Saturday, May 9, 2015

What To Do With the Dink

Sonrisa Weather Report Saturday May 9, 2015.  for Santa Rosalia and Punta Chivato

Morning Wind NNW 13 to 17 knots
Afternoon Wind NNW 16 to 21 knots
Sunday Afternoon Wind NNW 17 to 22 knots
Monday Afternoon Wind ENE 8 to 10

I just measured 13 knots of wind here inside the breakwater.  Outside the harbor the white caps extend as far as the eye can see.  Traveler will stay put a few more days before we continue our trip north up the Sea of Cortez.  We couldn’t have picked a better place to hunker down for a while.  Santa Rosalia is an interesting little port.  The breakwater made from slag blocks has been here since 1922 and is doing a great job sheltering us from the swell.  The copper mines have been closed for years but their legacy remains in the French style architecture and the crumbling smelter works in town.  It’s a good place to do laundry, provision, walk the historic streets, and catch up on our communications.  With a little time on my hands I thought I’d write a little something about a very important piece of cruising gear, the dinghy.  Some people lovingly call it the dink.

Punta Pulpita Anchorage

When we bought Traveler she came with a 10.5 foot Caribe fiberglass RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) dinghy.  She’d been exposed to the sun’s UV for many years and had sprouted a few slow leaks.  As time went by and the glue started to fail we tore off an oarlock and a rubber cleat and she started to look pretty beat up.  It was always a heavy dinghy.  The two of us could barely haul it up on the rear dinghy davits or try to crank it up on deck.  We found that the inner hull leaked into the outer hull so we were carrying around a few extra pounds of water. 
Big Eye Jack fun to catch, not too good to eat.

We started carrying around the air pump so we could re-inflate the boat before returning from shore.  Finally, last season we pulled the plug on the old Caribe and gave it to one of the yard workers in Guaymas.  We returned the next fall with a new, smaller, lightweight aluminum RIB.

Of course I researched all the dinghy options, talking to fellow cruisers, seeing what worked and what didn’t.  I think the most important consideration is the size and style of the mother ship.  Some boats have a roomy foredeck or a space under the boom for storing a dinghy on deck.  This space can determine the length and breadth of the “tender; “a nautical term for a small boat that runs to shore doing business for the mother ship.  Similarly, if the mother ship is fitted with dinghy davits on the stern the dinghy must fit those davits both in size and weight.  So, where are you gonna put it and how are you gonna get it there?

My list of must-haves included a wind steering system.  When I mounted the Hydrovane on the stern of the boat it was in the way of the dinghy davits.  When I raised the dinghy with the davits it rubbed on the vane.  In Ensenada I took Traveler out for a sail in the bay and got into some good sized swell.  The dinghy hanging off the davits swung back and forth bouncing off the pulpit.  I tied it as tightly as I could but it still banged around.  Thus I knew that I didn’t want the dinghy on those davits for anything but the mildest conditions.  This year I removed the davits entirely.
Egret checking out hoisting tackle.

Taking measurements of the foredeck and calculating the weight, Connie and I decided to get something small and light that could easily be hauled on deck.  Here is what we looked at:

Traditional wood dinghy:   The possibilities here are endless.  You can make one yourself or buy one beautifully handcrafted by a professional.  They usually row well and can be fitted with sailing gear. For us, we didn’t want the maintenance or the weight and didn’t have the deck space.

Porte-Bote folding boat:  68 pounds for the 8.5 foot model.  It disassembles so you can strap it to the deck or lifelines.  Light weight and durable.  We didn’t want to be constantly taking it apart and putting it back together.  They also look funny.  I know, this shouldn’t be a concern but it is.

Plastic Kayaks or Paddle Boards:  These are fun but there is always the chance that you will get wet.  Many people strap these to the lifelines but that’s a windage concern.  Besides, where would you put the groceries?

Polypropylene boat:  Walker Bay makes a good one.  Their 8 foot model weighs 71 pounds. West Marine makes one also.  These hard shell dinghies are tough!  They can be rigged with expensive sails and you can have a lot of fun zipping around the anchorage.  Floatation can be added to make them more like an inflatable RIB.  The only thing that kept us from buying one of these is the fact that they don’t collapse and would take up too much space on our foredeck. Other than that, they are very reasonably priced.
Pelican skipper on West Marine dinghy.  Note the little tank on the outboard motor.

Portland Pudgy:  This unsinkable little tender has some great features.  It can double as your life raft, has storage compartments, is indestructible, and really cute!  If we had a place to secure this boat on deck and the hoisting system to get it there (it’s 500 pounds), we’d consider it as a sturdier option than the Walker Bay.

Standard Inflatable:  With no hard bottom, when deflated these can be rolled into a small package you can strap on deck or put in a cockpit locker.  The downside is that it doesn’t cut through waves well and takes more horsepower or people power to move it through the water. 
We hang it from the side at night.  Nice chaps.

Fiberglass RIB:  This is the standard tender for cruising sailboats.  With a rigid hull, they move through the water easily and can handle large loads.   If you match the engine horsepower to the boat you can plane with two people aboard.  When the tubes are deflated it stores more easily on deck.

Aluminum RIB:  Much like the Fiberglass RIB but lighter weight.  Also consider that where aluminum might merely dent on impact, fiberglass would chip or break. 
V' Ger with soft floor dink upside on deck.

One of the ways to save weight is to do away with the flat floor and just have a single hull.  The downside to this is that when standing inside the dinghy you are on a sloping surface.  The upside is that there is no hidden bilge to collect water.

Once we narrowed our search to a small aluminum RIB we found a good selection at Ballard Inflatables in Seattle, Washington.   I originally went there to buy the AB brand Ultralight but found a less expensive brand named Highfield that suited our needs and budget.  We bought the 53 pound, 7’ 10” RIB and stuffed it into the Toyota Dolphin to carry down to Mexico.

