You’ve lived your dream. You’ve sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. You’ve cruised in Spain, Italy, and even some of Africa. It’s time to go home.
But how? That’s the question I faced 10 years after Ranger‘s Mediterranean adventure began. (Click here to read “Ranger‘s Refit—and the Real Rewards,” from CW‘s June 2003 issue.)
The options were easy: sail her back, hire a delivery crew, or ship her on a freighter. But the choice, made routinely by hundreds of transatlantic sailors every year, was complicated, and personal.
Driven from Spain by a tax crackdown at the start of Europe’s economic woes, I’d docked Ranger in Tunisia at an upscale marina. She’d been in the water for three years tended by a German expat who regularly started her engine, ran through her gears, and adjusted her lines.
But she was a mess, sirocco sand-blasted, her dodger sun-rotted, her bottom a microbiologists’ encyclopedia. Her flares, EPIRB, and life raft were out of date. Basic systems were in good shape—sails, rigging, even the batteries—but the list of to-dos, no matter which route I took home, would take time and money.
Shipping Her Home
Until the mid-1980s, shipping a yacht on a freighter was a rare, pricey move. But there are now four major companies in the business, rates are competitive though not cheap, and the service, with occasional exceptions, is reliable and safe.
Unique among them, because of its float-on/float-off semi-submersible freighters, is Dockwise Yacht Transport of Florida. The other three—Yacht Path International, Sevenstar Yacht Transport, and Peters and May—rent space on freighters going your way and use cranes and cradles for deck shipment. This year, the four companies will ship some 1,200 to 1,500 sailing yachts all over the world.
Because its schedule seemed as reliable as an Italian train, give or take 14 days, I asked Dockwise for its cheapest option, which turned out to be a ship returning to Florida after delivering luxury motorboats for the Med’s summer season. The price for my 42-year-old boat, valued at $45,000, was a shock: $11,600.
Sailors I interviewed shipped their boats for a number of reasons.
Phillip Yaffa of Miami shipped his Tayana 47, Peregrina, home from Turkey after three years of cruising in the Med. With business demands, he couldn’t afford the time for the long sail back through the Canaries after hurricane season. After pricing a cheaper delivery option, but adding wear and tear, he paid Dockwise $25,000.
Fabian Mueller of Zurich, Switzerland, shipped his 30-foot steel sloop Habichuela back to Europe from Florida in the fall of 2010 because he was out of vacation time and the boat had suffered damage to sails, the autopilot, and sailing instruments on its passage from the Canaries. After gathering bids from Sevenstar and Peters and May, he negotiated the lowest fee, $9,500, from Dockwise, and thought it worth the money. He estimated that he would’ve spent at least $5,000 to repair and ready her to sail home himself. “I didn’t have that many options,” he said. “The day the boat arrived in Genoa, I was very happy.”
Time and tenderness were on the mind of Pascal Oddo when he hired Dockwise to carry Falcon, a 1930 Lawley Boatyard-built Q racing boat from Rhode Island to France just in time for the Les Voiles d’Antibes, a classic-yacht race in the spring of 2012. The 52-foot wood sloop had been restored in 2007 and listed for sale at $495,000.
Sailing the Atlantic was out of the question, and after comparing bids, Oddo chose Dockwise for the convenience.
“The plan was to race her. When we arrived to meet the freighter, we put the sails on, and we were ready to sail off, which was fantastic,” he said by phone from Paris, where he manages a private-equity fund. “We did well. We came in second.”
Eric Korchia, a Miami developer, shipped Maxilana, a Jeanneau 53, on Dockwise after being stranded in Athens, Greece, for more than a month by Yacht Path. At the last minute, he hired a delivery crew to meet the Dockwise freighter in Italy. Dockwise charged him $25,000.
While there was a grin on his face when he saw his $700,000 boat in Florida, Korchia remained livid with Yacht Path, which had promised, but failed, to pick the boat up in Greece. After being threatened by an attorney, Yacht Path returned his $26,000 fee, although not an additional $20,000 that he says he spent on marina and delivery fees.
Yacht Path manager Kevin Cummings blamed unforeseen freighter delays and said that his company kept Korchia informed. The company, started by Cummings and his siblings, whom he describes as “working-class guys” without venture-capital backing, will ship 650 boats this year. It routinely fulfills its promises, and it’s often the cheapest. But it’s the only one of the carriers with complaints—there are four—that are on file at BoatU.S.
Hire a Delivery Crew
Shopping for a delivery captain is a bit like hiring a nanny. Price isn’t as important as experience, reputation, and chemistry. That said, the first thing I wanted to know was how much it would cost to put my baby into the hands of a stranger for a risky couple of months.
My queries produced a gaping array of charges ranging from $4,000 to $14,000. To help me judge, I consulted John LeFevre of The Moorings, who hires delivery captains to ship the company’s charter fleet between the Med and the Caribbean. His average cost for a delivery skipper from Greece to Tortola is $13,250, including airfare and food.
The Moorings’ boats are privately owned catamarans and monohulls that are less than five years old and well equipped for an ocean passage. (See “If You Go It Yourself,” below.) Captains basically get on and go.
As I went over Ranger‘s equipment, I realized how idiosyncratic my 35-foot Allied Seabreeze yawl had been—a one-man boat full of decisions, compromises and, yes, defects, that no one else could be expected to know. There was no manual describing the periodic clunk in the anchor locker, the loose mizzen stays that were OK, or how the autopilot connected through that hole using this pin kept in one of those plastic bags in the middle drawer on the port side by the cabin door that won’t stay latched.
