Our dream; our plan has always been to enjoy cruising Southern Star along the US East Coast, through the Bahamas, and to eventually cruise her south, through the Panama Canal and onward through the Pacific and eventually to our home, New Zealand.
As you have journeyed with us through our blog and Facebook posts, you know how much we have enjoyed the journey so far. Last season, our cruise through the Bahamas was interrupted by COVID, as everyone’s life has been changed by this crazy virus.
We are fortunate that our lifestyle on the boat has kept us relatively safe from the disease. We feel for so many that have suffered greatly from it. And the changes in our plans are nothing compared to what so many others have endured.
The state of the new ‘World order,’ due to Covid meant that we had to come to terms with how to continue our lifestyle and we had to make some major decisions, and changes to our plans. Luckily we have learned one important thing about the cruising lifestyle; plans are drawn in the sand at low tide. They will change.
We waited in a beautiful little town in Rhode Island, Wickford which is across the bay from Newport, Rhode Island to wrap up our four year US cruise, to prepare Southern Star for loading onto “Happy Dover.” Happy Dover, Netherlands flagged, is a Heavy Load carrier, a purpose built ship designed to transport yachts on deck. She is 157 meters long and 26 meters beam with 8.3 meter draft. We were viewing her progress on Marine Traffic.
We finally decided to ship Southern Star to New Zealand after months of investigating and checking into the current situation with Covid in the countries we would need to stop through if we sailed her on her own bottom to New Zealand.
During the first part of this year we had planned, as you may remember from past blogs, to travel through the Bahamas, to Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Columbia, and Panama. Our plans last year were to stay in Panama for the 2020 hurricane season.
We changed these plans in steps. While we waited in the Bahamas last March, and April we discussed joining our friends Michael and Katie on KYA, Nordhavn 68 who had booked a transport vessel from Riviera Beach to Australia in April.
This planted the seed, but the departure of that vessel was too soon for us to get our head around it. We did learn with the research that we did, that Southern Star should be welcomed back to the country without any tax issues, e.g. Duty and GST paid in 2006 stays with the boat. We always assumed this, but got a bit of a scare when we actually made inquiries of NZ Customs for the April transport option.
As it turns out, we are still facing NZ customs when Southern Star arrives. It seems the information we received in April was not in fact correct. More updates on this as we progress.
We also talked about selling Southern Star. We made inquiries about what we would have to do to import her into the USA (again, as she was built and delivered to the original owner in Seattle in 2004) The US duty and tax would be due again, as she had been imported into New Zealand. It was forfeited. Plus, we were learned that if she were built in China, the tariffs imposed by President Trump meant a 26.5% tax on the boat. This meant that we could not afford to import her… BUT we looked at the Builders Certificate which states that Southern Star was built in Taiwan, and thus would be subject to 1 ½% tariff. This means that we could afford to import and sell her into the US market
Jenny and I talked about this option and we grew very sad, thinking that the lifestyle would end. NOPE we do not want to end our dream. We had always planned to enjoy Southern Star in New Zealand and in the South Pacific Islands near us there, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia.
So we opted to take her home, either on her bottom or on a transporter. All of these deliberations occurred while we were sitting in Georgetown, Bahamas, in lockdown, in March and April.
During the summer, from the Chesapeake, we continued to monitor the COVID rules for the countries we would need to visit, and wanted to enjoy and explore when we visited them. We would need to go to the Galapagos or to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, to fuel up to make the next stop in French Polynesia. We learned that the Galapagos were difficult and expensive to visit in normal times, with COVID… who knows how much harder?
Mexico was still closed to yachts and to tourists. French Polynesia may let us in for fuel and supplies only, but we would not be allowed to cruise the Tuamotus, or the other islands due to COVID, plus we learned that the cost of diesel fuel was 2-3x the cost of fuel in the USA.
The uncertainty of the accessibility to these islands, which we have to be able to stop and fuel and get supplies, and probably to fix something on the boat, made us very uncomfortable. We would be essentially making a long, long delivery and would not be able to stop and enjoy some of the most beautiful parts of the world. And if things get worse, we may even be refused entry.
What is the point?
We next started building a simple spreadsheet. We put the known costs of getting the boat to New Zealand on the transporter, against the anticipated costs of delivering her on her own bottom. We know she burns .5 gallons per mile, we know the distances we have to travel, we can estimate the cost of fuel, and we have to purchase Bluewater insurance, which seemed to be 4-5 x the cost of insurance we are purchased for the US and the Bahamas. We researched costs of permits and marinas in our potential destinations to reach an approximate cost of the trip over the course of 12 months.
We of course cannot anticipate the costs of repairs or breakdowns. The injector pump on the generator just failed two weeks ago, while here in Rhode Island. I was able to find a new one and get it installed here (shipped from Seattle) for about $1200. It took two weeks. I can only guestimate the cost if this happened in French Polynesia. Shipping 3-4x, taxes on import? Duty free, in transit? It’s hard to get duty free in transit parts through in the Bahamas, let alone Polynesia. How long would it take?
The frustration would be pretty high.
But in the end, we discovered that the cost of sailing Southern Star without considering these repairs if they occurred was close to the same price as shipping her.
