Rowing, offers its first youth clinics from the new dock Dec. 26. The first adult clinics take place in mid-January.