NEWPORT, R.I. – Own a million-dollar yacht? Want to sail the Mediterranean without the hassle of crossing the Atlantic? More critical: got $200,000 for a one-way ticket?

If so, a Dutch shipping company has a deal for you.

Dockwise Transport uses cargo ships larger than football fields to haul drilling platforms, oil rigs, even an Aegis missile cruiser across the seas. Now it’s generating $45 million annually using those same boats to shuttle high-end yachts between the world’s premier sailing waters for the super-wealthy.

This is yacht-owning made easy, especially for clients more interested in grilling steak on a yacht sun deck than hazarding a difficult trans-Atlantic journey or hassling with traditional cargo haulers.

“This is the most relaxing time,” said Robert Fagenson, 58, the president of a Manhattan investment service firm who spoke aboard his 84-foot Sunseeker. He met his boat in Newport after it arrived on a Dockwise freighter from the Virgin Islands.

While he relaxed on deck, he let his private captain deal with Ukranian sailors shouting instructions as they prepared to unload 37 yachts from the 521-foot cargo ship The Explorer in Newport Harbor.

“It’s true escapism,” Fagenson said.

Newport, a sailing Mecca with palatial seaside mansions built by the Vanderbilts and Astors, is one of two Dockwise stops on the East Coast. The yachts in The Explorer returned there after wintering in the Virgin Islands.

“We call it the snowbirds,” said Clemens van der Werf, president and CEO of Dockwise Yacht Transport, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Instead of putting your boat ashore in Newport” during the winter, “you can use it in the Caribbean.”

Dockwise moved 1,200 yachts around the globe in 2006, according to company officials. The primary route is from the U.S. and Virgin Islands to the Mediterranean, but other stops include waters off northern France, Mexico, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti.

Traditional cargo ships will haul yachts, but they generally need to be small enough to fit inside a shipping container or hauled aboard with cranes. Lifting a multimillion dollar luxury vessel could strain it. An accidental drop would likely destroy it.

Dockwise ships, however, can submerge their decks a few meters below the waterline, allowing yacht owners to steer their boats on and off. Customers see it as relatively risk free.

“There’s always a chance of it dropping,” said Gene McMahon, who prefers Dockwise over potentially cheaper cargo haulers. “This is safer.”

Dockwise sales manager Ann Souder caters to her clients. Her cell phone chirped away while she monitored the unloading in Newport Harbor. One caller dialed from the Virgin Islands. Another customer needed a boat whisked to Cherbourg, France. She’ll even connect yacht owners with local captains to unload their boats from the cargo ship so they don’t have to steer it out themselves.

While DYT serves a luxury market, its cargo boats are hardly luxurious. During trips to the Mediterranean, a skeleton crew can stay aboard the larger yachts, which are connected on deck to drinking and wastewater systems.

A new Chinese-built yacht carrier, scheduled for service this year, will offer customers their own cabins, not to mention a swimming pool, fitness room, a bar and a restaurant.

“We are the premier service, the most well-known transport company,” van der Werf said. “And we also charge the highest price.”

Pricetags aren’t a major obstacle for Dockwise clientele. A private captain estimated the first six of 37 yachts unloaded in Newport were worth a conservative $13 million.

Fagenson said he paid around $45,000 to transport his boat from the Virgin Islands. He considers it a good deal.

Running his 84-foot Sunseeker between the Caribbean and New York could take two weeks, he said. The bill for diesel, food, docking fees and extra crew members could hit $60,000, especially if the boat needs maintenance or repair work at the end of the journey.

“This now becomes an economical solution,” he said.

Charter firms use Dockwise’s fleet because the cargo boats deliver yachts on time, even in rough water, and undamaged.

“If you’re a charterer, right, you want to make sure the moment you arrive you’re in business,” van der Werf said. “Even an owner, if you’re a busy man, these guys have busy schedules. They plan these vacations with family and friends and they want their yacht to be there.”

On the Net:

Dockwise Yacht Transport:

AP-ES-05-19-07 1258EDT

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