A novel twist on the venerable fender renders this hardworking device more versatile
We once had a boat with considerable freeboard. When anchored out, getting aboard from a dinghy was done by rigging a folding teak boarding ladder, a very heavy piece of gear that was kept deep in a cockpit locker. But at the dock, a boarding ladder was not a good idea. It required too much fussing.
Nevertheless, when climbing aboard from a low dock, that big step, from dock to deck, was a knee-to-chest grunt. It wasn't pesky enough to require a little box or stool. However, there was an elderly guest or two who simply couldn't make it. Getting them aboard involved turning them back-to-the-boat and hoisting them by their hands (took two crew) to a sitting position on deck.
On several other occasions, a regular fender, firmly inflated, was rigged horizontally to use as a step at the gate. It worked, but great care had to be taken to keep the fender from rolling underfoot.
Now there's a better way, which comes in the form of a good idea from a new company called Neatboat, Inc. It's an odd-shaped fender that doubles as a step, called (what else?) a FenderStep.
The new FenderStep precludes the rolling mentioned above by placing the tie lines on the top edge. It works very well. There's a third eyelet on the bottom edge to rig another one (if another is needed), although this makes a less secure-feeling cascade. All three eyelets have steel rings embedded in the heavy duty PVC.
The FenderStep also serves as a regular fender, of course, unless you're docked against pilings or a solid wall, which calls for round fenders rigged horizontally (to permit them to roll with wakes or tide).
Rigged very low, it's possible that in a pinch, on some boats, a FenderStep could be of great help in recovering an overboard crew member. We like the possibility that, rigged in a series, several FenderSteps can form a short ladder.
For stowing, it deflates, but, as with other inflatable fenders, it seems unlikely you would do so unless you're really strapped for space. If you do, you'll have to dig out the pump with the nozzle that fits the FenderStep's recessed valve.
Our only regret about this product is that it isn't offered in a range of sizes, but perhaps the folks at Neatboat will soon address that issue.
The FenderStep (thousands have been sold in Denmark, where they are manufactured) made its U.S. debut at the recent boat shows and is available ($69.95 + $10 S&H) on the web.
Note: If your boat has tall topsides and you don't ever again have to take your Rubenesque mother-in-law sailing, you can disregard this item.
Contact - NeatBoat, Inc., 603/232-6897, www.neatboat.com.