Doing A Boat Delivery

Doing a boat delivery is not always the glamorous task many might think it to be.
Someone whom has never done a boat delivery might think that you climb on this gleaming new boat and have a great time going from point A to point B at the expense of the owner of the boat. In reality there is much more to this transaction and the process and results can be far from the expectations. Taking on a boat delivery is very involved and may not be for the inexperienced. To even begin the process, and to meet the legal requirements to be able to be paid for it, you must first be a licensed Captain in the U.S. Other countries may have their own regulations. An agreement with the owner as to daily fees for the Captain and for the number of crew needed to deliver the boat is the first step. Additionally the daily expenses such as fuel, dockage, food for the crew and any other miscellaneous reimbursements need to be finalized well before you step onto the boat. Usually a payment in advance is required from the owner and they will also need to have the Captain added to the vessel’s insurance policy. The owner must also provide a letter of authorization for the Captain to operate the vessel in the absence of the owner. Finally, the logistics and expenses of getting the Captain and crew to the boat and back home again after delivery will all have to be worked out.

Once the formalities are completed, the Captain arrives at the boat and needs to do a thorough inspection of the boat and all of the systems. If the owner can be on board and available when the Captain arrives, the check out will go much smoother and faster, but this is not always possible. The engine needs to be started and run as well as generators and any other mechanical equipment. Electronics will be tested and the Captain needs to become familiar with them. Water pumps and bilge pumps all need to be in working order. You must familiarize yourself with how everything works and where everything needed for the trip is located on the boat. Important items such as thru-hulls and their locations are necessary in case of a failure. The boat must have the appropriate safety gear to meet federal safety requirements such as proper life jackets, flares, fire extinguishers, etc. The vessels running lights, anchor lights and interior lights all need to be in working order.

Our delivery was one of those less than simple jobs, as is often the case with a boat that has had an absentee owner and has been sitting unused for a long period of time. Things began well enough with most of the equipment checking out at the dock. We were fortunate enough to be able to get on the boat a good week before the departure date and begin our inspection. On the day prior to departure, we found two problems that had to be corrected before we could begin the trip. The dripless stuffing box was leaking quite a bit and this is one item that can’t be repaired with the boat in the water. The house battery bank also went completely dead as soon as we disconnected from the dockside power and shut down the battery charger. We made arrangements with both the owner and the local yard to bring the boat in to have it checked and hauled if necessary and, of course, it was necessary. The repair yard at Marsh Harbor Marina was extremely accommodating considering we dropped in and threw the proverbial wrench into their schedule. The complete dripless system needed to be replaced as did the house battery bank which consisted of two 8D batteries. At the same time all of this was going on we were dealing with our own new-to-us boat which was at the same yard to have bottom painting done and some other needed repairs. The needed repairs on the delivery boat would delay us for about a week.

Once repairs were completed we pulled off the dock early in the morning and only made a couple of miles when we realized the alternator was not charging the batteries. So back to the dock we went for a quick check and repair of some wiring. Then once again we were off, but now a few hours behind schedule, which would delay us from getting to our planned anchorage before nightfall. We do not travel the ICW at night. Most owners do not allow this and there may also be problems with insurance if something were to happen. As is our practice, we had a fall back anchorage in case there were delays and we did not make the original destination. At around 5:00 PM that afternoon we turned off the waterway into Church Creek, off the Wadmalaw Sound near the range markers. It is a narrow creek with marshland, a few stands of trees on the banks, very peaceful but really, really buggy.

As the evening progressed, our problems started all over again. The refrigeration, battery charger and several other systems only ran on 120 volts which means the boat must be plugged in at the dock or the generator needs to be running. Since we were at anchor, the generator was started and the 120 volt systems turned on. All seemed to work just fine and the generator ran as advertised. After about and hour and a half we could smell a distinctive odor of fuel and upon inspection of the engine compartment, found the generator spewing diesel fuel all over the compartment. We quickly shut it down and began troubleshooting and cleaning up the mess. It was determined that the fuel lines on the generator fuel filter were the culprit and no amount of tightening would stop the leak. We were only about fifteen miles from a repair yard south of Charleston so our plan was to head there first thing in the morning. Off we went for a good nights sleep, well sort of.

