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Snowbirds on autopilot


Crewmembers secure straps so the yachts won't shift when the carrier deballasts and the sumbersible refloats.As the carrier’s ballast tanks fill with water, the storage bay submerges. Boats arrive on a staggered schedule for loading, and motor into the bay under their own power. Once all of the boats are loaded, divers fit stanchions or poppets under the hulls and strap the boats in place, securing them to a center catwalk and to swivels on the carrier’s sides. Then the carrier is deballasted, and the bay floats out of the water. After the bay dries, divers weld the stanchions and poppets to the deck. Finally, a marine surveyor inspects the load to make sure it’s secure. “We can’t leave until he gives us the green light,” Souder says. Yacht crewmembers don’t usually accompany boats on this run, except in special circumstances or when a yacht is big enough to require an engineer to tend its systems.

Dockwise, which has one other carrier, the 688-foot Yacht Express, also transports yachts seasonally between New England and the Mediterranean and to Fort Lauderdale, Puerto Rico, Martinique, the Bahamas, Mexico, Costa Rica, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, British Columbia).

The Super Servant 3, fully loaded with its cargo of snowbird yachts, heads south for the winter cruising season.Sportfishing yachts head to Costa Rica and Mexico for winter big-game fishing, cruising boats to Europe, Australia and the Far East. High-tech raceboats travel around the globe for international regattas.

“This has opened up waters globally for [small-boat owners],” Souder says. They can go a lot farther afield now with Dockwise doing the driving.


This story originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.


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