Shipping. not sailing. the boat back

To the editor: Just as the GPS has revolutionized voyaging, an increasing number of Americans are revolutionizing the way they make ocean crossings – by transporting their boat by ship.

Most American boats arrive in Australia or New Zealand as part of a circumnavigation. Once there, they have to choose whether to venture on through the well-traveled path of southern Asia and the Mediterranean or head home, usually via the Northern Pacific, which includes some potentially hazardous ocean passages. Many decide they’ve had enough of long passages and either sell their prized possession or pay someone to take it home.

All that is changing with the growing demand for the Dockwise Yacht Transport float on/float off service to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Brisbane, Australia, or Auckland, New Zealand. Unlike a container ship where you have to unstep the mast and provide a cradle and lashings, you drive your boat onto the transporter with a semi-submersible.

Each boat is individually secured into pre-determined keel block cradles and deck supports. Once all the boats are loaded, the ship slowly empties of water as divers set up supports under each boat. When the ship’s deck is dry, seafastenings are welded onto the deck and tensioned to each boat’s hull.

The last Dockwise vessel, Super Servant 4, left Brisbane, Queensland, in January with 22 boats, disgorging some and collecting more on its return journey to France via New Zealand, Mexico, Costa Rica and Florida.

We spoke to many voyagers who’d booked the service from Brisbane, then checked with them after their boats arrived at their destinations. From the very wealthy to shoestring sailors, many and varied reasons were given for not doing the passage in their own vessels. Professional skippers blamed their owners’ strict time limitations; the threat of pirates worried others; husbands blamed “the wife�VbCrLf who refused to sail any more long passages; health concerns at sea and the belief that storms were becoming more ferocious and unpredictable also ranked highly.

Generally, most voyagers gasped at their initial Dockwise quote; however, after comparing alternatives, including hiring a deliverer or using a container ship, most decided those hefty figures weren’t bad after all.

The cost of the passage is a closely guarded secret from the media but we’ve obtained some approximations (see table). Rates, including insurance, are based on length, beam, destination and insured value.

Owners get a 20 percent discount if they book and pay five months before loading and 10 percent off if they book and pay three months in advance. Any reduction in the vessel’s length or beam decreases the cost – for example, by detaching the wind vane or bowsprit.

Most of the boats loading in Brisbane were U.S.-flagged, but others included Australian, New Zealand, British, French and Cayman Islands registrations. Half were sailboats. Values ranged between $25,000 and $35 million. The smallest boat transported was a 25-foot yacht and the largest was Ulysses, a 190-foot motor yacht.

Jason Roberts, an Australian Dockwise agent, said the demand for boat transport was increasing but restricted by the number of vessels that went to Australia.

“Since Dockwise started coming to Australia in 2003, the ships have been leaving full,�VbCrLf Roberts said. “We need more ships to meet the demand. Another one being built now will be ready next year to help cope with that demand.�VbCrLf The new ship will be 205 meters long and travel at 18 knots.

After arriving at their destinations, most people were very happy with the service and said they’d use it again – if they could afford to.

Some owners commented on what they considered to be service beyond the call of duty. Boats with low batteries upon arrival were towed off the transporter, and the Dockwise staff helped jump-start their engines.

With Dockwise’s cooperation, some boats used Super Servant 4 as a dry dock facility. The 163-foot motor yacht, Triton, needed a new cutlass bearing but the skipper didn’t have the time or facilities to haul out before the transporter left Brisbane. So he arranged for the work to be done once Triton was loaded onto Super Servant 4.

A few voyagers had complaints about punctuality and cosmetic damage, including soot from the transporters’ engines that covered their boats, rust spots, small scrapes on the hull, and cap and rub rail damage. The lack of shelter at the Port of Brisbane and the lack of public transport for the owners into the city once the boats were loaded annoyed others.

John and Diane Anderson of San Diego left the United States in 2002 on their Island Packet 35, Rag’n Drag’n, ending up in Queensland. They both wanted to cruise the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean, but Diane wasn’t keen on sailing back from Australia.

“Australia is a turning point where you really have to decide how or whether you want to continue,�VbCrLf John Anderson said. “I could have got my brothers to help me sail her back but I would have needed new sails and rigging. There’s a big difference between handling bad weather and whether you want to handle it.�VbCrLf

The discounted passage to Florida cost the Andersons $16,560. They said after their arrival that the whole procedure was professionally handled (though the boat was late), and they recommend it.

– Kate Dennehy is a freelance writer in Queensland, Australia.

By Ocean Navigator