Dockwise is a Dutch company that operates 15 semi-submersible transport ships. Four of those ships are dedicated to moving cruising boats around the world. The following story will explain how this strange ship works and contains pictures of us helping a friend position his Norseman 447 sailboat in the Dockwise floating hold.
Here is a picture of Free Spirit, a 65' motoryacht, slowly entering the Dockwise hold.
Jim and I helped Eric "park" Indara in the Dockwise hold on April 15. The boarding operation began at 7 AM sharp. Indara had been in Marina La Paz, seven miles from where the Dockwise was anchored in the Pichilinque commercial anchorage outside Bahia La Paz.
We had to leave Marina La Paz at 5:15 AM so we could slowly find out way out the narrow La Paz channel while fighting an incoming 3 knot current all the way.
The La Paz channel winds between sand flats on both sides. The first four miles are along the "Malecon" which is the brightly lit waterfront road and park that follows the channel all the way out to Marina Palmira. The channel snakes around and you can always see four to six red lights in front of the boat. The question is always, "which light is next in the sequence?"
We knew we were looking for a "orange ship with low decks and and high blue stacks anchored near Pichilinque." We approached that ship around 6:30 AM, 32 minutes before sunrise. But, it turned out to be the Baja truck ferry and wasn't planning to pick up any boats for transport to Vancouver. We then motored over to another promising ship but it turned out to be another Baja Ferry.
Six to ten other boats were following us as we wandered from ship to ship. We had been the first boat out the channel and the others assumed we knew where we were going. Finally, Jim, in the better light just before sunrise, found the Dockwise ship, about 3/4 mile to the south inside the Pichilinque anchorage.
The Dockwise Express 12 is run by a Dutch captain with mostly Dutch officers. The Captain came up on VHF channel 17 and began the boat checkin at 6:50 AM. There were 22 boats to be loaded on the Dockwise and he called each one, telling them their position in the loading sequence, their position in the hold, e.g. "port hull, stern to" and any special instructions.
The loading operation was very efficient with all 22 boats were boarded in less than three hours.
Eric, Jim, and I spent an hour on the bridge of the Dockwise, talking with her captain who is also a sailor. He showed us the computer generated drawings of the hold and boat placement. When Eric signed up for transport the Dockwise computer knew exactly what a Norseman 447 looked like and exactly where the supports for the hull and mast needed to be placed. Dockwise has five dedicated boat transport ships and carries thousands of small boats a year all over the world. If the boat being transported is new to Dockwise they call the manufacturer to get the specifications necessary.
The computer drawings showed the captain and the load master exactly where each boat is to be placed in the hold. And I do mean, EXACT! The hold is marked with indicators every foot and the crew places each boat within an inch of the specified location, as shown on the computer drawing. They just keep pushing and shoving until your boat is located where it should be.
As you can see in the photo, the mast of each sail boat is attached to both sides of the Dockwise with heavy 2" straps that prevent any movement.
Each boat owner is responsible for providing sufficient fenders to cushion the hulls of adjacent boats. The individual boats also must supply the lines and attach those lines to the boats next to them.
After all the boats are in the hold the divers swim under the boats and attach the jackstands, which were prepositioned under each boats planned location, to support the hull of each boat.
Once the jackstands are in place the aft end of the hold is sealed off from the sea and the hold is pumped dry. The Dockwise crew then spends a day welding the jackstands to the hold floor and whatever else is necessary to secure the boats in the hold.
You can see in the picture above that the Dockwise ship has lowered itself into the water so the boats can motor into her hold. During our loading the hold contained water that was 13' deep. They can lower themselves further and accept boats with a draft of 20 feet.
You can see in the next picture how much lower the Dockwise vessel could be lowered for greater draft. The 2nd officer told me that they can bring the water level to within two feet of the top of the gray hulls.
Here are a couple more pictures of the loading operation. Half the sailboats had to back into the hold in order to provide separation for the spreaders. Eric was one of the lucky boats that had to do the backing.
Here is what it looks like as we started backing into the hold.
We were instructed to tie up to the power boat whose stern is towards us on the left side of the picture.
This is Free Flight, a Nordhavn 40 from Seattle as she finds her way into the hold early in the loading process. She is supposed to squeeze into the hole between the two sailboats on the right side of the picture.
We were back in La Paz by 10:30 AM and the Dockwise ship will leave La Paz this afternoon, April 16, about 5PM. She will stop in Ensendada to pick up four more boats and will arrive in Vancouver sometime around April 23. The Captain says they make 13.5 knots while at sea.
The cost for a 44 foot boat was about $9,000 (US dollars) plus about $600 cargo insurance. That cost compares very favorably with the cost of trucking a 44' from San Carlos, Sonara Mexico to Seattle. The only thing Eric had to do to prepare Indara for transport was to remove the windvane from the stern and take off the headsail from the forestay.
Trucking a boat north would require a 375 mile cruise to San Carlos and then removal of the rig in San Carlos. The boat would be hauled and placed on a Mexican trailer in San Carlos and then trucked to Tucson where it would be transferred to a US trailer for hauling to Seattle. In June 2004 I received a quote of $7,200 to haul Mirador from San Carlos to Seattle and about $1750 to remove and then reinstall the rig. Dockwise quoted $7,600 plus about $600 insurance premiums to transport Mirador from La Paz to Vancouver in December 2004.
Friends of ours in Australia are shipping their Cape George 32 from Brisbane to Vancouver in July. Their cost will be $8,800 (US dollars) plus $600 cargo insurance.
There was such a positive response from the cruising community in Mexico that Dockwise will make four stops a year in La Paz beginning in January 2005. Two stops will be to drop off southbound boats and two will be to pick up north bound boats. You can contact Dockwise at email@example.com or visit their WEB site at www.yacht-transport.com.
Dockwise makes other stops in Mexico at Lazaro Cardenas (south of Manzanillo on the SW coast), and Ensenada. Dockwise can not pick up a boat at one Mexican port and drop it off at another ('sorta like the US Jones Act). Dockwise makes NO CALLS at any US West Coast ports. The ships agent explained the problem to me.
The US west coast labor unions have very difficult, rigid, and expensive work rules. This Dockwise ship calling at a US west coast port would have to pay $35,000 in union labor fees but would use NO union labor. The small boat handling is done by the owners and the Dockwise crew, the welding is done by the dockwise crew as is the diving. When Dockwise Express 12 leaves Ensenada she will be carrying 26 boat, 18 of which are headed to US homeports. The $35,000 cost of using a US port would have to be passed on to those 18 boats which then starts to make the rate not so competitive with trucking. The agent said that Dockwise will not call on US west coast ports until they reach a labor agreement with them similar to that they have with the US east coast unions.