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Apsara's Log: Epilogue part one of two: Apsara floats again!

Date: Mon, 4 Apr 2005 09:38:28 +1000


For the first time since January, Apsara is back in her native environment. Today, after her nine weeks on a Dockwise Yacht Transport ship from Auckland to Toulon, France, I finally met her after my own journey of planes, trains, automobiles, and boats which began in Sydney about a week ago, and included too-brief 48 hours stops in San Fran and New York. Toulon is on the Cote d' Azur/Provence/French Rivera depending on your geographic lexicon, about 50 miles east of Marseilles where I spent last night.

Dockwise Yacht Transport is a pretty cool operation. They operate several 500 – 600 foot ships, each like a pick-up truck with the drivers seat/bridge deck way up front and an open bed in the back. On loading yachts, the "tail gate" is open; the entire ship sinks down so that the top of its "bed" is only two feet above sea level, and the boats motor in. "Boats" maybe an under statement as Apsara's ship was loaded with 8 mega-class yachts, meaning over 100 feet on deck. In this case, they ranged from a 130 foot quadruple-spreader sailboat to a 200 foot motor yacht that was so big it was required to have a Toulon harbor marine pilot aboard just so they could get off. Nonetheless, the simple of definition of a "ship" vs. a "boat", as taught by my father, still holds: a boat is what can go on a ship.

In total, the Ship takes about 25 to 35 boats, some mega and some as small as "Chief Red Cloud", a twenty-year old 28-footer I noticed from Florida. The ship accommodates about four yachts across by nine to ten long, if all were of a 45-65 foot range. But I digress, on loading, scuba divers perform underwater bracing and then weld secure brackets to hold each boat in place, then the water is pumped out and the ship, "Super Servant IV" (no doubt a good name to those uber-wealthy mega-yacht owners), is ready to power off across oceans. Super Servant made three stops en route from Brisbane, Australia to the Med: Auckland, Panama and Ft Lauderdale and took nine weeks.

Here, in Toulon, the unloading process began at noon with a short on-land briefing and by 1:00 pm we 20 owners/crews were on the ship. Our oldest cruising friends from Venezuela, the Equity family of father and 4 sons had two crew aboard and it was great to see them with their Sweden Yachts 39. Super Servant's "bed" was dry (and very rusty) and the owners and crew were able to walk to their boats and use ladders to climb up to them. Some of the large yachts had live aboard crew who traveled with the yachts. (It is unclear whether these crew include the 14,000 mile crossing as earned sea miles for their log books.) In Auckland, we hired a skipper of one of these to wash our boat every other day while at sea to keep Apsara clean of smoke stack soot, dirt, salt water, and rusty metal bits that collect from Super Servant's crew doing on board grinding and painting. This was a very good call.

Apsara was in great health when I arrived with Patrice, a French crewman whom we hired to help me. The beauty of Dockwise is that unlike conventional shipping one does not have to remove the mast of the boat or hoist it using a crane into a cargo hold, nearly everything is ready to go. We waited aboard the anchored ship for three and a half hours when finally they began to sink the ship slowly into the water at 4:00 pm. By 6:00 pm, with the bed flooded, all were finally floating and the scuba crews worked boat to boat removing the bracing. The wind was blowing 25 knots by this time, but since the ship was at anchor we did not have cross winds which would have made unloading dangerous. I felt a bit uncertain at the helm having gone from near-daily operation for the previous 18 months to nothing for the past three. Nonetheless, the engine started on the first go (damn fine machines these Yanmars) and we motored slowly off the ship without incident around 7:30 pm. Shockingly, we managed, without incident, to med moor (back in) the boat to the town quay and I was comfortably ensconced in the local Holiday Inn by 9:00 pm.

Tomorrow I will fit the sails, check all systems and then, the following morning, Wednesday, sail 80 miles east against the wind to Nice. In Nice Nancy and I will sadly put Apsara on the market and move on to the post-Apsara phase of our lives. It was tough to ship Apsara back to Europe after sailing "half a lap" - kind of like making it half way around the monopoly board and being sent home without passing Go or collecting the $200. But the toughest part of this trip has been moving Apsara, even today's 2 miles, without my co-skipper. I am sure I have screwed-up on something that Nancy would have helped avoid. Did I open the engine seacock? Did I check the fuel chest? Did I stock the anchovies, tuna fish packages, and Pringles? In any event, Nanc has other duties and obligations at present. The gist of these and other details will be forth coming in our final Epilogue.

In conclusion, I can only say that both of us miss the simplicity and complexity of our cruising life. We miss all of the wonderful cruising friends we will never forget. But also, for a bit less than 2 years and 18,000 miles, we lived very close to nature, in the rhythms of the moon and sun, in tune with the winds and seas, we got our butts kicked when we got a little cocky, surprised ourselves with what we could achieve when the chips were down, lived a highly self-reliant existence (at least for city-folk MBAs), and mostly learned to trust our lives to one another across a couple of big oceans; I am sure we are totally unprepared for children (whenever that may happen).

Best wishes for a wonderful spring for our land-based friends, and an awesome cruising winter for our cruisers still living their dreams "out there".

The faithful crew of Apsara

PS to all: Our only e-mail addresses these days are: and

PS to fellow cruisers: Please, please add us to your e-mail distribution lists so we can live vicariously – just don't make us too jealous. And, let us know if you know anyone who wants a 110 pound Bruce or dinghy!

s/v Apsara

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