Medea - manuel's new girlfriend
The countdown has begun for the first (and most important) part of our journey south - Manuel has a date with Medea on December 11. No, not the Greek Goddess who was betrayed by Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame), but the vehicle- carrying ship based out of Singapore.
The process of getting our vehicle booked aboard a ship was (and is) a rather complicated affair - part one of this series will focus on the preparations needed to get Manuel aboard a boat, while part two (coming next week) will delve into the documents, delivery and our experience of getting the vehicle into port and onto a ship.
Step 1 - Container or Roll-on/Roll-off?
There are two ways to ship a vehicle to Cartagena from North America - in a container, or Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo). Container shipping is self-explanatory; the cargo is loaded into a container, sealed and then unsealed when the cargo gets to its destination. The containers are large - often two vehicles or a lot of extra personal effects can be shipped with this mode of transportation.
RoRo shipping is a more cost-effective way to ship a vehicle - the owner of the car or truck hands over the keys, and the vehicle is driven into the ship's "belly", secured, and removed the same way. The disadvantages are that no personal effects can go with the vehicle and it is left relatively unsecured on the boat.
We chose the RoRo route, because of the price, and the fact that there are a few more steps (and therefore more time) needed if we were to collect the vehicle from the Container Port in Colombia.
Step 2 - Find a Freight Forwarder who will actually respond to you
A Freight forwarder can book space for your vehicle on the ship, but mostly is responsible for organizing the paperwork with the shipping company, port authority and customs so that your vehicle can be sent to its destination with a minimum of hassle. A freight forwarder is required, so this step can't be bypassed.
Finding a forwarder who will help and answer in a timely manner was not an easy task. I tried at least 6 different companies before finding a "friendly" freight forwarder. Most of these freight forwarders are used to dealing with larger volume, repeat clients, so finding someone who would look after small fries like us was a relief. We settled on Sims, Waters & Associates - Myra was great to deal with and returned my emails promptly.
Step 3 - Find a convenient sailing date, then keep checking the schedule!
Ship schedules are constantly in flux, so check the shipping company website frequently. We had a confirmed booking on another line, and when I went to confirm the date of departure and schedule two weeks ago, the ship and the sailing had disappeared. After a week and a bunch of emails, we learned that the sailing had been canceled and that we had been re-booked on a ship that was due to arrive two weeks after our trip was to begin!
Luckily, we found another line that had a similar schedule from a nearby port, so we changed our booking and are now due to leave on December 11.
Step 4 - Find some help on the back end (Optional)
A lot of overlanders choose to deal with the port authority and customs by themselves when they arrive in Cartagena. The process is not difficult - it just involves a lot of moving around and a boatload of patience (check out this colorful blog post to see what I am talking about). We chose to have someone knowledgeable help us with the process in order to alleviate a bit of the stress, and to provide their expertise if things go sideways. Cue Enlace Caribe, who have received rave reviews from other overlanders. We have corresponded with Luis from Enlace, and he has already proven to be a wealth of knowledge. We look forward to meeting him when we go to pick up Manuel on December 28.
Bob will be dropping the vehicle at the Port of Galveston on December 1 - look for our next post, which will detail his experience with sending Manuel on his way to South America...