RO/RO from Guadeloupe
I had wanted to move Wanda with RO/RO, as that was a process I was familiar with. Also the initial quotes were fairly good. Sint Maarten was not equipped with RO/RO dock facilities however, the closest facility was in Guadeloupe. If I could get Wanda to Guadeloupe there was a reasonable rate to ship to Le Havre via RO/RO.
I spent about three weeks trying to find inter-island carriers. Guadeloupe was roughly 85 miles away, it seemed like a short distance in the scheme of things. I briefly considered having her skippered there, but given the amount of work required to make Wanda seaworthy that wouldn’t be an option. I also called every company who advertised as towing/salvage but just couldn’t find anyone with a practical solution to moving Wanda that 85 miles. Eventually I had to give up on this idea. Under normal circumstances sailing Wanda 85 miles would have been trivial, but with leaky fuel tanks, rotten sails, no nav gear, no batteries and rat mauled wiring there were way too many unknowns.
Flat-rack shipping to Tilbury
My next option was to email all the carriers to see if they supported flat-rack shipping. Finally I received a response from a carrier that could actually collect from Sint Maarten and deliver to Tilbury, which was just outside of London. And the price was 50% of the quote for RO/RO! Things were starting to look up.
The shipping component is just part of the overall process; there are many ducks to line up to ship a boat. First, you need a custom cradle built, you need to have the boat delivered to the dock for loading, you need customs exit clearance, mast removal and packing, and then finally you can start looking at booking a sailing schedule. Organising these finer points from abroad started to prove difficult.
I was a little thrown when the carrier asked me for technical details, such as the centre of gravity. Apparently this was needed for the load master to safely lift and secure the boat to the flat rack. Fortunately the Hallberg Rassy website has plenty of good information, and I was able to provide this.
Help is on its way
It soon became apparent that the carrier would only really be able to provide the shipping service itself; they did not have contacts on the ground there to organise cradles, road transport etc. As much as I wanted to keep costs down it was proving to be too difficult for me to orchestrate the entire process from the UK. Therefore I approached larger shipping companies and asked if they would be able to coordinate and complete the end to end process, including customs import into the UK.
I found a group who was willing to do this for me. By working with local handlers they were able to provide a cradle (built in the UK and shipped out to the Caribbean) , organise transport from the yard to the dock, oversee the lift onto flatrack, oversee the load of the flatrack onto the container ship deck, and organise all customs clearance. I now had a quote for a complete point to point delivery, and so could book into the next available departure. The good news was that departures were weekly also, and the sailing time was only three weeks.
By the time the whole operation was put together that attractive quote for transport accounted for only 40% of the entire cost. Therefore my advice to anyone considering importing a yacht is to be mindful that there are many extras; the actual shipping freight component is only a fraction of the overall cost!