Freighters go to windward much better

I boarded the flight in Auckland bound for Sydney with mixed emotions.  The flight marked the end of our South Pacific adventure, and the beginning of a very different journey.   A little over a month prior to this I could not have imagined that this is what we would be doing at this moment.  It’s not a bad thing, it just kind of made my head spin, when I thought about it, just a bit.  You have  probably read about this in the previous posts, but in a nutshell, Michelle accepted a new job with Lindblad Expeditions and I had just finished packing the boat up for shipment from New Zealand.  She was in Sydney, Australia and I was headed there for a visit then on to Texas to see family and eventually to Vancouver, British Columbia to receive the boat, put it back together and get it to Seattle.  Michelle has touched on her new job, our travels in Australia, so I’ll focus the boat shipment project.

So, in late March when she received the job offer from Lindblad it meant that she would be relocating to Sydney, Australia for about six months.  We scrambled to consider the options for “us” and “the boat”.

Option 1-Sail to Sydney, Australia, find a slip there, liveaboard the boat and eventually ship it back via freighter to Seattle.  This seemed to make the most sense, get “Cheers” across the Tasman Sea and live on it until Michelle was shifted back to Seattle.  It seemed simple enough.  The first concern was that it was getting late in the season for good weather in crossing the Tasman.  The low pressure centers had begun to shift north (due to the fact that it was getting into fall) and these are very fast moving, sometimes ruthless weather systems.  Concern number two came up as I was researching a berth for the boat near North Sydney, where Michelle was going to be working.  Boat slips were very hard to come by and those that were available rang up to the tune of $2,400 Australian per month! This equates to approximately $2,200 U.S. dollars for a hole in the water.  This is about the price of renting a small flat or apartment in Sydney.  Put on top of this that it would cost about an extra $5,000 to ship the boat from here vs. New Zealand, hmm,,, we need a new plan.

Option 2-Sail the boat from New Zealand back to Seattle.  It’s a sailboat, just sail it back, easy yes? Not really.  It’s about 6,000 nautical miles in a straight line from Auckiand, New Zealand to the Seattle region.  Most if not all of this is to windward, which is not the most pleasant point of sail or very simply “it’s the wrong way”.  The other problem with this option is that I’ve lost my crew, (Michelle) to her new position with Lindblad.  We considered hiring someone to sail with me, (most sane sailors will not volunteer for this run) and I really had no desire to single hand on this journey.  The last consideration and a very valid one was the abuse that the boat would suffer during the trip.  A sail or two and some equipment would have to be replaced upon arrival into Seattle.  Ok, not the best plan, other options?

Option 3-Pack the boat up and ship it on a freighter to Seattle.  I had gotten a quote from a company called Taurus Logistics in New Zealand earlier in our journey for shipment from New Zealand to the Pacific Northwest.  I contacted them again to see if the bid was still valid, they said that it was and I sought out other bids to compare.  In the end there were only two companies that could or would handle this type of shipment, Taurus and TNL GAC Pindar.  The bids were competitive, about $20-23,000 US dollars.  This would necessitate that we sail the boat to Tauranga, New Zealand, unstep the mast, strip the decks, strip the mast, secure the boat to a cradle, load it on a ship bound to Vancouver, B.C., put it all back together on the other end and then sail it to Seattle.  More hmmm,,

We considered our options, discussed them at length and in the end decided to go with option 3.  This whole process has been an adventure in itself and this is how it went.

I contacted Taurus and began the process of “booking us in” for passage on freighter from Tauranga bound for Vancouver.  They have a ship departing about every “fortnight” or two weeks on this run but they don’t always have space.  We made a deposit in a New Zealand account to begin the process  and “book” the space.  We wanted to stay in Auckland, pick a weather window and then sail for Tauranga without arriving too early but also to be in line with Michelle’s departure for her training in New York.  Originally we were booked in on a mid-May departure but it turned out that they did not have space so we settled on the next departure which was early June.  Throughout this time period there were papers going back a forth, a trip or two to the bank and a lot of questions about how this was all going to work.  We departed Auckland and made a  beeline for Tauranga.  We made good time with some fair weather and had a mix of sailing and motoring during our trip.  In the end we decided to anchor off of the small community of Whitianga to enjoy our last few days of “cruising”.  This was a great decision and was a nice break from our “flurry” of arrangements.

