Posted by: Lare | July 2, 2010

A DockWise Adventure

Well, it’s time to hear from Lare……

Vicki asked me to write about my experience helping a fellow cruiser yesterday loading his yacht onto a DockWise ship.

DockWise is a shipping company that specializes in transporting boats of all sizes—typically under 200 feet in length—to ports all around the world. Someone may use the service because they prefer not to sail, or motor their craft across an ocean, or in this case, from the west coast of Mexico through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The trip was to take 10 to 15 days.

A couple of days ago Bob from “Estelle” put out a call to the morning radio net looking for volunteer line handlers. The job would entail sailing with him on his boat to a nearby shipping port and helping him safely load his 65 foot sailboat onto a DockWise ship. My friend Michael and his nine-year-old son Harrison from the catamaran “Whatcha Gonna Do” and I were to meet Bob at the marina dock at 6:00am for the trip. The weather conditions lately had been a little rough and unseasonably cold so I decided to wear my foul weather gear for the first time since crossing the border into Mexico, (even though I received some funny looks in the beginning this turned out to be a very good decision). In spite of the conditions we made it in good order to the rendezvous spot where we watched the process begin.

An Early Arrival

At this point the winds picked to 25+ knots and the swell increased to somewhere around 4 to 5 feet. Although not nearly as severe I was reminded of the Deadliest Catch series on television. Not long after we arrived, the DockWise ship started taking on water to lower itself down to a level that allowed boats to float themselves aboard. This is where things started getting exciting.

The opening on the ship through which one must sail seems very large until you add in the swell and higher than normal winds. Bob did an incredible job of navigating this opening with seemingly minimal difficulty. It is obvious he knows his boat well and has a lot of well-honed experience on the water. As soon as we were in, the DockWise hands started calling for lines—not necessarily a difficult thing to accomplish unless the boat lines are too short and the instructions are yelled in Ukrainian. In spite of these challenges we were able eventually to secure the boat. It didn’t take long to realize the value of being first to load because the three boats that came after us had an even tougher time of it.

You can see a small sailboat on the left side. This boat unloaded and we were to go here.....

After some time completing the requisite paperwork we were asked to exit the sailboat as soon as they were able to rig a step ladder for us. This required the Ukrainians to hang the ladder into the hold of the ship and strap it on, (using a single strap). The precariousness of this system left me a little nervous but we all forged ahead.

After climbing to the top of the railing we negotiated a slender walkway littered with tools and lines of all sorts to the debarkation station. I was a little uneasy to note that even though there was a handrail on the ocean side, there was no rail at all on the other side to guard against falling 30 feet to the deck of the ship.

At the gathering point there was much discussion about destination change for the DockWise ship. Apparently, although the ship was originally slated to sail to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the local authorities there wouldn’t allow the ship entry because safety issues—go figure! This meant changing the destination to Freeport, Bahamas for a complete re-fit. It also meant that those people who had already purchase plane tickets to Fort Lauderdale would have to adapt not only to picking up their boat in a new place but changing their float plans accordingly. For the most part the boat owners weren’t too upset about this.

You can see the back of the ship has lowered to allow boats to load.

While we were waiting to debark we watched a dive boat bouncing around in the waves near the ship trying position itself under a boarding ramp hanging from a crane by a 5/8” steel cable. This turned out to be how we would get to back to shore. Remember the large swell and high winds? They had increased markedly. Standing at the top of this ship watching the ladder swing back and forth didn’t instill me with a lot of confidence in our safety. Nonetheless, we walked three at a time, (we were told the ladder wouldn’t hold more), down to the waiting dive boat. With the ladder swinging around and our transport bouncing all about we nearly lost a few in the transition, but sailors are a hardy bunch.

The ride back to the marina was only a little less exciting but a lot wetter, (my foul weather gear really came in handy here). All in all it was a very interesting day and just one more adventure in the life of this cruiser.


  1. Wow! Sounds like You had quite the adventure! We ran into Tom yesterday and he mentioned you would be coming home in August (We’re doing the bottom painting in the yard right now). I decided I better catch up on your blog, and yup! there it was…a mention of traveling to Washington. Yippee! I can’t wait to see you guys. I appreciated your story of the horseback tour of the canyon. I was surprised at how good the horses looked as the ones on the beaches are generally pretty down-trodden. Wish I could have been there with you, taking pictures.

    We have had a full couple of months as always. One of the highlights was Megan and Evan coming home in June. Anna and Tyson drove over, too so all of us girls went wedding dress shopping. We had lots of fun. Anna found a dress, but she didn’t light up and say “This is it!” So, I think we have more shopping in store. Steve, in the meantime, took all the boys to the gun range…and then pizza. They had a great time, too. We hosted a BBQ with some of the kids’ highschool friends and the Virnoche family. Evan’s sister, Katie, is now married and pregnant, so she was the chaperone for the night. The gang had loads of fun eating, drinking, and playing the Wii. 🙂

    The following weekend we took off to Walla Walla to meet up with Anna and Tyson. They drove us to Hell’s Canyon in Idaho where his family lives. His parents are cattle ranchers, so we stayed at their house as they are 30 minutes out of the little town of White Bird and just under an hour to Grangeville. The countryside was beautiful! They took us up to a Look Out and we could see all four states, just by walking in a circle. Much to Tyson’s dismay his Mom arranded a family BBQ on Saturday so we could all meet his grandparents. (He doesn’t like a lot of “fuss.”) They were so fun to talk to and we enjoyed all the stories! I knew I would like Tyson’s folks as they’ve raised such a wonderful young man, I just didn’t anticpate enjoying myself has much as I did!.

    I’m off to San Diego, tonight, for a conference and a visit with Megan and Evan. I’m camping out on their sofa so I can spend as much time as possible with them. The conference has long days, unfortuantely. I look forward to Megan taking me out on the beach and walking in descent weather. I’m a bit tired of the rain we’ve had for the last couple of months.

    When I get back, we’re picking up our 10 year old nephew, Colin and the three of us are heading to the San Juans and Gulf Islands for our annual vacation. Now that the sludge is off the bottom of the boat, we’ll be able to make good time…maybe a 1/4 of a knot faster…ha! ha!

    I can’t wait to hear about your next adventure. Be sure to bring pictures home come August! I will try to be better with the communication…

    Love and hugs, Jeanna

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