Travels with Papillon




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Shipping Papillon

Subtitled "Start Early, be Flexible"

Shipping vehicles to Europe is no big deal.  You can book direct with the shipping lines or you can use a broker who will also act as your agent - for a small fee.  We chose Seabridge International, there are numerous others available.  The advantage is that he knows all the available shipping lines and the procedures to follow, and the paper work to complete.  We felt that we got our money's worth for his small fee.  (Cost to ship is based on cubic size - L x W x H, - for the Winnebago View the cost was $2800 one way.  Included were port costs which can vary greatly.)

Originally we thought we would be shipping from Jacksonville, Florida because it was the closest Ro-Ro port to our home.  (Ro-Ro meaning Roll On-Roll Off, a type of vehicle transport vessel where the vehicles are driven on and off via a large ramp.)  Ro-Ro would be much less expensive than putting Papillon in a container because Papillon would not fit in a standard 10 foot tall container box.  (Custom containers cost at least one leg.)  We also planned to ship the rig to Le Harve, France because it is a convenient port.  In the end we shipped out of the port in Brunswick, Georgia to Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Inexpensive airfares was the first reason ports changed.  Short lead times in predicting shipping dates was the second.

In order to take advantage of inexpensive airline tickets one must book far in advance (usually).  But the shipping lines only give 6 weeks notice as to sailing dates.  Thus you must take the latest schedules and project them into the future.  Not a precise science when the north Atlantic ocean is involved.  Therefore we purchased air tickets to Paris 3 plus months in advance and made our best guess as to the Jacksonville to Le Harve schedule.  When push came to shove, we would have had to wait 8 days in Paris for our ship to arrive, or have Papillon sit dockside for 10 days at the port.  (Having shipped transatlantic before I am aware that dock workers often have sticky fingers.)  Thus we went looking for a better schedule.  The better schedule was a service out of Charleston, South Carolina to Antwerp or Zeebrugge, Belgium.  We really did not like the long drive to Charleston but after awhile we chose that routing.  At that point the broker remembered that the ship also called at Brunswick prior to heading to Europe.  Great, Brunswick was a lot closer to home.

Colonel's Island Terminal - Georgia Ports Authority - Brunswick, Georgia

GoogleEarth coordinates:       31.12524, -81.538914

Prior to shipping you must empty the LPG tank and do other chores to prepare the rig.  At first we believed that we could leave all personal belongings within the rig but there arose much controversy as to whether or not we could.  Seems that there was a difference of opinion.  In the end we decided to crate up our belongings in a forkliftable crate (everything that goes on to a Ro-Ro ship must ro-ro.), and deter any dock workers intentions.  (This included stripping most easily removable electronics and placing them in the crate also.)  Actually the cost of crate shipping and replacement purchasing overseas was about the same, we just decided that the replacement hassle overseas upon arrival was not worth it.

The crating problem almost became a back breaking issue.  Shipping costs rose by a thousand dollars, and could have gone higher without a creative solution from the good folks at Jacksonville Box.  Many vendors were happy to build a custom size crate which met International shipping conventions (documented wood products and correct signage), but that would have required that we load the crate there at their facility and have a common carrier deliver it to dockside.  All doable but the cost was in the hundreds, AND I just did not have a warm fuzzy that the crate would arrive in time to make the sailing.  Jax Box proposed to build a 6 x 3.5 x 3  crate in 6 pieces such that we could transport the parts to the dock and assemble and load the crate ourselves.  Plus they predrilled the holes and loaned us their banding machine.  Everything worked to perfection and we had the box built and loaded within an hour.  (See Building the Box photos).  
In hindsight I would probably not box these items up.  Neither the terminal people nor the ship people that we spoke with thought that we had to do this.  Only an excitable office assistant and the Legal Dept made a big deal about it.  Shipping home I will not use a crate.

The very helpful people at Atlantic Auto Processors within the Terminal were also most kind to us.  (The broker was pleased.  He related some horror stories about other auto shipping terminals.  Guess it is just a southern thing.)  The Terminal was easy to find out in the country and dropping the paperwork off at the shipping company's office in downtown Brunswick was almost effortless.  Brunswick itself is a delightful small town and the office people made us feel welcome and directed us to a very good lunch sandwich place.  Papillon was scheduled to sail March 10th on the vessel Integrity.

These Ro-Ro vessels that ply the world's oceans carry a lot more than what you might imagine.  Autos, trucks, busses, farm and construction equipment, military items, boats and even RV's.  We took a small tour of the terminal on our way out and realized that Papillon would be in good company.  See Terminal Photos.

Curve Ball

Papillon's sailing was booked and he was scheduled to depart Saturday March 10th.  

Papillon was not aboard.

The shipping company reserves the right to move cargo around in order for them to maximize the capabilities of their vessels.  Such was the case that Saturday when they had "tonnage capacity issues".  Papillon was rescheduled for March 17th on the vessel Don Juan.  Surprisingly, they said it would arrive in Zeebrugge on the original scheduled date for delivery - March 29.   Their website, however said that it would arrive and depart on 31 March.  Forearmed we booked a hotel, as well as a campsite, in Brugge for a couple of days just in case.  Papillon's journey was beginning to flit and flutter like a real butterfly sooner than expected.

