Shipping a yacht might feel like 'cheating' to some, but for those on a time-budget, it makes a lot of sense in order to get the most out of your cruising

Though the idea of owning a yacht to many conjures ideas of setting sail to far-flung destinations, it is not always the case that sailing from one idyllic location to another is the best way to get there. Indeed taking on a long, hard slog to a destination can, in some cases, significantly reduce the pleasure owners get from their sailing. On these occasions shipping your yacht may be the best option for sailors.

Planned in advance, shipping your yacht can help maximise your adventure time and open up new cruising areas that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible in a restricted time scale. Meanwhile, for cruisers facing an unexpected change of circumstances or shift in plans, shipping can keep the dream alive by bringing your yacht back to its home port, or moving it on to somewhere you can pick up the adventure in future.

The main itineraries for cruising yacht transport are:
• From northern Europe to the Caribbean, or Caribbean to northern Europe – the most popular route, typically begins from March
• From Australia/New Zealand or Asia (eg Phuket) to Europe or the US. This route typically attracts a relatively small number of sailing yachts.
• From the east coast to west coast of the USA, or return.

These itineraries largely follow seasonal weather patterns, hence the Caribbean to northern Europe route opens before the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. There are more frequent sailings along the US coast, and across Europe – the latter giving the option to ship from Southampton or La Rochelle to Palma, Genoa or the eastern Med without having to negotiate Biscay or the main orca routes.

Who wouldn’t want to maximise their cruising time in St Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean? Photo: Brian Jannsen/Alamy

Caribbean made easy

A full season in the Caribbean, an epic tradewinds transatlantic crossing and no worries about the long passage back – shipping from the Caribbean to Europe is an option for cruisers with limited time and a wish-list of islands to explore.

Sail from the UK or northern Europe in summer and take your time cruising down the west coast of Spain and Portugal. Or choose a track via the Azores, Canary Islands and the Cape Verdes. By late November, cross the Atlantic Ocean westbound – for many cruisers a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This gets you to the Caribbean just before Christmas, giving you a full season to explore. By May your yacht is shipped back to the UK and you fly home: the whole itinerary done in eight months.

If you want to extend your cruising time you can have the boat delivered to the Mediterranean, in time for another summer season. An alternative option is to sail north from the Caribbean to the US east coast before hurricane season, so you can enjoy summer exploring the Intracoastal Waterway before sending your yacht home across the Atlantic.

Key ports: Antigua, Le Marin (Martinique), St Thomas (USVI), Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach.

Photo: Oyster Yachts

Cherry-picking the Pacific

A full circumnavigation takes a long time and not every cruiser can invest three or more years in such an adventure. But you can cherry-pick some of the best destinations: in Year 1 cross the Atlantic and spend the northern winter blissfully in the Caribbean. In March of Year 2, pass through the Panama Canal and make your way either to the Galapagos Islands or to the Marquesas on a Pacific adventure.

After that long passage, you have hundreds of options to choose from and can spend six months meandering from island to island – Bora-Bora, Suwarrow, Tonga, Fiji… By November, cyclone season sets in and it’s time to make the passage to Australia, where you will have time to cruise the east coast and enjoy Sydney or Tasmania in the southern summer.

In March or April of Year 3, fly home while your yacht follows you on a cargo ship. In a little over 2½ years you have had an epic time in the Pacific.

Key ports: Brisbane, Auckland, Papeete.

Stunning Wayag Island in the Raja Ampat district of West Papua – shipping home can avoid a long Indian Ocean passage. Photo: David Bristow

Asian adventure

Many cruisers who visit south-east Asia consider it one of the highlights of their circumnavigation and yearn to spend more time there. After arriving in Australia and New Zealand (following a similar itinerary to itinerary #2 on the previous page), either spend a southern hemisphere summer exploring or take six months to fly back home.

Then in May or June of Year 3 sail north to south-east Asia, with the option to explore Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, or Thailand. The following spring (March or April of Year 4), the boat is picked up in Phuket, Thailand, and brought home
to either the US, Mediterranean or northern Europe.

Shipping from Asia avoids the wear and tear of the long passages across the Indian Ocean (or through the Red Sea) while granting time in a whole new cruising area.

Key ports: Phuket, Hong Kong, Singapore.

Bent Harbour, British Columbia. The Pacific Northwest of the Americas can be reached by shipping your yacht through the Panama Canal. Photo: Tor Johnson

Coast to coast

While taking your yacht through the Panama Canal is a bucket-list adventure for many cruisers, for those wanting more time to explore the US coast, letting a transport ship take the strain is one of the most popular bookings. Transiting the Canal on a coast to coast shipping route not only saves time but can also avoid a lot of upwind sailing if heading north on either the east or west coast.

In spring, ship your yacht west through Panama to a choice of destinations on the west coast, from Mexico all the way up to the Pacific Northwest for impressive summer cruising.

It also opens up options to explore Hawaii, or sail north from Hawaii to Canada or Alaska.

Making the route in reverse, the US east coast has lots to offer with the southern states especially offering delightful sailing weather in winter.

When autumn comes, you can choose to sail south again or over-winter in the north. Another option is to have the yacht transported in spring or autumn by truck across Canada to either the Great Lakes or to Halifax. From there, you can cross the Atlantic in summer for a unique Atlantic loop experience.

Key ports: many options, including Baltimore; Newport, Rhode Island; Halifax; Ensenada, Victoria, British Columbia; Balboa, Panama; Ensenada and La Paz, Mexico.

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