Tropical Shipping Blues

When we first started talking about buying a new boat, I concocted a little fantasy in my head…. We’d buy a new boat in Grenada and we’d sell Sanitas in Grenada, so we’d put our two boats right next to each other on a dock. We’d simply carry armloads of belongings from one boat to the other, de-cluttering and donating as we went. But when we found our perfect boat in Florida, that little fantasy went “poof”!

So I toyed with the idea of Japanese minimalism. You know, “it’s all just stuff” and “everything is replaceable”  and we would just bring what we could fit into checked luggage. Until Capt Mike loaded just a fraction of his tools into a suitcase and immediately exceeded the 50 pound limit. Sure, everything IS replaceable, but how much did I want to spend to buy everything all over again? It takes A LOT of tools to keep a sailboat running and happy.

So we decided to use Tropical Shipping to ship a “Less Than Container” or LCL load from Grenada to Florida. That’s more difficult than it sounds – everybody wants to ship goods from the USA to Grenada, but who wants to ship things BACK to the land of plenty? Apparently we were lucky. We learned that sometimes people wait weeks or even months for enough containers to fill a ship heading west.  We called Tropical on a Thursday afternoon and learned there was a ship leaving the next week. Great news! Little did we know how much red tape and bureaucracy we were going to fit into that week….

Step 1: Find a container

Apparently, when you are shipping “less than container” loads, you need to bring your own container. Who knew? And for some reason, the shipping companies don’t sell containers. Neither do the hardware stores, boat supply stores, home goods stores… And although you’ll see shipping barrels by the side of the road all over the islands, often doubling as garbage cans, they never have lids, so they are useless to us. Finally, I turned to the internet and found two big blue plastic shipping barrels (WITH lids) on Facebook marketplace for about $20 each and sent Mike out into Friday night traffic to collect them.

Step 2: Paperwork. A lot of paperwork

I naively believe Tropical Shipping would handle all the paperwork as part of the fee we were paying them. Nope! The customer service agent rattled off a list of forms and a deadline – our shipment would need to be delivered to the port in Grenada by 3:00 Tuesday to make the Thursday departure. Oh, and we’d need to hire a local broker to process our customs forms on the Grenada side. AND we’d need to hire a US broker to process things on that side. The deadline was already feeling tight! After getting a few price quotes, we chose Lund & Pullera and they were excellent! Stacy really helped me through the US Customs process. We hired Alana from Phenomenal Brokerage in Grenada who was also very responsive. But all together I probably spent 10 hours on the laptop tracking down forms and trying to figure out how to complete them. In addition to my part-time job as a boat broker, I’m now working as a customs broker, lol. I need to print new business cards.

Step 3: Pack the barrels

A big blue shipping barrel can swallow up a LOT of stuff. So after Mike packed his tools, we still had a lot of space to pack my favorite pots and pans, snorkel gear, clothes, and even some packaged gluten free food. I admit, we hit the point that everybody gets to eventually when moving house – that point when you just start shoving in whatever you can reach, and you’ll worry about whether you really need it or not on the other side. Then we realized our next problem. A full shipping barrel weighs over 400 pounds. So how were we going to get it out of the boat and to the port?

Step 4: Unpack the barrel you just packed

So we took everything out of the barrel, loaded it all into tote bags and shopping bags, made multiple dinghy trips from the boat to shore, and loaded all that stuff into a rental car.

Step 5: Repeat pack and unpack steps for Barrel #2

By this point, I’m pretty sure we’ve touched everything on the boat, and moved it around, at least five times.

Step 6: Keep calling Tropical until they finally break down and let us deliver the barrels

We worked hard all weekend, and by Monday morning we were ready to deliver our barrels to the port in St George’s. And then we got stuck. We couldn’t do anything until Tropical approved our paperwork, assigned us a container scheduled for that ship, and arranged for someone to meet us at the port. We waited… And waited.. and started calling them about every three hours. Nothing happened on Monday. Or on Tuesday morning. Remember we’d been given a 3pm Tuesday deadline? Finally we called Alana at Phenomenal and she called Tropical and finally we could proceed

We hopped in the rental car and drove into downtown St George’s to the Tropical office to get a car pass for the port. The customer service agent asked Mike for a hardcopy form that Alana processed for us. Uh oh. We couldn’t find it. Must have left it back on the boat. So we hopped back in the car and drove like a bat out of hell back to the dinghy dock, plus a long dinghy ride back to the boat, found the form, and did it all again in reverse. Phew! Got our car pass and headed to the port. It’s now 2:30pm.

Step 7: Deliver the barrels to the port

We donned our close-toed shoes and hi-vis shirts and rushed to the port. A very pleasant young man named Kelwin met us there and showed us to an empty container. Capt Mike set to work. Remember how we couldn’t carry a full barrel? That means we showed up at the port with two empty barrels tied to the roof of the car, with the car itself overflowing with all the stuff we hoped to fit inside them. Kelwin helped me carry bag after bag into the extremely hot shipping container while Mike worked his packing magic. Somehow, miraculously, it all fit. We were asked if Alana had “processed the customs form.” I assumed so, but when we called to find out, she said she’d come down to the port now to do it if, and we weren’t allowed to actually make our official delivery until the US Customs agent filed an ISF form but… the computer was down. We made a bunch of calls and I bit my nails, and eventually it all got done. We closed the lids on the barrels, sealed with a lot of duct tape, tipped Kelwin for his help, and left the port around 4:15. I guess we were on-time when you take into account the concept of “Island Time” We went home and as Mike was unpacking his bag, out fell the paperwork that we drove all the way back to the boat to collect. No one had asked for it again. And even as I am writing this week’s later from the US, no one has ever asked for it. Sheesh.

4 thoughts on “Tropical Shipping Blues

  1. OMG, I have no words for this. Good thing you are young!!! I can’t believe you managed to get all that done!! Best of luck…. New boat is beautiful.


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