We arrived into Tauranga, had planned on anchoring out but ended up at an outer berth in the Bridge marina in the harbor.  Tauranga is the biggest shipping port in New Zealand but it is also a beautiful part of the country.  The next day I touched base with the marina and the boatyard, everyone was very helpful.  In the end, Bruce and Lucy Goodchap at the Bridge Marina Travelift boatyard (gotta love that name) were able to answer all of my questions.  They actually were the best source of information throughout this whole process.  Much better than any of the broker representatives and shipping agents, I was still asking them questions once I reached Vancouver.

Michelle and I then began the slow process of decommissioning our home, while still keeping it together enough to liveaboard.  The big project that I needed Michelle’s help for was taking the mast down so me made sure to get that done before she left.  I coordinated with the yard, we picked a time (had to be slack tide due to the currents in the area) and we took care of it.  This required their crane, two of their people and Michelle and I coordinating on the boat.  It’s kind of unnerving to pull a 52’ aluminum pipe, off of the mast step (which is on the keel (bottom of the boat), guide it up through our lovely woodwork down below and then out into the boat yard without causing damage.  It went flawlessly.  I then spent the next few days stripping all of the wire rigging, line and anything else that I could pull off of the mast to get it down to just the mast.  I then wrapped it with bubble wrap and shrink wrap to protect it during the shipment.  Somewhere in here Michelle had to pack up and depart for New York, not knowing when she would be home again.  That’s a tough packing job knowing the it would be spring in New York, then to Australia for the fall and winter with travel to the South Pacific Islands for work.  It was hard to say goodbye but at this point we knew that we would be back together in Australia in a short while.

So, Michelle is off for work and I then finish off the worklist.  All of the new cockpit canvas and poling comes off and goes below, bow pulpit, stanchions and lifelines come off, liferaft, dinghy and outboard come off and go below, radar tower is stripped and secured.  Let’s not forget that all of the batteries must be disconnected and isolated, diesel fuel , gas, water and propane tanks must be emptied and all perishable food must be disposed of. Our lovely home became the ubiquitous U-haul.  I was lucky to have Jim Heumann and Karen Sullivan on board a 24’ sailboat ,”Sockdolager” (they sailed across the Pacific the same time as us) were doing the same thing with their boat and we gave each other a hand.  During this process Jim and Karen helped me get the boat to the yard to get it hauled out.  Shortly after this a local welder came and made a custom cradle for Cheers to be shipped in and I moved ashore for the final preparation for the shipment.  Once the boat was ready, Bruce Goodchap at the yard helped me crane the mast onto the boat, figure out how best to support it and secure it. Then it was time to strap the boat to the cradle with about 10 high load straps and lock it up for the last time in New Zealand.

There were many last minute “surprises” that had to be addressed and a few extra costs that were not originally quoted.  It turns out that each shipping company has different requirements for the shipment.  The “Chengtu” the Chinese freighter that Cheers was going on required that all propane tanks and fire extinguishers be taken off of the boat prior to shipment.  There were also about five forms that they wanted filled out and signed at the last minute.  I also found out that our boat insurance would not cover us for any part of the “shipment” process so we had to pay for an extra “rider” policy but then even this would not cover any personal belongings down below.  They recommended that all personal possessions be removed prior to shipment.  Not happening.  Final payments were made to the New Zealand account for Taurus and a wire transfer was made to their U.S. account, the boat was strapped, stripped and locked, it was time to go.

