DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
The Magic Ferry
by Carol Burroughs and Chet Davis
Off the coast of St. Thomas, the wind was blowing 25 with gusts higher, the seas were running 10 to 12 feet in the passes; this had been going on for months. During our three incredible years spent in the Caribbean, the next island had always been in sight, and sometimes waiting for weather had been fun. But now we were trying to get back to Florida before hurricane season.
Still 1,500 miles from home, we wished for a Magic Ferry to pick up our boat and take it home for us. Yeah, we laughed, a Magic Ferry, wishful thinking! Then we heard our friends from S/V Cotorra on the radio saying that they really were shipping their boat home. Another cruising couple, after waiting two weeks in Boqueron, Puerto Rico for decent weather to cross the Mona Passage, had turned back to St. Thomas and made plans to ship their boat, too.
We looked at each other, saying "We're getting too old for this. Do we really want to fight the weather any longer?" We both shook our heads, turned right into St. Thomas and booked our own boat's passage to Fort Lauderdale. There really is a Magic Ferry!
Booking was easy. We dinghied over to Crown Bay Marina, tied up and took a five-minute hike up the hill to the Dockwise Yacht Transport office. It took us about 30 minutes to sign papers, pay and find out all information - no hassles, no complications. For our 40-foot boat in the off-season, the St. Thomas to Fort Lauderdale ride cost US$4,100. We judged this a bargain compared to the long, hard days' sailing, the cost of fuel, provisioning and breakage, and the potential hazards of an extended passage. Consider Cotorra's experience: when they arrived in Fort Lauderdale, ready to take off to sail, their boat started leaking - the entire stuffing box had come loose. What could have been a disaster in the Mona Passage was a minor delay in Fort Lauderdale. This justified the entire cost of shipping for them.
While waiting for our departure date for shipping, instead of anticipating high seas, winds and weather, we sat each night in St. Thomas watching the sunsets and green flashes with toddies in hand. The day before shipping we anchored near the Dockwise ship. They had called us on the radio to let us know where we'd be on the ship so we could put our fenders out and get our lines ready. When it was time to load, we sailed over to the specially designed ship and a man on the bridge signaled us in. Line handlers in orange jackets took our bow and stern lines and guided the boat right into the yachts' area, still floating, as if we were entering a marina slip.
We spent the night on our boat and next morning their dinghy took us to shore (you are not allowed to sail with the ship). Then they sent divers in to block the boats, just like at a boat yard. The water level in the yachts' area was slowly reduced and the boats further secured.
Four days later the ship came into Fort Lauderdale. In our paperwork they had the phone number where we'd be in the States, and called us the day before the ship arrived to tell us exactly when we could come to retrieve our boat.
A little security check getting onto the docks, then we climbed aboard the ship and down lots of stairs to our boat. We took the opportunity to scrape off a few barnacles, then went to check in with the captain in a pleasant air-conditioned room. Back at our boat we watched the flooding process of the yachts' area and the divers breaking down the supports.
Finally they told us to start our engines (if your engine does not start, no problem - they have devices to start them. They are prepared), the line boys were in place and we backed right off the ship and into the wide blue yonder. There had been no hassles, no pay under the tables, and no damage to the 33 boats aboard in this shipment - just wonderful, caring people working with us. We didn't even have to deal with Customs, they did it for us.
The Magic Ferry really has its place for the weary sailor returning to the US from the Caribbean.
For further information on Dockwise Yacht Transport, visit www.yacht-transport.com, or see ad on page 20. In the year 2003 they plan to start service from St. Thomas to Newport, Rhode Island.
Copyright© 2002 Compass Publishing