"I blame Ben Stevens!
A 300 mile passage rolling through 4m waves at 20 knots, through the night, on an unfamiliar boat and with only a complete stranger as crew is not ideal! And I blame Ben.......
But the story started a few years before, when I met Ben at the Southampton Boat Show and he introduced me to the Rodman range - in particular the 1250.
I had recently retired and was half looking for a boat to ship to my holiday home in New Zealand, one that could be a great fishing platform and capable of local cruising. And most importantly could fill my berth that takes a 45’ boat at a squeeze.
While there are obviously boats for sale in New Zealand, choice is limited and engine hours tend to be high on used boats. Ben showed me a used 1250 Fisher Pro that was perfect - in great condition, good spec and ticked all the boxes - but was way more money than I wanted to tie up in a boat. So keep looking........
I soon came across a 1250 Fisher Pro in the Seychelles that was a good deal, but by the time I managed to find a way to ship it to Auckland, the boat had sold to a local buyer. So I put the whole thing on the back burner and enjoyed the boat I already had, until....
Two years later Ben called me to say that he had been offered the same Seychelles boat in part exchange for a new Rodman, and would I still be interested. So we quickly agreed a deal in principle, only for Ben to hit the same snag as myself, discovering that shipping from the Seychelles is more complicated than you would think, and his buyer bought something else.
But that re-energised my interest in a Fisher Pro.
RBS unfortunately had nothing suitable, but a quick search threw up a couple of examples around Europe, I went to see the nearest one in France, agreed a deal, had it surveyed and then within weeks brought it back to Chichester.
The least I could do was give RBS my shopping list of upgrades, fixes and additions in recognition of Ben’s hard work getting me involved in Rodman. And after 40+ years of boating with lots of different examples and brands - I genuinely feel that Ben and his team are the best I have dealt with - friendly, professional, straightforward and knowledgable.
So once the work was complete, it was time to get TARA on it’s way to Auckland.
I had three shipping quotations, all expensive, with pros and cons to all. I could ship on a container rack, with easy port handling etc but very exposed in transit; ship RoRo below deck if I got the height reduced to 4.4m, but with the extra cost of stripping and rebuilding the flybridge and hard top; or use a specialist boat carrier such as Dutch Sevenstar, but accept only limited schedules.
I went with Sevenstar, because their schedule suited, they were competitive on price, but the real winner was that their vessels have their own cranes to load and unload alongside, offering a water to water service. This made a big difference, as the crane charges in Auckland alone were over £3000.
I booked to ship from Southampton - but was warned that it could be Antwerp. So I paid and crossed my fingers that it would be the former.
When the time came, it was Antwerp! Then a few days later it was switched to Southampton. Hooray! Then it was Rotterdam. Then Ijmuiden in Holland. Then Rotterdam. Then Antwerp until back to Ijmuiden. That was the final call.
Booking shipping is an interesting experience for anyone who has been involved in any service industry. The shipper takes no responsibility for sticking to dates, timings, protecting the cargo that you entrust to them or keeping you informed. You have to pay in full in advance, and then if you are delayed or can’t adapt to their changes of dates and location, it’s tough luck.
After the vagaries of loading port, the loading date was then brought forward ten days; but there was bad weather and a worse forecast. My planned single crew member was committed elsewhere and as it was only a day or so before the Southampton Boat Show, most professional boat delivery people were committed. I managed to find someone who could spare the time, but we had never met, so I had to hope we would get on OK. We did.
The forecast was poor - a strong northerly, swinging round to F7 northwesterly, with gales forecast 24hrs later. Far from ideal - but the deadline was fixed, so a night passage plan to Ijmuiden was prepared, so that we hugged the south coast sheltering from the strong north wind, then swept up the Kent coast in a lull before the wind built from the west. We avoided the main shipping lanes, running parallel with some of the notorious Thames estuary sandbanks, then crossing directly into Dutch waters. This route added a few miles to our journey, but meant that the Rotterdam traffic and various wind farms were well off our track. Our departure time was dictated by tidal gates at Chichester and the completion of RBS’s work list - so we set off at 14.30 knowing we were in for a long and lumpy crossing.
