The Black Box Called Commissioning
We wanted to share what we learned in La Rochelle about commissioning in France, which trying to comprehend is as elusive as trying to photograph a unicorn. For context, we live in California but would like to cast off from France and start in the Med. Considering all the delivery options, and based on our plans, we are leaning towards taking delivery there locally - and it is helpful that my husband Stephane speaks fluent French as he was born and raised there.
Our broker will be managing the planning and operations for our boat working with the local teams on the ground from Uchimata Sailing as the primary commissioning agent for FP boats. Our broker works directly with them to make sure ex-factory delivery and commissioning takes place. The Uchimata team has a system to track all planned deliveries and they are in regular contact with the factory.
A hull number is assigned that everything else gets tracked by, and getting a hull number is when all the fun really starts for any new boat owner. Uchimata is responsible for the post-factory installed items and any customization that would otherwise take place in the US if we were to be taking delivery there. Uchimata plays a critical role, which we knew going in but may not have fully appreciated until we got there. They are experience in many different areas and extremely warm and friendly. We understand the commissioning process to take at a minimum two weeks.
As you can imagine, the volume of FP deliveries out of La Rochelle has increased, not just for our broker but for other FP brokers as well. Since Uchimata commissions for multiple brokers we see potential challenges we’ll have to navigate. Uchimata is in the process of scaling their business to handle the surge of work. They do appear to be streamlining their current workflow and hiring more people, but they are still ramping up. Also, while they have been commissioning for years, each owner has unique requests which they may not have fully made repeatable yet so they will need time to figure some things out with the broker. It might also be the first time they implement a request on a new FP model and it potentially has some implications on the installation.
They are a smart and creative team but what may have been fewer custom requests in the past has now multiplied, which may impact their approach and even their third-party suppliers. For example, for power decisions and Lithium we must resist the desire to wait and see how the prices settle to decide to go Lithium because it’s a new request out of La Rochelle. Even though in the states or other countries it’s clear where to get them and how to get them installed, it’s a relatively new thing out of France. For us, it called out the importance of working closely with our broker early and along the way to finalize important decisions with Uchimata, like where batteries will be sourced from, how they will get delivered, where on the boat we want them to be located (which may have wiring implications) and making sure the right experts are on hand to do a proper installation. It appears the same may be true for solar, we are still figuring that out.
It will be important to anticipate and make time for nuanced discussions about custom options and what we will and won’t be willing to trade-off to get what we want. And at all cost, we need to avoid changing our minds last minute causing confusion that ripples three layers deep and then showing up on the dock with a head full of steam barking orders and expecting an immediate and positive outcome.
Here are some of our lessons learned:
We will try to get as much installed from the factory as possible and not only weigh the trade-offs of custom options, but the probability of it causing unintended consequences.
Properly plan for and anticipate what a custom request will fully entail and work with our broker early to plan for process changes and local lead times, assume nothing and document everything. Ask if that custom request has already been installed on your boat model. Don’t assume it will be the same installation on every FP model.
While we are working with our broker and they are ultimately responsible for a positive outcome, it is our burden to appreciate the cultural differences in planning and adjust our expectations and style accordingly when we are on the ground.
Reset expectations about the time it takes to commission and ready a boat; hard deadlines will create more stress (which for us is what we are trying to have less of by changing our lifestyle). We chose to handle this by moving our delivery date slot up but we got in the queue super early.
It’s probably good to plan to stay out of the way, it would be like living through a kitchen remodel so I think we should not expect to move straight into the boat. Move in when the boat is truly ready, not based on a date set by yourself or your dealer.
It also would be sure they lay down moving blankets and cardboard to avoid scratches during commissioning because their tools and parts are everywhere.
Chandlery & Provisioning
There is a large HyperU Supermarket (like a big Walmart), an IKEA close by in Nantes and all kinds of stores in La Rochelle so no doubt you could find everything you need to provision the boat with the help of a rental van. In the local stores and chandleries in the boatyard we saw it all from rubber bottom dishes, linens, folding bikes, appliances (220v), gear, line, weather gear, repair equipment, buoys, charts, etc. (guides and books were mostly in French).
A person could walk off a plane and probably get everything they need to live there temporarily, commission, provision and cast off. For us, this really comes down to exchange rates and costs. Electronics seemed to be high but everything else was just all about the exchange rate versus the cost of shipping. I will cover much more on this topic later, but I posted some examples of local prices for jerry cans and personal PLB so you can see the range.