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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

US2UK – Transporting Salt & Pepper (Tow Vehicle & Travel Trailer)

Please note that the information provided here are the steps we took to bring our vehicle and trailer over for a visit.  If you are intending to remain in the U.K. or Europe, there will undoubtedly be more items on your checklist.  But to bring a vehicle over temporarily, it is quite simple.  Also, this posting does not cover the steps we took to get Salt’s systems to work in the U.K. and Europe – that will be coming soon (or soon after we get over there and figure it all out.)

When it comes down to it, there are very few items that need to be done in order to transport your vehicle and trailer to the UK.  (But then again, maybe I think this because Alan has done the lion’s share of the work.)  But timing is very important, so start the process early.

First, you should get comfortable with the Roll on/Roll off (RORO) type of transportation.  RORO requires that someone drive your vehicle and trailer onto the vessel where it is strapped down but not put in a cargo container.  Given our love for the Salt & Pepper, we were not thrilled about the prospect of having someone driving them on and off (and on and off – there will likely be at least one vessel change in the journey) but sometimes you simply have no choice.  Once you are comfortable with that part, set about hiring a freight forwarder.

For the freight forwarder, Alan received bids from five different firms, two of which came via, a freight forwarding bidding site.  A couple of items to look for:  Do they include Marine Insurance in your bid?  Do they provide agents on each end of the trip to guide you through customs and the export/import requirements?  Being new to this, we also wanted someone with whom it was easy to communicate—not only language-wise but also the method of communication (email, telephone, etc.)  We opted for a firm based in the U.K. (Hill Shipping), they were not the cheapest nor the most expensive, but we put a premium on having the firm located in the country where we would be passing through customs (figuring this would be the trickiest, and most difficult set of requirements to understand, we wanted to be able to rely on local knowledge.)

Once the selection was made the lists began anew:  News to us was that we could not pack anything inside of Salt (we had asked this to many of the forwarders before and the answers varied from “sure as long as it is strapped down” to “no.”  Hill’s answer was closer to “no.”)  Basically, both vehicles need to be able to be opened at will by a customs agent, which is understandable.  The risk of theft is, apparently, high on the open seas so the shipping companies make it a point of stating that they will not accept anything packed inside either vehicle.  (This left us with a ton of checked baggage, but that is yet another posting.)  And to top it off, marine insurance will not cover theft.  None the less, when the final packing came we did leave some items inside of Salt:  Dishes, pots, pans and linens; but all items that we would not be heartbroken to see stolen.

Also not allowed onto the vessel:  LP Tanks unless they have been purged and certified (costly to have performed at $50-$100/tank, so we opted to just buy new ones when we arrive in the U.K.) and no more than a quarter of a tank of gas in the tow vehicle.

We had to ship the Pepper’s title (actual title) over to the freight forwarder who will apparently return it to us on the other end (Salt’s title was not required as it is not considered a moving vehicle.)  Speaking of the other end, you must have secured international vehicle insurance for both vehicles prior to driving them away in the U.K.   We selected THUM Insurance as an agent for this, they are located in the U.S. and can provide the needed coverage and the “green card” required for driving overseas.

As I mentioned before, timing is the biggest concern.  These RORO vessels do not leave every day nor even every week.  From Galveston, they seemed to leave once a month.  Indeed, all the bids we received mentioned the same sailing date out of Galveston so clearly the forwarders are all using the same vessel.  The actual shipping date is likely to vary by a few days, but you still need to have your vehicles at the dock up to ten days prior to loading (the freight forwarder will give you the exact date.)  Couple these ten days with two more port stops, a two week crossing, a change of vessel in Europe and it quickly adds up to over six weeks before you will see your rig again.  That is hard to take.  So plan ahead!  Missing one boat means adding another four weeks to your itinerary.

After the weeks and weeks of preparation, the actual dropping of Salt & Pepper was anticlimactic (if you leave out the heartache and indigestion.)  We were given driving directions to the Port and had to be escorted onto the dock by the local agent.  He drove us to the parking area where we removed the license plates (easily stolen so it is highly recommended to remove them before loading) unplugged Salt from the Pepper (but left them hitched), took a few pictures, received two flimsy pieces of paper in exchange for our beloved rig and walked away. 

It will really be something when we see them arrive in Southampton!