For cruisers lacking the time, or the temerity, to sail across an ocean, the traditional means of delivering one’s boat to far-flung destinations involved hiring a captain and crew and having them do the dirty work. And when you consider the costs involved in such a delivery-including wear and tear on the boat-paying $35,000 to load your vessel onto a Dockwise cargo ship for a stress-free ocean crossing starts to make a lot of sense.
At least, it started to make sense to me after I took a tour of Yacht Express, the 685-foot flagship of the Dockwise Yacht Transport fleet, and saw how professionally these guys operate.
Earlier this summer, the world’s first purpose-built yacht carrier made its inaugural visit to Newport, Rhode Island, and Dockwise invited members of the media aboard to witness the loading and unloading process. Approaching the ship through the fog, I didn’t grasp its enormity. It wasn’t until a few minutes later, standing on the upper deck, looking over the dock bay where boats were floating in and out like transients at a marina, that I realized the scale of the operation. Wait a minute, I just watched a 49-foot boat pull a U-turn in the belly of a ship!
As colossal an undertaking as the Dockwise process may seem to a first-time observer like me, it’s becoming part of the routine for many sailors. William Borel is project manager for Challenge Twelve, a 12-meter racing campaign based in Antibes, France. When the boat’s owner opted not to sail in the 2009 12 Metre World Championships (Sept. 22 to 27), the crew came together to finance the regatta themselves– and chose Dockwise as the logical means of transporting the boat from France to Newport. On a July morning, Borel hopped aboard KA 10 and, with a skillful touch and an air of insouciance, backed it off the ship and into Narragansett Bay.
Dockwise charges about $35,000 to ship a 40-foot boat from Newport to the Mediterranean. One family I met (they asked not to be named) had used the service to transport their Hylas 49 Insieme from the East Coast to Palma Mallorca, where they spent two years cruising, and then used it again for the return trip across the Atlantic. They were anxious to float off of Yacht Express and on to the continuation of their journey, two more years of cruising along the East Coast. “When you factor in the costs of hiring a crew and food and fuel and wear and tear on the boat, it just makes more sense to do this,” said the owner.
On deck, Yacht Express felt like your average marina on a Tuesday morning– people working on their boats, preparing for big races, setting out on cruises. The real action happens below the surface of the dock bay. To start the unloading and loading process, the ship takes on water until its cargo bay becomes a 27-foot-deep boat basin, the front of the ship open to surrounding water. Departing boats simply untie and sail off; oncoming boats move into their predetermined positions. As the ship rises and water drains from the dock bay, divers position supports beneath the boats. Before the ship departs, the crew welds seafastenings to the deck and straps down its precious cargo.
Not long after our tour concluded, Yacht Express departed Newport for Port Everglades, Florida. Currently, these are the only U.S. ports Dockwise services, but the company has plans to add Long Beach, California, to its list of more than 20 ports worldwide.