The first few hours were flat calm as we kept close inshore out of the wind. We dropped into Eastbourne as it got dark and filled up with fuel and a quick microwave meal, then straight off to get as many miles under our belt, knowing the weather would deteriorate.
I’ve done a reasonable number of night passages, and have always cruised at 10 knots for safety. But today was different - so we agreed to 20knots while conditions allowed, to try to beat the weather front coming. Our watch system was quickly abandoned as it was simply too rough to get any rest, so we kept each other awake as we discussed the constant challenge of some tricky navigation and heavy commercial traffic.
At some point in the night my crew member pointed out that TARA was rated CE category B, limited to waves up to 4m and wind speeds of 40 knots. He then also pointed out that the nearest mid channel weather buoy was reading waves of 3.9m and 32 knots of wind. But the boat felt safe and we were managing to hold 16+ knots, accelerating to 25knots as we came off the top of waves.
It was only when dawn broke that we really saw how big the seas were, but it always felt safe as we rolled into Ijmuiden in poor visibility. Rodman's reputation for rough weather handling is well deserved.
Having managed to beat the worst of the weather, we had time to kill before our loading time slot. Ijmuiden marina was big and barely a quarter full, and on a wild, wet windswept day was pretty unappealing. But after a few hours sleep, a bus ride put us in the heart of Amsterdam and plenty of choice for food, drink and the many other attractions for those that wish.....
Then back on board, we made final preparations for TARA’s 12,000 mile ocean passage, securing what we could, and carefully marking the lifting points with fluorescent tape as instructed, before clearing lines and heading off to the commercial port to come alongside MV Happy Delta on time.
No trouble finding our carrier - this massive bright yellow vessel with enormous cranes at each end made it stand out from the crowd...
We were greeted by the load master - a jovial Dutchman who was amused that we had taken the trouble to mark the lift points so carefully - apparently most people ignore that instruction. Then he introduced us to his eight “minions” - all graduate trainees that were gaining six months on job experience as part of their marine degree course. In their matching yellow overalls and sea boots, they looked the part, until they confided that we were the first boat they had ever loaded!
But the crane operator knew his stuff. When we booked, I had to advise the exact weight, centre of gravity, location of bulkheads etc as well as empty the water tank and arrive with minimal fuel - and I estimated a total weight of 16tonnes. So you can imagine our surprise to see two 500 tonne cranes on board which would hardly be straining under our weight, and the minions told us that they were picking up a super yacht in Genoa that weighed 480 tonnes, so we were more like a dinghy by comparison.
So with strops in place, we were gently lifted to deck height and invited to step on board, then invited to the galley for coffee and cake while the boat was secured. Then we realised that we had struck lucky. The Happy Delta was completely empty and we were the first boat to be loaded. I was originally told that TARA would be carried on deck - and 12,000 miles of sun and salt spray can be hard on the boat - but there we were being lowered into the massive hold, never to see daylight before Auckland, apparently to make room for the 480 tonne super yacht that was to sit on deck above.
So off she went, and the joys of Google meant that I could see Happy Delta’s every move – so it was with some surprise that I saw it divert to Isreal, then head back into the Med towards Turkey, before heading off to other unscheduled ports en route to Australia and New Zealand.
It also explains why every email and document I received from the carrier carried the acronyms AGW, WP and STC. That translates to “All going well”, “Weather permitting” and the most important “Subject to change”.
So late October became late November, with an ETA of November 21st AGW, WP and STC! - which was a bit tight as I had to fly back to the UK on December 5th and left little scope for any further delay or any customs or biosecurity issues.
The last point was my big concern, as a few days before TARA was loaded, New Zealand issued new fumigation rules to control the risk of Stink Bug getting into the country, which could devastate the fruit farming industry. The frustrating fact was that had TARA been loaded at Southampton as originally planned, it would be exempt, as the UK is deemed low risk; but as the loading port was switched to Ijmuiden in Holland at short notice, I needed a fumigation certificate, and no time to get that sorted.