It always took me a week to get to know her when I paid a visit. Her condition made selling her in Europe impossible—especially during the Euro crisis. How could I ask a delivery captain to take her across an ocean?
“I have to know how to fix, identify, and work every single system, even though I’ve never seen it, because my life will depend on it,” said Blaine Parks of Parks Marine Services of Palmetto, Florida. Unlike most delivery crew, he insists that the owner be aboard on a voyage as long as a transatlantic.
Parks charges $250 to $300 a day, plus $150 a day for a mate, an average rate among professional delivery crews. For an ocean crossing, he wants a third mate at $100 a day.
He recommended that I look for captains with multiple transatlantic crossings, experience in the voyage’s ports of call, and a good reputation backed by references and their own insurance.
Gerry and Darby Gragg were rank beginners when they bought So Bella, a Passport 42, in 2000 and began cruising in western Costa Rica. “We took off knowing as little as someone could about cruising and sailing,” Gerry told me in Gaeta, Italy.
After reading a Cruising World spread on the Mediterranean (see “Promise of the Mediterranean,” November 2007), they decided to head there. Yacht Path offered to ship So Bella from Golfito, Costa Rica, to Palma de Mallorca for $34,000. The Graggs chose instead to use Yacht Path to move So Bella to Fort Lauderdale, at a cost of $13,000, in time for Gerry to sail the Atlantic. With their “savings,” they hired a captain and mate from Oceans Captain. Were it not for a transmission failure in Bermuda, the crossing would’ve been cheaper, he said.
“These two men had 15 crossings under their belts. It was essentially an advanced-sailing seminar on my own boat, and it was an experience I’ll always treasure,” he said.
Gragg has decided to ship So Bella back to the United States next year so he can sell her on the East Coast during the summer. Dockwise provided a cheaper quote and a firm shipping window between April 22 and May 6. “To get my boat from Genoa to Fort Lauderdale in 15 days with hopefully little wear and tear for $23,000 is a good value, if one is honest about the indirect expenses of a crossing.”
Sail It Yourself
For the vast majority of transatlantic sailors, sailing home is the only choice. Cruising funds may be running low, but while living aboard, they’ve likely kept the boat in working order. Provisions, dock fees, and a couple of months of their time are the primary costs.
A survey by the World Cruising Club of participants in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers shows that on average, boats spent around $2,500 for provisions and $1,400 for fuel during their three- to four-week crossing from Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, to St. Lucia.
Joining the ARC costs $1,000 or more, but the rally’s care and safety requirements—tougher than ones that independent sailors might choose themselves—are designed to produce successful crossings.
When I took a sober look at Ranger, I estimated that upgrades, crew travel, and food costs would top $7,000. Having done the crossing, I knew that a few thousand dollars more should be in an overdraft account just in case. Clearly, my cheapest alternative was to sail home myself with a couple of volunteer crew.
On March 1, 2012, I flew to Genoa, Italy, bought a reconditioned life raft for $500, and carried it on a ferry to Tunisia. After two weeks of work on Ranger, first mate Wally Wallace and I departed for Sicily. I’d rendezvous with Dockwise in Genoa during the first week of May.
Ultimately, my decision came down to time, money, and a large X factor. Crossing the ocean to Europe in my little old boat was an achievement, a costly, exhausting journey of a lifetime. Ranger and I were now 10 years older. With “transatlantic sailor” inscribed on my heart, I had neither the need nor the desire to sail home.
When my father died, my share of the sale of his house yielded enough to buy a ride. I decided to turn the 1,000-mile sail up the Italian coast into a shared vacation with friends and family, likely my last great offshore adventure aboard Ranger. Having made the decision, I ordered charts for the Keys and the Chesapeake.
Ranger arrived in Fort Lauderdale on May 23 looking like a floating peanut in the vast hold of Dockwise’s Yacht Express. I climbed aboard and motored into a Florida sunrise.
The next morning, at Bahia Mar, the bilge pump died.
If You Go It Yourself
Before setting out on a transatlantic crossing—or on any bluewater adventure, for that matter—a prudent skipper makes sure that the boat is well equipped. The equipment list below is based on recommendations from the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and The Moorings. The gear requirements for the Newport-Bermuda Race and ISAF race recommendations are both other good sources for the gear you’ll need.
• Offshore life raft large enough to carry all crew
• Life jackets with harnesses
• Abandon-ship bag with flares, water, food, and survival tools
• Offshore first-aid kit
• Rescue lines
• Signaling equipment
• Satellite phone or SSB radio
• Automatic Identification System receiver, preferably with transponder
• Electronic tracking device similar to SPOT or to DeLorme’s InReach
• VHF radio
• Handheld VHF
• Navigation lights
• LED flashlights
For the Boat
• Navigation tools and charts
• Sextant and tables
• Depth sounder
• Fog horn
• Radar reflector
• Fire extinguishers (3 of them, all up to date)
• Fire blanket
• Companionway washboards
• Through-hull plugs
• Emergency tiller
• Hacksaw and blades
• Dinghy and oars
• Storm jib and trysail
• Second manual bilge pump
• Sea anchor
Jim Carrier is a CW contributing editor. Ranger now lies on the hard at Glades Boat Storage, west of Lake Okeechobee, Florida. Her to-do list remains a work in progress. This article first appeared in the Hands-On Sailor section of our December 2012 issue.