In the old world, pre COVID, it would have been worth the cost and potential frustrations of repairs in really remote locations, if we could enjoy visiting a Polynesian village, or diving with sharks in the Tuamotu Islands. With COVID these experiences would not be allowed.
So Jenny and I made the hard decision only a couple of weeks ago, while in Solomons MD, to ship her to New Zealand. We contacted Bill Speedy of Ocean Bridge Freight, in New Zealand. He is the freight broker who assisted KYA. He told us of a yacht transporter owned by Seven Star Shipping that was called the America’s Cup freighter, as it will be transporting superyachts to Auckland for the Americas Cup races being held in New Zealand in March 2021.
The transporter was loading in both Newport Rhode Island and Palm Beach Florida. The timing was ideal for us to run 350 miles north to Newport, rather than the much longer run south to Florida. And as the hurricane season was still very active, we opted to go on to Newport from the Chesapeake.
And so we sat in Wickford, only about 7 miles from where Happy Dover is to anchor and load. We were told we would have 5-7 days notice of load time. As it turned out we had about 3 days notice. We had arranged for a short haul at Hinckley Boat Yard, where they haul us out in the travel lift, and pressure wash the bottom and hold us for a couple of hours. I made sure the through hulls, the keel coolers and the thruster tunnels and all running gear was nice and clean. I changed the anodes. New Zealand has very strict biosecurity requirements, so the bottom must be spotless.
Little did I know, but the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) is a risk to New Zealand and Australia, and the boat must be fumigated to kill these potential hitchhikers. This will happen when the ship stops in Florida before departing US waters.
NZ biosecurity also requires that any opened foodstuffs are removed. Of course our fridges and freezers will be emptied and switched off for the trip, but Jenny spent a morning throwing out all dried goods including flour, pasta, rice, and anything else not in its original packaging. We delivered the best of the remaining food to our friends, Jerry and Dee who were on Grace of Tides in the marina with us. All plastic containers had to be thoroughly washed. There is also a long list of prohibited items to take into NZ, so we had to ensure there are none of these on board. As well as all trash being removed, we disposed of the bags for our central vac and small vacuum cleaner. We had to have our bags packed and loaded into our rental car, prior to departing from our marina to load, for our trip across the US and for the quarantine time in New Zealand.
We stocked up on spares for the boat. I ordered some more items for the generator after the injector pump crapped out, including another stop solenoid switch, having used the spare one on the new pump when the old one would not come off gracefully. As it turned out these items were late, and I had to redirect them on to my mom’s place in Oklahoma.
Our friends on Kya warned us to do all we could to protect Southern Star as there will be a procession of individuals coming on board who don’t respect the “no shoes” policy. So we placed protective sheeting over our carpets. Mike and Katie also recommended we use a paste wax to coat all our external stainless for the trip. We did this the day prior to loading. Our broker told us to prepare and secure our boat as though we were making a long ocean passage in her.
I have started preparing for Southern Star’s arrival in NZ, initiating discussions with insurance brokers, and securing a marina berth for her first month in NZ. I also need to download NZ charts for our on board navigation system, before we loaded Southern Star.
The day before we were to load onto Happy Dover, we went to the Hinckley yard to do the short haul. We had a mix up with the reservation, but they were able to accommodate us. When we went across the bay to the yard, we had to put Southern Star into the travel lift slip in 20 knots of wind. It was pretty stressful. But the haul went well. We took about 4 hours to clean her; the yard pressure washed the hull, blocked her and moved the staps so they could clean under them. I cleaned the coolers, and the props, and the thruster tunnels. And I installed new anodes.
We returned to Wickford and had dinner with Dee and Jerry before spending our last night on Southern Star for at least two months.
Early the next day, we ran over to Happy Dover, where she was anchored, and came alongside her starboard side. She is a huge steel ship, and we were paranoid of scratching Southern Star. All fenders were out.
The crew was excellent, they helped to hold SS off of the hull, and send down the lifting system, which included spreader bars to keep the straps from pulling together against Southern Star’s super structure.
There was a diver ready, and he guided the straps around the stabilizers and rudder and prop.
After lifting and lowering several times, the loadmaster was happy with the balance of SS in the slings, SS started to lift up and out of the water. A tender was alongside the ship, and he was to offload us before we left the water, but the conditions were getting rougher and they decided to lift with us aboard.
It was very strange to be lifted a 100 feet or so off the water, and then to step off onto a rope ladder alongside the ship and climb up onto the deck of the ship.
We watched as Southern Star came aboard Happy Dover, and were very surprised to see that they were lowering her into the hull. She is to be transported below decks. Wow. I guess there’ll be no solar power to her batteries on the voyage. As she was lowered into her place, we had to climb down the rope ladder onto the tender, about 100’ below. I was pretty nervous. But we both made it and the tender took us to New England Boatyard, to drop us off.
We were the only boat loaded that day, due to the weather. Dee and Jerry came over in their rental car and took us back to the marina, where we started the next part of the journey.
We stayed in an airport hotel in Newport that night and took a flight to Florida to see Bob and Mel.
We are due to meet Southern Star in Auckland in December. We need to spend 14 days in Government Sponsored quarantine in New Zealand once we get there on 2nd November.
More to come.
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