The next morning found us up before sunrise and after a quick breakfast we prepared to get under way. In preparation to get under way we checked the engine fluids before starting it and turned on the instruments and radio. The engine started right up since fortunately it had its own starting battery and it was fully charged. As is our practice, we use two way headsets to communicate between us when hauling or dropping the anchor. As soon as the anchor windlass button was pushed to raise the anchor the entire 12 volt system on the boat went out. No amount of checking would determine where the problem was. The engine was running so we at least we had the capability to motor to the repair yard, but we had no electronics and, in particular, no depth sounder in a very shallow part of the ICW. Here is a perfect example of how important it is to carry paper charts to supplement the electronic chart since the chart plotter was now out. We also carry a hand held GPS as well as a hand held VHF and both came in handy. The fifteen miles to the repair docks at Ross Marine went uneventfully and we arrived without touching bottom. Once again our delivery would be delayed and the yard began troubleshooting the problems even though we messed up their schedule. The yard determined that parts for the generator would have to be ordered and since it was now Friday afternoon they would not arrive until Monday. A cold front was approaching and expected to arrive soon with high winds and lots of rain. Based on all of these issues, we decided to head back to Beaufort and spend the couple of days working on our own boat. We were fortunate to have a couple of friends volunteer to come and pick us up. The couple of days turned into a week before the repairs on the delivery boat were finally completed and the weather was ready to cooperate again.

We used the time to begin moving our stuff from a storage locker we rented after our sailboat was sold, onto the new boat. We did some projects and unpacking and before we knew it, the week had passed and the owner of the delivery boat picked us up and returned us to the yard near Charleston. Our first day back was spent checking the repairs that had been made and re-checking all of the systems once more. We needed to add a few more provisions so decided to spend the night at the dock and get an early start the next morning. The next morning we were up before daybreak, had breakfast, waited for slack current so we could get off the dock and by 7:30AM the boat was again, finally, under way. But the saga was not quite over yet.

Most of the day was sunny, cool and uneventful until about 3:00 in the afternoon when the engine began to surge and act as if it were running out of fuel. A check in the engine compartment showed the gauge on the Racor filter was developing a vacuum which meant the filter was beginning to clog. There is a reserve filter attached but when the valve was switched to the reserve, the problem became worse. The solution meant we would have to stop, shut down the engine and change the filter. We were coming up on the turn off to McClellanville and knew there was a fuel stop and small marina where we might make the repairs IF we could nurse the boat that far. We cashed in some of our good karma and did make the dock at the marina without a complete shut down. While at the docks, the Racor and engine fuel filters were changed and the fuel tank topped off. Once the engine was restarted, the filter gauge was still showing a vacuum so the only possible conclusion was that a clog was either somewhere in the fuel lines between the tank and the filters or in the tank, most likely the pick up tube. A short phone conversation with the owner revealed that the fuel in the tank was well over a year old and most likely needed polishing and possibly the tank cleaned. Without these being done we could most probably look forward to more issues and we still had well over 200 miles to go to get the boat to its destination. There were no services available here and the closest place to have the fuel polished was Georgetown, some 30 miles north. We decided that rather than have someone drive down to us we would try to get the boat to Georgetown and even made arrangements with the local towing service there to bring us in should we not make it all the way. On top of all of this we found a broken fuel fitting on the tank for the return fuel line. Early the next morning we hitched a ride with the manager of the marina to the local hardware store to get a replacement fitting and within a half hour we had the parts, installed them and once again were underway with all of our fingers, toes, arms and everything else crossed. A strong weather front with gale force winds was forecast to arrive early this afternoon. A breakdown could be a problem.

