Last week Harrison and I had the opportunity to help crew on Estelle, a 56 foot sloop that was going to be loaded on to a ship and transported, rather than sailed, through the Panama Canal and on to Florida. This was quite an interesting experience. We met the owner of Estelle at 6 am at the Marina de La Paz dock and, along with our friend Larry on Rocinante and two other crew, departed for a bay just outside La Paz. While I am always saying there is no wind when we are sailing (or rather motoring), of course this morning there were 15-20 knots and a 3 – 5 foot swell.
Dockwise is a specialized transport company that ships luxury motor yachts (100 foot plus), sailboats of all sizes and specialized boats. It is used to transport boats quickly and safely over long distances and without the wear and tear that otherwise can occur on a boat when traveling over such distances. On this day they already had a huge dredger onboard with a drill bit the size of a house (see the right side of this photo), as well as several motor yachts and a smaller (36 foot) sailboat.
Before we could be loaded, a sailboat that had been transported south from BC had to be unloaded. So, to load and unload boats, the ship is lowered into the water (basically swamping it) so that the cargo area is submerged 7 – 10 feet or more, depending on the boats being loaded. Once the ship is submerged, boats are able to motor in or out. Those going in get strapped to the ship. Once strapped to the ship and before pumping out the water, the Dockwise crew sends divers under water to weld support brackets to the bottom of the ship to support the boats in cradles. The water is then pumped out.
So, with the other sailboat now off the ship, we were ready to motor in. Again, with more wind and swell than we would have liked going into a narrow entrance, our entry required careful maneuvering. With Dockwise crew on catwalks on either side of our boat, we entered the ship, tossed lines to the crew and carefully came up to the fended wall of the ship. The Dockwise crew then strapped our boat to the ship. We were one of four boats that were loaded that day, including another sailboat and two power yachts.
Once Estelle was tied to Dockwise we then climbed up and off our boat, and walked along an approximately one-foot wide catwalk to the front of the ship to disembark. Now this was fun as well! As you see from the pictures, Dockwise was not at a dock so we had to transfer to a tender that would take us back to land. Again, with the swell we had, walking down the ladder into the tender was a challenge. As the swell came up and down, so did the tender (but not the ship)!
An interesting after note: The owner of Estelle thought that his boat was being shipped to Florida. But, once his boat was loaded and due to a Dockwise technicality, the ship would not be going to Florida but instead to the Bahamas. I guess he didn’t get the email notice of the change of plans!
Michael (in Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida, just outside La Paz)