With the engine off, Connie and I can easily carry the RIB up the beach or drag it onto the dock.  When we bring it up alongside the mother ship it’s easily hoisted on the jib halyard.  For passages, we deflate it and strap it to the rear of the foredeck leaving ample room for managing the anchor and the staysail. 
Miss Teak has davits up high on the arch.

Our 6 HP outboard is too heavy for the little RIB but we’re using it anyway this season, being careful not to let following waves swamp the boat.  Next year we’ll replace the 6 hp with a 3 or 4 HP or better yet, an electric motor! Many boaters have larger outboards, the 9.9 hp being fairly common. But then again, many boaters have big tenders; that’s a lot of weight to be hauling up and down on a daily basis. Smaller motors have the gas tank built in so you don’t have to be schlepping a tank and fuel line every time you mount the motor.  For us, as long as we don’t have too far to go, we leave the outboard bolted to Traveler’s stern rail and use oars to go ashore.  

Here are some other things to consider when choosing and outfitting a dinghy:

Dinghy Chaps:  Connie made a set of these out of green Sunbrella.  Chaps will extend the life of the hypalon tubes by keeping the UV at bay. They also look good and disguise the age of the dinghy.

Hypalon vs PVC:  Hypalon will cost slightly more but has better UV resistance and might be stouter.  PVC is easier to patch and cheaper.  PVC tube construction has improved over the years and has become a better choice than in the past.  
Cats usually hoist the dink in the rear between the two hulls.

Hoisting cable:  To bring the dinghy on deck you’ll need to rig a triangle of cable or line to two points on the stern and one at the bow.  We leave these permanently in the RIB.

Wheels:  With the outboard mounted, wheels make it easy to run up on the beach.  Our outboard weighs 55 pounds, the same as the dinghy.  At 110 pounds the rig is a bit too heavy to lift the whole thing up to carry ashore.  To land the boat, we flip the wheels down and lock them in place.  When the wheels touch sand, we turn off the engine.  Then we hop out, take the boat by the bow, and walk it up above the surf line.  Easy peasy. 

Dinghy Davits:  When in calm waters dinghy davits are quite handy. However, in large seas a dinghy hanging off the back of the boat will inevitably knock around and break something.  The davits need to be high enough so that no breaking wave can reach the boat but then again the dinghy shouldn’t restrict your view out the back of the boat.  So it’s got to be way up there in the air and it has to be strapped securely.  A tall platform on the stern of the boat is called an arch.  It can hold solar panels, antennae, and radar in addition to having dinghy davits built in.  These are great for coastal cruising.  When offshore, though, bring the dinghy up on deck.
Air Ops with standard davits.  Good in calm seas.

Outboard hoist:  Most cruising boats have some sort of hoist to bring the outboard motor up to the stern pulpit.  Keep in mind that the smaller the motor the easier it will be to hoist up to the rail.  Our hoist has two double tackle lines, one that controls the boom arm and one that hoists the motor.  The cardinal rule when hauling an outboard aboard is to have a separate safety line tied from the motor to the boat just in case you drop the thing into the drink.
Outboard motor hoist on Traveler

Security:  The outboard motor is easy to steal and easy to fence.  Bring the outboard up off the dinghy and secure it to the rail with a sturdy padlock.  Another option is to bring the dinghy up alongside with the jib halyard and lock the engine with a cable and padlock to a heavy deck fitting or chain plate.  When in a risky neighborhood or when leaving the boat for a few days, put the outboard motor down below in the mother ship cabin or at least lie it on its side out of view in the cockpit.  Shane and Tina on the worthy sailing vessel Vagrant put together a gizmo with rotating lights and a siren and ran the switch to their sleeping cabin.  If they hear a burglar they punch the switch and the suspect is scared out of his wits.  Someone else actually told me that they sleep with a fishing line tied from their outboard motor to their big toe.  We were drinking at the time I heard this story so I give it no credence.

Maintenance:  Outside of the typical outboard motor maintenance the dinghy is pretty easy to maintain.  If you bring the boat up out of the water nightly the hull won’t get slimy or develop barnacles.   We remove the oars and stow them away inside the cockpit locker.  At the marina, haul out the dinghy and rinse off the salt.   Then take apart the oars and wash them with fresh water.  Most dinghy oars have locking pins that can rust up, stick in place, then eventually break if they are not cleaned regularly.

The Painter:  This is the tow line.  It is best made from poly so it can’t sink.  If not, set little floats on the line so it stays on top of the water.  The most common mistake here is backing over the dinghy tow line, getting it stuck in the propeller, and losing propulsion on the mother ship.  We always snub the dinghy up close when anchoring or docking.
Caleta Candeleros Chico, our favorite anchorage this year, thus far.

You know, we all benefit hugely from our own and other’s experiences.  I know people who have dropped their outboard motor overboard and couldn’t find it in 20 feet of water.  Multiple friends have backed over their dinghy painter, wrapping it around the propeller.  One guy bent the prop shaft and knocked the engine off its mounts solely from wrapping a line around the prop.  I had an out of control dinghy on davits smash my stern light.  We had our outboard stolen right off the tender hanging on the side of the boat.  Many of us older cruisers pull muscles hoisting up small boats and motors that really should be smaller.  We live, we learn, we evolve.

So far we are finding our little aluminum dink to be quite handy.  It’s a little funky trying to row it straight and it’s a bit of a tippy canoe when getting in and out but it sure is a delight being able to toss it about so easily. 

The wind is still up.  The laundry is done.  I’ll have Connie proof read this mess then maybe, just maybe, we will treat ourselves to dinner out!
Mangos at 65 cents a pound makes Connie very happy.

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