Monday, July 19, 2010

The Cruiser’s Car

As our cruising kitty will be very small, we don’t plan to spend more than a few days a year tied up to land…be it a slip, dock, or quay. Instead, we’ll pass our days and nights swinging on the hook. While this arrangement limits our access to shore side services, it affords privacy, offers better water to swim in, and keeps our bow pointed into the wind for better ventilation down below. We prefer this.

However, when anchored out, we’ll need a safe and dependable, non-swimming option for getting ashore.

Everyone’s got one. The dinghy is like the cruiser’s car. As on our first trip, we’ll use our dinghy to shuttle ourselves, our groceries, our computers—everything—ashore, and back again. Like a car, it must be reliable. Like a car, flashy ones are prone to theft. Like a car, it must be big enough to serve our needs. Like a car, there are hundreds of configurations to choose from.
The primary distinction among dinghies is the material they are constructed from: hard dinghy or soft dinghy. As the names imply, hard dinghies are made from hard materials (fiberglass, wood, aluminum, plastic) and soft dinghies are made from either hypalon or PVC. While soft dinghies are all inflatables and share a similar tube-based structure, hard dinghies come in all different shapes, sizes, and configurations.
On our last cruise, we used a 1970s-era inflatable I bought well-used at a marine swap meet for about $50. It was an Avon Redcrest and more akin to something you’d use in a swimming pool than the dinghies in service today. The floor was unsupported rubber and the motor mount was a rusted bracket that wrapped around the aft tube. It didn’t row well, it didn’t sail, and could accept nothing larger than my 2-hp Evinrude.
But, inflatables have come a long way, baby. Today’s inflatable dinghies are incredibly stable wonders that carry massive loads and plane with a 4-hp motor. They feature rigid bottoms, inflated bottoms, or slatted bottoms. They are built with a sturdy transom to which a motor may be attached. In a calm anchorage, it is not uncommon to see cruisers using their dinghies to tow wake boarders. I’ll bet 98% of folks cruising today use the standard inflatable dinghy.
In fact, the new Del Viento is equipped with an 11-foot Mercury inflatable and two outboards, one 2 horsepower, one 9.9 horsepower. Assuming this set up is serviceable when we arrive (neither the surveyor nor I checked the dinghy and motors out as they were not included in the original listing, but thrown in during the price negotiation), we’ll use this dinghy and her motors until shortly after we arrive in California.
What then? Once back in the States, we plan to purchase a new hard dinghy and new motor…a very specific hard dinghy and motor. More on our dinghy plans and rationale in a future post…

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