M/V Don Juan

In the week before the scheduled departure we monitored the ships progress via the company website.  On the 17th the sailing date slipped to the 18th.  Could this mean another delay in due date and pick up?  It didn't really matter.  We had called Zeebrugge to ascertain the pick up procedure and determine if Belgium Custom authorities would be working that Saturday to allow us to go on our way.  Surprise, surprise!  No mister, they work 8 to 4 Monday thru Friday only.  You will be able to pick up your shipment after noon on Monday.  Okay.  We had planned on a few days in Brugge anyway because it is one of the top 2 tourist towns in Belgium.  We were going to spend 3 nights in a campground.  Now it was to be 3 nights in a hotel.  At noon on Monday the 19th the company website reported that the Don Juan had sailed from Brunswick.  At last.

Strike Two!!!

M/V Toronto - sister ship to the Toledo

Our house remained silent until noon on the 21st when our agent called and asked, "How's it goin?"  We replied, "You are about to tell us."  In a nut shell.  "Your crate sailed with the Don Juan, Papillon is still in Georgia.  The reason is that Wallenius Lines are simply overbooked.  The good news is that it will sail, for sure, on the M/V Toledo departing on the 22nd, arriving the 4th of April."  Both Judy and I fell to the floor laughing.  (Not really)  He continued, "the really good news is that we pressured them to make this sailing as they were going to let it slip another week.  We spent a lot of the 20th raising cain with the company."

We thanked Mike most profusely and then considered our options.  Ten days expense of hotels and meals or change the air tickets - but at what cost?

US Airways to the rescue.

Sonja in the Winston-Salem center spent a huge amount of time with us and the net result was:  reschedule a week later without any real additional cost nor penalty.  Whew!  It is now 3PM on the 21st.  What next???


At Last!  From the Company's website.

Track By Booking Number

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Booking Details

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Booking Number: USBAL508136    
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Vessel: TOLEDO Port of origin:
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Voyage: NA709-TDO Port of Destination: ZEEBRUGGE
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This information includes the status, status dates, and location of cargoes during transit with WWL and does not indicate availability of cargoes for delivery.
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Wallenius Wilhelmsen	small arrow Bill of lading number
Wallenius Wilhelmsen small arrow Booking number
Wallenius Wilhelmsen	small arrow Customer reference number
Wallenius Wilhelmsen small arrow Auto cargo
Wallenius Wilhelmsen small arrow RoRo cargo
Wallenius Wilhelmsen small arrow Breakbulk cargo
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Wallenius Wilhelmsen small arrow Printer Friendly Version
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Cargo ID Bill of Lading Number Status Port Time(dd/mm/yyyy hh:mm) Customer Ref. Number
WDXPD944965882777   LOADED ON VESSEL BRUNSWICK, GA 22/03/2007 22:42  

And the M/V Toledo sailed in the early hours of 23 March via Charleston, SC and Bremerhaven, Germany enroute to Zeebrugge.  Scheduled arrival date is April 5, a Thursday.

We shall arrive in Zeebrugge about 1PM on Friday the 6th of April.  Good Friday.  Possibly closed down for the afternoon Friday.  And since Easter Monday is a national holiday in Belgium, we either get the vehicle on Friday afternoon or we have to wait until Tuesday.  Just in case we made hotel reservations that could be cancelled without penalty.  And as you would imagine, rates for the 3 day holiday weekend were higher.

Every day is an adventure!

On the 26th the company website indicated that the scheduled arrival date in Zeebrugge would be Good Friday, April 6, 2007.  On the 30th I contacted our insurance agent in Frankfurt, Germany.  He contacted the shipping line who assured him that the vehicle could be picked up Friday afternoon.  He also agreed to delay the start and extend the termination date of our 6 month policy.  But we have to come and see him in Frankfurt after we arrive for new paperwork.  Okay, not a problem, just one more flutter for Monsieur Papillon.

On April 2nd we received an e-mail from the shipping line confirming the ships arrival as of April 6th, and that we would be able to pick it up that day.  After a little more e-mail back and forth, I gained confidence that we would be able to pick it up that day.  Therefore I canceled the hotel booking and made a campground booking - again.


We left our house at 10:30 AM April 5th in a rented car for the 90 minute drive to West Palm Beach airport.  Car rental shuttle to the terminal, 2 1/2 flight to Philadelphia, very long cart ride to the next gate (Judy has a semi sprained ankle), hour wait on the plane, 7 1/2 flight to Paris.  Shuttle tram to the train station at the airport, high speed train (185 MPH) to Brussels, hour long train to Brugge, Belgium, 20 minute taxi to pier 530 at the Port of Zeebrugge (M/V Toledo tied to the pier!), we have arrived at 2PM local - 22 hours from home.

Greeted well, we first had that sinking feeling as a group gathered and tried to get up to speed with our paperwork.  Phone calls, computer check, conference, Ah Ha, everyone is now on the same page.  Out the window we notice that Toledo is pulling away from the pier and our excitement grows knowing that we will be reunited with our "little boy" shortly.

M/V Toledo to the right.

One More Time

"We are sorry, your motorhome has not been off loaded yet."  We retort in a Panic, "But the vessel is sailing away!!!!!!!!!!"  "No, no, no, that is not true.  We are only repositioning it because we are so crowded here this month.  It will return to the pier tonight after the other ship has cleared away.  We are sorry but there is nothing we can do today."  "But it is Easter weekend, when can we get our vehicle?"  

"It will be unloaded in the morning and I will have Rory come here at noon and get it for you.  And your paperwork is all in order and the motorhome has already been cleared with Customs."  And with that they arranged for a taxi and a hotel room in town (at our expense) and we were on our way.  The Hotel Atlas is a small family run affair one block from the North Sea boardwalk of Zeebrugge and at 4:30 PM we laid down and took a nap.

True to their word

Seeking Papillon

There he is, hiding behind a truck

Break down the crate, load up and

We Are Outta Here

The open roads of Europe

The Narrative                                              Papillon