Luckily Sevenstar accepted that this was down to them, but it was still a worry as the papers were full of stories of entire shipments of cars being turned away or locked in quarantine on arrival at Auckland.
My previous experience with New Zealand officialdom had been very positive. Fuss free, straightforward, clear rules to follow and people who know their job and do what they say………….And the good news is that is exactly what happened with TARA. So when November 21st came, all formalities had been dealt with in advance, before the Happy Delta had even docked.
The local agent had provided me with their unloading schedule – eleven boats to discharge and TARA was number three – due for lifting at 11.45am. So with a willing helper, I set off by bus for Auckland with time to spare. Being early, we enjoyed a time wasting coffee, when my phone rang with a call from the local agent. More delays? No….just a call asking me if I could be there earlier as they were running ahead of plan.
On arrival at the port, we were checked in, and a minibus whisked us to the Happy Delta where the agent and crew were waiting. I was invited to climb down into the hold for a quick inspection – all looked as I had left it weeks before with the exception of lots of blue liquid splashes that I suspect was the fumigation liquid – I was even given time to quickly replace two shaft anodes – then it was strops on and off we go.
At 13.4m including the new swim platform, TARA was one of the smallest boats on board, and the crew told me that the biggest problem they faced was that the 500 tonne crane would not sense the weight and pick up TARA too quickly. But yet again the crane operator was really precise and it was a smooth lift from the depths of the hold to the sea, pausing only to let us step aboard and get ready.
After ten weeks at sea, I was unsure how well the batteries would hold up, but both engines started first turn and after a quick wave and a call to Auckland Port control, we were off. TARA had arrived and all in one piece.
First call was to get fuel as I had run the tank right down prior to shipping.
Taking on 1500 litres at 72p per litre felt like being back in the Channel Islands, then we headed for Gulf Harbour, TARA’s new home berth about 15nm north of Auckland, and straight out into 29 knots of wind – in fact as yet I have not had a calm day on board since I bought her!
But we made 20 knots all the way and arrived safely, although the strong wind was blowing across the berth to make my first attempt a bit more challenging. Reversing into my berth was always going to be a tight fit length wise, but fortunately my measurement were good, and the berth was filled with just a foot to spare.
Lots of my neighbours came out to welcome this new addition to Gulf Harbour and inspect the Rodman Brand that most had never heard of. Apart from “why didn’t you buy a boat in New Zealand” a hundred times, the comments were all favourable. And Kiwis know their boats – with the highest percentage of boat owners per capita in the world.
So TARA had come 12,000 miles halfway round the world and had arrived without a blemish or a scratch. But there was still plenty to do.
First job was to clean the oily footprints off the deck. The unloading crew very kindly took off their work boots before walking around securing lines etc., but it would have helped if they wiped their feet! Ingrained into the anti slip decking, it took over six hours of scrubbing with a solvent before it looked clean.
The next job was to obtain an EWOF – an electrical warrant of fitness that confirms the electrical safety of the boat, without which you can’t use the shore power. Suffice it to say that TARA failed – but only because the 240v power sockets were European standard. This is one of those situations where you have to accept that each inspector has different interpretations of the rules – and I needed the certificate more than an argument – so I had to remove all the power sockets and replace with NZ domestic units with a stainless fascia. Rodman could have supplied inserts that would convert to local requirements, but apart from the time it would take, they would not be NZ tested and approved, so would also fail.
So two days later, after a bit of judicious drilling and cutting, and grinding the back of the power sockets with a Dremmel, everything fitted and worked - local sockets, looked great in stainless steel, and most importantly passed the warrant test.
The strong winds persisted, so no fishing, but TARA got a spring clean and is now ready to start catching fish and cruising the local Hauraki Gulf.
But by now it was time to fly back to the UK for Christmas and a few business and family matters to attend to, then we will be back for the New Year and a new venture aboard TARA."