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In Ye Olden Days...
Back in the 1980's, I was a young sales rep for P&O Containers working in the ocean shipping business. One of my clients was Sea Ray Boats. Sea Ray built power boats ranging from small personal watercraft up to yachts.
P&O was amongst a handful of carriers that transported Sea Ray products worldwide. We did it by putting them on flat rack or platform containers. These are just ocean containers without sides or a roof. The boats were invariably "out of gauge", meaning that they stuck out beyond the sides or top of what would be a normal 40 ft. ocean container,which is 40 ft long x 8 ft. wide x 8.5 ft tall. Because of the extra dimensional factor, "OOG" cargo such as these and other motor yachts would ride on the top tier deck of the container ship. Our pricing department would charge a premium for the extra dimensional space by claiming that these loads displaced usable container space.
Operational Costs of Container Transport
The truth of the matter is that the specialty containers these OOG loads required were expensive to lease, and hard to find. Further, once grounded overseas, special equipment often had to be repatriated back to origin without a load, meaning the outbound head load had to support a deadhead cost factor in the base rate. Compounding the logistics was that our arch competitor at the time, Sea-Land, was a prime mover of this kind of cargo and tended to suck the leasing markets dry as a defensive tactic in addition to their large requirements for military cargo. (Those Rats!)
In the North Atlantic trades to Europe as well as to Asia, the pleasure boat market tended to be new boats going for retail sale through dealers. In the Mediterranean however, there was an additional market for large yachts to be relocated seasonally between the Med and the balmy waters of the Caribbean. Wealthy owners would load their boats aboard in Miami or Charleston and then pick them up a week or two later in Algeciras, Genoa or Piraeus. They'd take a commercial flight to Europe and their boat would take a cruise on a bigger sister. Some big yachts transit the Atlantic this way rather than sailing on their own despite the ability to do it.
For the most part, nothing has changed since those days over 20 years ago. Container ships are bigger and faster, but the port operations and the equipment needed to move yachts this way hasn't "really" changed. Until Last Year.
Enter the "Container Yacht"
Bernie Blum is a sailor who likes to sail anywhere he can, anywhere in the world. After being quoted as much as $40,000 dollars to transport his 43 ft sail boat to Scandinavia, he decided that there had to be a better way.
Working with Seattle naval architect Bob Perry, they designed a 39 ft. motor/sail yacht that can fit within the body of a standard 40 ft ocean container. Called the "Far Harbor 39", the boats are built in Oregon at Schooner Creek Boat Works and marketed by Blum's new company "Container Yachts".
The FH 39 has a 600 mile range under power and sails with a full-batten mainsail and a roller furling jib. She has an enclosed cockpit and is well appointed for a vessel with a beam width of only 7.4 ft. She motors at approximately 9 mph but I suspect she sails like a rocket!
Retailing for around $225,000.00 Dollars, the boat fits nicely into an ocean container, which can then be transported worldwide for much more nominal prices. Further, the container is intermodal and can be hauled by truck or by rail virtually anywhere. Left in the container, the boat can be stored wind and weatherproof on the ground or on a chassis.
The target market for container yachts remains with the wealthy. To transport your container yacht to the Med still takes 10 days. Clearing customs, prepping the boat for sail, dealing with hazmat requirements on fuel etc., still is a bit of a hassle. For that reason, if you're not planning on cruising the Med or Caribbean for 3-4 weeks, a charter would probably be a better deal. Still, if you have the time and especially the money, the container yacht is a great way to see the world from the sea.
Missing a "Value Prop" in the container itself?
In reading ContainerYacht.com's marketing material, they make much of the lowered cost of transport, however the value I see is really in safe storage and extended life of the boat by less exposure to the elements. Using a carrier's container reduces the benefit to only lowered cost of transport...but for just a few thousand dollars more, the boats could come with a shipper owned container and then the value translates beyond transport and into appreciation on the life of the boat. Most ocean carriers charge less for carriage of Shipper Owned Equipment (SOE) because there is no requirement for repatriation. (just remember to file a customs declaration at destination for both the boat and the container!) There may also be a savings in Marine Insurance because of greater security of the asset both in the US, in transit and abroad.
Personally, I'd build these boats in South Asia and market them complete with container and free delivery anywhere worldwide. Boat in a Box indeed!
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