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Truck It!

Maybe it's because I spent my early boating life in a warm climate that I've never bought into the idea of hauling my boat out of the water, shrink-wrapping her and leaving her up on the hard for six months. It wasn't the expense that bothered me, nor was it the hassle of applying, removing, and discarding all that glorified Saran Wrap. More than anything, it was that the whole exercise seemed like such a darn waste of valuable boating time. Not only was my boat on land when she should have been in the water, but I couldn't even work on her because it was so damn cold inside that polyvinyl cocoon.

So every year I'd try an alternative plan. First I was going to run the boat south. (This was back when diesel was two bucks a gallon.) I picked out a marina in South Carolina, arranged for friends to act as crew, and blocked out the necessary time off from the office. But it never happened. Ultimately I just couldn't figure how to stay away from work and other commitments for ten days, which is what I figured the ol' Ava T. needed, given her modest cruising speed and the delays imposed by weather, sightseeing, and such.

The next year I figured I'd try the opposite tack: head north to Brewerton, New York, where Winter Harbor offers heated indoor storage and enough light and power to make it easy to work on your boat. Problem was, because of the early winters up there and what that can mean for the waterways leading to Brewerton, you have to get your act together pretty early in the fall—like during boat-show season—which I couldn't do. And then there was the prospect of trying to fly in and out of Rochester, the nearest (and one of America's snowiest) airport.

My next idea was indoor storage in Connecticut, near where I dock my boat. It seemed a perfect solution, except that when I finally went to look at the space, it turned out to be a run-down, unheated ex-factory with almost no interior lighting and anemic power. Plus I'd have been required to pay them to work on my boat in addition to the storage fee.

Which brings me to the winter of 2007-2008. I had returned to my belief that heading south was the best idea, but the prospect of getting the time off to do the trip had not improved. Hiring a captain was an option, but I couldn't find one I either trusted or could afford, plus there was all that wear and tear on the boat and the cost of fuel. And then I hit on it: Why not have the Ava T. trucked south? Some quick research determined that the cost would be about the same as having my boat hauled, power-washed, blocked, shrink-wrapped, and relaunched in the spring. And once the boat was south, I could fly down and both work on and use her! I chose as my wintering quarters Oriental, North Carolina, where the Neuse River empties into Pamlico Sound—far enough south to be considerably warmer yet only about an hour away by air.

I began contacting boat haulers for estimates; most have Web sites where you can input your boat info and destination and get back a quote via e-mail. I also found a site called Uship.com, a kind of e-Bay for truckers, which distributes your requirements to a network of trucking companies, seven of which responded with quotes. I was about to take one when I happened to look at the inside back cover of the October PMY, where there was an ad for American Yacht Transport (AYT) showing a gleaming yellow truck. As I read the copy, something struck my eye: "Every rig is outfitted with shrink-wrap equipment. Only using tough twelve-mil-thickness film, we guarantee the plastic protection will remain intact during every boat transport." No other hauler had even offered shrink-wrapping, and considering what can happen to a boat traveling 60 mph down an interstate, I was intrigued.

Like other transporters, AYT has a Web site that lets you fill out a questionnaire and get a quote, usually within 48 hours. Or you can call a toll-free number and get a quote instantly. Either way you'll probably end up connected to Jeff Nowitzke, AYT's manager. He's in AYT's "main office," which happens to be that sparkling yellow Freightliner Coronado tractor, and is reachable via either his cellphone or onboard laptop. AYT actually has three such vehicles connected to three 23-foot-but-expandable-to-73-foot Waltron trailers that can handle most any boat—sail or power—to about 70 feet.

Pricing is formulaic: the size of your boat times the distance to your destination, adjusted for the cost of fuel. AYT gives you a fairly accurate estimate, but the final tab isn't tallied until your boat actually reaches her destination. That's because the price depends on each vessel's exact dimensions, which determine things like the route, whether the rudders and/or props need to be removed, and whether a pilot car is needed. Generally AYT can handle boats with beams to 16 feet. Boats headed out west can be roughly 16 feet tall, while those trucked up and down the eastern seaboard can typically not exceed 13'6" in height.

But regardless of where you get your estimate, there's one more factor to consider: experience. Hauling boats is not like hauling hogs. Nowitzke, who works with his wife Jerina, has been transporting boats for nearly 20 years and oversize loads for 31. It showed. The trailer has a dizzying array of levers and pads, but Jeff just backed the Waltron under the Ava T. in the TraveLift, took a couple of quick measurements, eyeballed the setup, and told the lift operator to lower away. The whole thing was frankly anticlimactic; after maybe 20 minutes, the Ava T. was sitting snugly on the trailer.

Not so quick was the shrink-wrapping. Jeff spent a good two hours doing my boat, and when he was done, she looked more like a Christmas present than something headed to a boat yard. Of course, he had to do a good job, considering the virtual gale she would have to endure as she made her way south over the interstate.

This shrink-wrap job certainly did that. The big yellow rig pulled out of the boatyard in Stamford, Connecticut, late on a Tuesday and showed up at Sailcraft Services in Oriental at noon on the following Friday, right on time. (All AYT trips are nonstop and involve no change of drivers or tractors.) The shrink-wrap was bug-spattered and stained with road grime but intact—not a rip or tear. In fact, the wrap was so solid, it took me a couple of hours to remove it. (Removal is not included in the price.) Once that was done, it was an easy matter to slip the TraveLift straps under my boat and lift her off the trailer. Two hours after Nowitzke and his Freightliner showed up, I was boating. No cleanup, no dewinterizing.

I'd planned to run my boat back to Connecticut in the spring on her own bottom, but at the last minute my damn schedule and the escalating cost of diesel conspired to change my mind. So I called Nowitzke, and as I write this, the Ava T. is back on the road again. As you might suspect, the fuel costs have hammered AYT, too. The trip that ran me about $3,250 (plus $750 for shrink-wrapping) back in November will now cost me closer to $4,000 (and no doubt more by the time you read this), nothing compared to what the Ava T.'s fuel bill would have been if I had gone the water route. Indeed, now more than ever, trucking makes practical—and economic—sense. Just make sure you pick the right hauler.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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