Say Buddy, Can I Get a Lift?
25 March 2017 | Victoria, B.C., Canada
The first big action in shipping Sequoia to Europe is getting it onto the deck of a freighter. Last Fall we signed a contract with Sevenstar Yacht Transport to move the boat, and at the end of February they identified the ship that would make the first leg of the trip. M/V Merwedegracht is a bulk carrier owned by Spliethoff, the Dutch company that is also the parent of Sevenstar. The freighter took on a cargo below decks in Asia, plus one power boat from Hong Kong, and arrived last Monday in Victoria, B.C. ready to load number of yachts on deck. That was only 5 days later than the original scheduled arrival.
Thanks to the efforts of Dave King and friends, Sequoia made a fast and reasonably uneventful trip up the coast to Port Angeles. With my friend Chip Gardes, I drove up to Port Angeles on Saturday and on Sunday we sailed across to Victoria. Despite 30 knot winds the day before, we were greeted with sunshine, light easterlies, and a massive 8-12 inch chop. So in reality, we motored most of the way, but enjoyed a nice sail in the last hour, 9 knots of wind on the beam. With a clean bottom, Sequoia slid effortlessly along at 4.5-5 knots. Nice!
In Victoria we were assigned a guest moorage at the Causeway Marina, right in front of the historic Empress hotel. Mark Downing met us there after a romantic weekend in the city with his wife, Fern. Now is probably a great time to visit Victoria, as the massive crowds of people and boats that fill the city in the summer were absent.
Our job was to prepare the boat for shipping: remove the sails, dodger and loose deck gear, and make the boat even more secure than it would be for an ocean passage. Because the freighter lifting point was just aft of the mast, we had to set up the running backstays well forward of their normal position so that we could safely remove the standing backstay.
It turned out that we had plenty of time to complete the prep work thanks to 36 hours of accumulated delays in the loading schedule. Although we breakfasted on Sequoia, we managed to find time for great dinners among the many fine restaurants of Victoria. We also took a side trip to Sooke (which we gringos were mispronouncing; it should rhyme with "duke").
There is reportedly a great Provincial Park on the west side of the bay, but due to time constraints we settled for a nice pub lunch so that we could drive back in time for snacks and drinks with our former crew Joe Carr, a Victoria native. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.
Wednesday was a different story, as that was the day of the lift, scheduled for 1400. (As a sidebar, I should explain that we always say "lift;" the alternative is to say "pick up", and the common counterpart to that is "drop off". When dealing with your beloved boat 50 feet in the air, you never use the word "drop". With "lift" you can say "lift on" and "lift off.") About an hour early we motored to Odgen Pt., where the Merwedegracht was moored. It turned out that there was no rush, as the previous lift was going slowly. The boat was a partially complete 68' power cat, which we promptly dubbed the Workinprogress. The skilled crane operator had to reposition it several times to shoehorn it onto the freighter's deck next to the 72' Alumicat that bore Army Corps of Engineers colors.
Lifting Sequoia went amazingly fast. After pulling alongside the freighter, we were held loosely in position by lines thrown from above while the crane moved the slings underneath us. Two divers positioned the slings for a clean lift, then we stepped off onto the C-Tow work-boat that was idling alongside. We watched while Sequoia was lifted to deck level in what seemed like 30 seconds. Once over the freighter's deck and being jockeyed into position I was finally able to start breathing again. The work-boat took us back to the Empress (and Mark's car) and we drove back to Ogden Point.
The reason for the crew's speedy lift became apparent as the weather quickly degenerated. By the time Sequoia was in place, the day's gray skies and moderate breeze had turned into torrential rain and over 30 kn of wind, driving whitecaps well into the Victoria harbor. By the time we got back to Ogden Point., cleared security and signed the freighter's entry log, Sequoia was nestled into a small forest of jack stands, each welded into position on the freighter's deck. I went up and restored the backstay and buttoned the boat up. Did I mention that the boats were snugly packed on the freighter's deck? I boarded Sequoia from the swimstep of the Army cat, and I don't think there was more than 4 inches separating it and the Workinprogress.
All in all, it was a fascinating, if occasionally tense, process. Fingers crossed for a smooth trip down the coast and through the Panama canal, Sequoia should arrive in West Palm Beach about mid-April. It is possible Barbara and I will fly to Florida to meet it and get it to the next leg of transport, but as of now, none of those details can be accurately planned, as the ship for the next leg has yet to be identified. This just reinforces an old cruising maxim of ours: "Schedules make you CRAZY!" Whatever comes will be an adventure.
Thanks to Joe Carr for the photo of Sequoia being lifted onto the Merwedegracht. Check out Joe's video of the lift at the link found at the bottom of the right-hand column of this page.