The Great Dinghy Debate

10

Dinghies are the Rodney Dangerfields of cruising. They get no respect, or at least not as much as they deserve. The little boat that will see nearly as many sea miles as the mother ship is too often an afterthought.

Inflatables, and rigid inflatable boats (hybrid “RIBs” with inflatable tubes and rigid bottoms) have been the norm for years. I recognize the virtues of the RIB design, but when it comes to full time cruising, my allegiance remains with the hard dinghy camp. A hard dinghy is virtually indestructible compared to an inflatable or RIB. Its economical, and its always ready to deploy.

There are almost just as many reasons why hard dinghies are the wrong solution. They are harder to stow, hard on topside paint, relatively unstable, and require more patience when getting from here to there.

If youre an avid diver or surfer, like to explore, or prefer anchoring away from the crowd, having a RIB or inflatable with a turn of speed will be essential. Having that extra umph also comes in handy when setting kedges, playing tugboat, or rushing to help a neighboring boat whose anchor has begun to drag.

Ultimately, our dinghy preferences reflect our philosophies toward cruising. The romantic drawn to the idea of self-sufficiency (the person who rides a bike to work), will be inclined toward a rugged hard dinghy that rows easily and requires virtually no maintenance. The pragmatic RIB aficionado will recognize that having fast transportation is worth the hassles associated with an internal combustion engine.

Years have past since our last head-to-head dinghy tests (see PS November 2009, October 2008, andJuly 2008). Both focused on inflatables. Since then, there hasnt been any significant advances in inflatables, but we have seen some interesting developments in hard dinghies.

A few years ago, West Coast designer Russell Brown came out with a kit for the PT11, a dinghy comprising two parts that nest inside each other. And the carbon-fiber Wing Dinghy, which we compared to the popular Trinka in October 2009, is so light that one person can easily load and stow it.

Since the wide introduction of the mass produced Walker Bay 8-a sluggish rower with a durable thermo-molded PVC hull-the more traditional fiberglass dinghies have been pushed to the fringes of the market. The familiar names-Bauer, Fatty Knees, Pelican, Trinka, Dyer, Gig Harbor-are still around, but the prices ($6,000 for a sailing Dyer) make an upwind slog in $600 Walker Bay 8 seem more tolerable. Kit boats like Browns PT11 or those from Chesapeake Light Craft offer a cheaper path to a hard dinghy. It requires an investment in time, but the experience gained building your own dinghy can be more valuable than the boat itself.

As we begin another round of dinghy testing, wed be interested in hearing from readers. How long have you had it? What problems have you had? And where the heck do you stow the thing? You can contact me at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Sadly the PT 11 is no longer available. I tried to buy a kit for a project this Winter and the owner replied they are getting out of the business or at least taking a break for the foreseeable future.

    • Hi Brian,
      I have a PT 11 that Russell Brown personally built. I haven’t decided whether to sell it yet, but I have toyed with the idea. Russell built a new rudder and dagger board for it when I purchased. It is still in very good condition. You may be more interested in the project of building your own, but should you be interested in purchasing mine, let me know. It’s a joy to sail.

      Gail Hafelfinger

  2. We purchased a 3 m OC Tender in NZ in 2018, built there by a very experienced cruising couple after circumnavigating.
    Worth a peruse if you want to divorce yourself from air pump addiction.

  3. I bought inflatabels, two of them, both secondhand. Both of them started falling apart at the seems – literally – after a few weeks. Given up on dozens of patches and daily pumping, I now have a secondhand Pioner 8. While it is a bit too small for my nearly 90 kgs, it is so sturdy I think you can literally throw it off a cliff and get underway. It develops decent speed with a 12V electric outboard too. Downside is it is quite heavy for its size, 50 kgs or something. I store it upright on my swimming platform 🙂

  4. What is your opinion of the Portland Pudgy?. My partner and I bought one a couple of years ago as tender to our Mirage 27. She (the tender!) Is a lot of fun to have, apart from the obvious uses, very safe,. I must add that my partner is 81 and I am 94. We confine ourselves to pottering about in the Solent these days, but the sky is the limit!!. Gordon James.

  5. For me. my old 8 1/2 foot inflatable Avon is the best for several reasons. 1) I can see over it when it’s upside down over the cabin while looking through the dodger. 2) It can quietly bump the mothership like a fender for hours. 3) I can stand up while pulling crab traps. 4) I can load it myself without using the halyard if necessary.
    The inflatable PVC floor died awhile back so I traced it on 1/2 inch marine plywood, cut it out, and carfully rounded all the edges and finished with a Dallys product. Works very well, maybe better than the old high pressure inflatable floor. Hasn’t chaffed the hypalon yet.
    Old sailors never die, they just get a little dingy.

  6. I was practically given a Walker Bay 8, replete with sail package option and two sails to boot. After going through two inflatable dinghy tenders on my Westsail 32, I added the optional horseshoe-shaped inflatable collar to it. Now it is a very stable dinghy for two adults and a couple bags of groceries. I can still hoist onto the foredeck with the spare halyard. When I am inclined to do some exploring or need to move around quicker than rowing it, I put a Suzuki 2.5hp on it. Moves along very nicely. The WB8 is virtually indestructible and tows well with the inflatable collar, which I made chaps for to protect against UV destruction, the mortal enemy of any inflatable, next to sharp objects. Lastly, if my son and his are aboard I can stow the 2-part mast, rudder/tiller and daggerboard in the forepeak, so they can sail around. Only grievance to the now RIB-like WB8 is the increased weight.

    I would like to hear from those who have a folding rigid boat like Port-a- Boat (sp?).

    Vernon

  7. I would not part with my 8′ Fatty Knees. It rows and sails nicely in blustery weather and has allowed me to get along happily w/o outboard maintenance and the smelly fumes of stowing gasoline onboard. Also, a small spray dodger I made from polycarbonate, attaches to the bow with swivel fasteners and keeps out whitecaps. I prefer the Fatty Knees to my inflatable dinghy and even my inflatable liferaft, as unlike inflatables that get tossed around in the wind, I can usually point it where I need to go, it is unsinkable, and has a dry locker large enough to stow a manual desalinator pump, GPS, VHF radio for hailing ship traffic, etc. It sits upside down together w/it’s 2-piece mast on the foredeck of my Tayana 37 (since removal of the stay’sl boom which makes for safer cruising when going forward anyhow). It is also much easier to launch and bring back aboard since adding port & stbd lifeline gate attachments forward. The 9′ version of the Fatty Knees sails and rows more efficiently, but would have taken up needed space on the foredeck.

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