We must live right or some higher power must have really felt sorry for us. The day was calm and warm and other than losing about 500 rpms on the engine, the 30 miles were covered in less than 5 hours. During the trip up we made reservations at a marina in Georgetown, and were given a recommendation for a service to clean the tank and the fuel. With everything confirmed we arrived at the marina docks just as the wind started to pick up and an hour or so before the front arrived and it really became blustery. The owner of the fuel cleaning service came to the boat to put additives in the tank so it could sit overnight and planned to come back the next day to begin the cleaning process. If you ever are in need of this type of service in the Georgetown, South Carolina area, we can highly recommend Clarence at Cherry Universal Diesel. His phone number is 843-833-3998 and he was recommended to us by EVERYONE along our route. We found him to be prompt, very friendly, extremely knowledgeable and just an all around nice guy. But be prepared because Clarence likes to tell stories and he is a lifelong local from the Georgetown area.

We took the time during the repairs to visit the downtown Georgetown area since it has been five years since we visited last. On that visit, many of the downtown shops were closed and the buildings in need of repair. Since then, it is obvious that there has been a serious revitalization going on and the downtown district is thriving. There are many more eateries and shops with few vacancies and the parking spots along the street are full. This is a very positive thing since this is also one of our favorite stops along the waterway. One negative is the derelict boats anchored all over the harbor leaving little space for cruisers. The city and local businesses have added quite a bit more dock space but that does fill up quickly so advance reservations would be a good idea. It is seldom a crew has time for any sightseeing while doing these deliveries. It turned out to be a pleasant diversion from the boats’ many problems. By the afternoon the process of cleaning the fuel and the fuel systems would begin. After a few short but interesting hours all of the fuel in the tanks was cleaned as was the Racor filter and it was clear we would be able to proceed with at least this problem solved. The folks at the Boat Shed marina could not have been friendlier and more accommodating.

The next morning we were under way in a crisp north wind straight out of the direction we needed to go. When we started this move the daily average temperature was in the lower 80’s for a high and the mid 60’s for the low. Our temperatures this week were in the 50’s and 60’s for highs and the 30’s and 40’ for lows. Add to that a 15 to 20 knot wind and the mornings were quite chilly with both of us bundled up in our winter finest. At least the trip between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach was uneventful and we suffered no breakdowns for a change. Still another front is expected sometime on Sunday and if we maintain our pace we will arrive at our destination sometime on Sunday. The anchorages near Myrtle Beach are few for a deep draft boat so this would be another marina stop. We settled for the Myrtle Beach Yacht club since they had room for us. There are a couple of marinas in this basin and it is well protected from wakes on the waterway. As usual it was a pleasant stop with friendly accommodating staff and we had an evening to rest and relax without dealing with repairs. The next morning we prepared to get under way with ice on the docks and all of the canvas on the boat covered in frost.

It did finally warm up during the day and the winds were very light. Our next stop would be one of our favorites, the basin at Carolina Beach. Our trip up the Cape Fear River was on an outgoing tide and at times we barely made 2 knots. It was a slow trip and by the time we reached Snows Cut, the tide was dead low and the water was indeed skinny. But all went well and by 5:30 in the afternoon the hook was down and we settled in for the evening. When the winds are calm here you can hear the surf break on the ocean side and it is soothing to fall asleep. The next morning was a shorter trip but we had several bridges to negotiate and a few of them only open on the hour. Whoever set the bridge schedules between Wrightsville and Surf City gave no consideration for slow moving vessels. It meant a long very hard push for us to make the bridge at Surf City after the Figure 8 swing bridge without delaying our transit by an unnecessary hour. Pushing the boat hard we did make it, but with all of the problems we have had with this boat it was a bit tense. Our final anchorage would be courtesy of the US Marine Corps at Mile Hammock Bay in Camp LeJeune with more than a dozen other cruising boats, but all of them heading south. We made our final destination 30 days after we started the trip and we covered 339 waterway miles, not one of our fastest trips. This was an eventful delivery but not all that unusual. These situations are more common than one might expect and keeping a cool head and a heavy dose of patience goes a long way. If delivering boats might be in your future you need to know both sides of the coin.