At this point I departed Tauranga for Sydney to go see Michelle, it’s late May at this point.  She was able to arrange that I accompany her for a ship-check voyage on board the Orion in Australia which was a bonus.  Australia for a little over two weeks with only a few nights in Sydney, on to Texas to visit my sister, her great kids, some time with good friends (one baseball game) and then it was on to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Dealing with the agency in Vancouver was a different story than in New Zealand.  At first it looked like things were going to be a breeze.  When it got down to the week prior to arrival there was last minute paperwork that needed to be rushed and a bond payment of $8,000 that Canadian customs was requiring for the time period that the boat was going to be in the country.  Then at the last minute Canadian customs decided that I didn’t need to post the bond but I’d already scrambled to get the agency the money.  They still have our money and this was coming up on a month ago.  So, I can scramble to get a wire transfer to them but they have to cut a check and mail it to me to get the money back to us, go figure, enough on that.

The “Chengtu” pulled into Vancouver on June 23rd after a stop in LA.  The transfer from the ship to the truck went well, (they wouldn’t let me in the port) and the transfer to the boatyard in North Vancouver went off without a hitch as well.  I took one look at the boat, realized how much I needed to get done in order to get out of there and was suddenly tired.  I got to it nonetheless and the going was slow.  It was sobering to realize that Michelle and I got roughly four times as much done when we worked together as opposed to when I was working by myself.  It took roughly two weeks to put it all back together and I was happy with the way everything went back in place.  North Vancouver was good to me, I found a great local marine store with great character and everything else that I needed but I was happy to get on my way to Seattle.

The weather was great out of Vancouver and I made a stop in Point Roberts, Washington to clear into U.S. waters and have a dinner out.  From there I made a short hop to Lummi Island, Washington to visit our good friend Sharon Grainger.  We had a great dinner at her place with some of her friends, a lovely hike on the island and then dinner aboard Cheers on our last night before I departed for Vendovi Island.  Vendovi Island is a small Island in the San Juan Islands that was once owned by the Fluke family of the “Fluke Meter” company.  Our sailor friends Shawn Breeding and Heather Bransmer are caretaking the island for the summer and I was invited to come for a visit and tie up at their dock for a few nights.  It is a lovely island in a great setting.  What a fine opportunity to catch up with Shawn and Heather, share a few dinners and explore the island. I loved catching up with old friends but it was time to head for Seattle.

I departed early in the morning on July 18th with perfect weather and a great tidal current window.  It was mostly a motorboat ride but I made amazing speed for the day (70 nautical miles in 10 hours). It was hard to steam by Cypress Island, our favorite spot in the San Juan Islands, without Michelle.  I could look off in the distance to the West and pick out a number of spots that held some wonderful memories from our time sailing in these waters.  It was pretty much sunny and calm for the final leg of this journey.

I pulled into Eagle Harbor, Winslow Wharf Marina on Bainbridge Island Washington at about 4 PM.  It was a very quiet afternoon with ferries coming and going, kayakers wandering the harbor and a small amount of other boat traffic.  I eased Cheers into our new home berth, tied up the lines and shut down our good old Perkins diesel.  This truly marked the end of our Pacific journey.  I was happy to be in our new berth, but also sad that this adventure was over and that Michelle was not with me to celebrate.  It has been a great experience that has given us back more wonderful memories than we could have ever wished for. Our next adventure has already begun, but we’ll talk more about that later.

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Posted on July 21, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Adriane and Kevin Latz

    Wow! What a journey. Y’all have inspired the Latz family, and opened the door to all sorts of discussions re the ocean, sail boats, geography, etc with our kids. Thanks and God Bless.

  2. Simone and Tom Young

    Michelle and Mark- the pictures are great! What a life! We travelled with Sharon Grainger on an Alaskan Lindblad trip several years ago. I still have the eagle feather she gave us.
    We have spent our very warm summer sailing lake Michigan. Michelle we haven’t booked our next big trip but you can bet we will be going on the Orion for another adventure with you. Still talking about Vietnam!!!
    Glad the boat is back in Washington safely. Keep us posted on the next chapters of your travels.

  3. A Really enjoyed reading this! Thanks, Mark. I will try to forward this to Murray. Life is good!
    Norm Peters

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