It’s not easy to watch your prized yacht lifted from the water and hanging precariously in the air over the side of a ship. I’d heard stories about slings slipping or parting, but shipping experts assured me that such accidents are relatively rare. Still, a lot of things can go wrong, and no matter how much you prepare, you’re still at the mercy of unfamiliar equipment, people, and languages and varying skill levels. Although the stevedores are careful, they lift mostly containers and other freight that is stowed in the hold, which can take a lot more of a beating than a yacht. And you’d better hope the wind isn’t blowing or there isn’t a big sea running on lift day, as they can affect loading, usually in a bad way.
For us, though, the simplicity of the drive-on method, which we used on the trip home, made it hands-down the better choice. The beauty of Dockwise is that when loading, you have time to shut the boat down in an orderly, methodical manner. Once we had shut the boat down, we were able to close all seacocks and flush the salt water from all of our refrigeration compressors and main-engine raw-water systems (including heat exchangers) and leave them filled with fresh water, effectively killing any organisms that may have been living there. When unloading, we had time to inspect the boat carefully, open all the seacocks, and remove lashings and tape from lids and cabinet doors. Once we had water to the intakes, we could bleed air from the lines and start the genset to incrementally bring electrical items online and make sure they were operating properly. With the deck-load operation, you pretty much have to get away from the ship as soon as you’re launched because the ship’s crew needs to unload the next boat.
Dockwise has been in yacht transport for 20-plus years and in heavy-lift shipping even longer. In recent years its popularity has mushroomed. In 1993, 104 yachts with an average length just under 80 feet used its trans-Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Caribbean service. In 2005 those numbers increased to 1,100 yachts with an average length of 125 feet, and service expanded to Central America, the U.S. West Coast, and New Zealand and Australia. It now has four transport ships that have been converted to carry yachts, and this year it will be launching the first ship built specifically for carrying yachts.
Most drive-on operations can easily provide electric and water, as can some on-deck operations. However, the latter usually require that you ask for them ahead of time and have a crewmember riding aboard. This is no pleasure cruise for ride-alongs, and it’s well known that crew accommodations aboard these ships are usually barebones. My deckhand Tim Mitchell rode the on-deck freight ship from Fort Lauderdale to Gibraltar, staying in a cabin and eating with the ship’s crew. His cuisine consisted of cabbage soup, rice, and some chicken for nearly every meal the entire two weeks of the crossing. Luckily, he got supplemental nourishment from Brier Patch’s stores.
Dockwise has a slightly different take on traveling crew. Crewmembers of vessels more than 80 feet sleep aboard their yachts, but the ship provides regular meals with a planned menu. On the company’s new ship, there will be separate accommodations for your yacht’s crew.
Dockwise has also invested heavily in exhaust scrubbers for its fleet in an attempt to keep the yachts as clean as possible on the voyage. Washing the yachts to remove salt spray and dirt is a standard service. Insurance is also included; on most deck-freight shippers, it’s extra. Dockwise also handles import, export, and customs paperwork, which makes for a smooth transition into and out of port.
Thanks to both kinds of services, fishing far-flung and unspoiled exotic grounds is a real possibility these days, on your time schedule and with your own boat and crew. So the next time you hear about a must-fish destination, don’t hesitate. Pack up your boat and crew, and prepare to catch the fish of a lifetime.
Taking a huge gamble, Brier Patch’s crew set out to Madeira hoping the famed big fish would show up. On our first day of fishing, we managed a blue marlin of more than 850 pounds, which was released by angler-owner Mark O’Brien. Throughout the months of June and July, we fished a total of 267 hours, 11 minutes (or 34 eight-hour days), during which we raised 23 blue marlin, hooked 20, and caught 17 for an impressive 86-percent hook-up ratio. We tagged 13 of those fish and also put pop-up satellite tags in three fish, two of which we measured at better than 800 pounds, and one that had a lower-jaw to fork-of-tail measurement of 12 feet. (Typically it takes an 11-foot measurement for a marlin to weigh 1,000 pounds.) We’re certain the fish beat the mark, but since we released her, we called her 950 pounds in the logbook. Our average fish weighed 663.23 pounds.
This island’s beautiful scenery, its locals’ genuine and generous nature, and its unequalled giant blue marlin fishing have etched this destination forever in our crew’s memory. Madeira is truly the “Garden of the Atlantic.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.