The Transportation Challege

viper 640

The Aspen Viper 640 International Championship was the largest one-design keelboat regatta ever hosted in Bermuda, says event chair Doug De Couto. Getting 42 Vipers to Bermuda and ready to sail, however, was an event in itself.

Beau Otteridge

When buying a one-design sportboat, one may eventually enter another dimension: shipping said boat to other ends of the earth to enter that bucket-something regatta that class leadership cooked up after too many Dark ’n’ Stormies. This phenomenon occurred in the Viper 640 class when Bermuda was selected for its international and North American championship. The question quickly became how to safely get a Viper to Hamilton, Bermuda, without spending a fortune.

For West Coast Viper owners, the solution appeared easy: get a 40-foot container, pack in four Vipers, and Great Sound, here we come.

The Pacific Northwest 505 fleet ships boats to international regattas all the time, so Viper owners looked there for guidance. Paul Von Grey, a local 505 guru, has organized container shipping of 505s from the Port of Seattle to far-flung venues including Australia, Barbados and South Africa. Upbeat as ever, he quickly pointed out that the logistics could get tricky. First, he suggested, one must obtain upfront commitments, sworn in blood oaths, from owners who will never, ever, upon pain of death, back out of the shipping deal. Next, select a world-class freight forwarder, like W.J. Byrnes & Co., in Seattle, to handle the shipping. And remember: The preliminary shipping estimate, with a list of fees as long as LeBron James’ arm, includes items that won’t be quantifiable until after the container arrives at its destination.

The boats must be loaded into the container in five days. After that, demurrage kicks in — that’s rent to have a container sitting around. The rack or tie-down system to hold the boats has to be designed in advance. It’s handy to have a few carpenters at your disposal, as well as nimble climbers to load the boats and gear.

Von Grey shipped five 505s from Seattle to Brisbane, Australia, for $3,545 one way. The round trip cost $7,000, or $1,400 per boat. Shipping to Australia worked out well for Von Grey because the container went from point to point with no transfers. The sub-rosa reality was that Seattle and Brisbane are big container ports. Shipping to the 2013 505 Worlds in Barbados was a different story.

The 505 guys managed to stuff seven 505s into a 40-foot container and ship it to Barbados for $8,045 one way, or a round-trip cost of about $2,298 per boat. On the surface, this was another good deal, unless you actually wanted to sail in the regatta. That container went to Panama, where it was offloaded into a sprawling transshipment container yard. With no one hounding the shipment from the Barbados end, the container missed its designated ship and languished for three weeks until another ship for that route came along. This second ship, itself late, had to queue up for a random opening at the next transshipment yard, Port of Spain. When the ship arrived, it was raining, and of course, containers are not unloaded in the rain in the Caribbean. Finally, the container made it onto a ship to Bridgetown, Barbados, just in time for the last day of the regatta. The boats were never actually unloaded.
viper 640

Stacking Vipers into a container in Bermuda.

Viper Class/Lawrence Crispin

For Left Coast Viper sailors, Bermuda was morphing from hot dream to cold reality. The container couldn’t be transported solely by ship; the freight forwarder found only one shipping line serving Bermuda from the U.S., the Bermuda Container Line, which sails only from East Coast ports. Instead, the container had to go by rail to Florida and then transfer to the container ship to Hamilton. The price, however, wasn’t too bad: One way to Hamilton was $6,828, or $3,414 per boat round trip.
The coup de grâce for the container plan came on the Bermuda end. Viper liaisons had no way to move a container or store it once it arrived in Bermuda. To get around container issues, the class supported transporting Vipers to Bermuda from the East Coast on regularly scheduled roll-on/roll-off (aka ro-ro) ships. A Viper is light and easily moved by one person on its aluminum trailers for simple offloading. The class even provided a $1,000 transportation subsidy for early entrants to ease the cost.

John Leyland, from Vancouver, British Columbia, successfully transported his Viper to Bermuda. The boat was trailered across the U.S. using uShip, an online marketplace for shipping services. ( is to shipping what VRBO is to vacation rentals.) The uShip cost was $1,900 one way. The ro-ro cost $400 outbound and $1,000 back to New Jersey. With the estimated $1,900 drive to Vancouver, shipping for one boat cost about $5,200. A double-stack trailer kit, created by Rondar for factory-supplied trailers, cut the cost of transport by half.

Leyland’s boat arrived one day before Hurricane Nicole struck Bermuda. The local guys transported the Vipers to an upland tennis court. They shared a post-storm photo with Leyland that momentarily darkened his Great Sound sailing dream: A larger boat on a cradle, toppled by the 115 mph gusts, had come to rest just inches from Leyland’s boat. But Leyland is an optimist: “A miss is as good as a mile,” he says.
In selecting Bermuda, the Viper 640 class ensured its move from North American-centric to international status. With a 42-boat starting line, class leaders also achieved the largest one-design keelboat regatta in the history of sailing on the Great Sound.

As for John Leyland, he is still grinning about sailing his Viper in Bermuda — he values that as priceless.

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