Hard Dinghies: Tote, Tow, Row, and Stow
When considering a new dinghy, don't rule out the hard tender.
We’ve had this dinghy since 1976. It doesn’t seem to want to go away. It won’t rot, break free under tow, or be stolen. Fiberglass, merely seven feet long, made by a company whose name is lost in the sands of time, it’s basically a cheap and somewhat miniaturized knock-off of a Dyer dink. It weighs about 70 pounds, and has been mistreated and rehabilitated many times. Now, like a relation who isn’t everything you would wish for but always seems to be there when the chips are down, it’s just an accepted part of the family.
There have been plenty of times I’ve thought about buying a shiny new inflatable – I like the ones with the air-floors and shaped keels – and putting an engine on it and going around like most everyone else. But I’m also a firm believer that you should try to make the best of what you’ve got and run what you brung. (Never thought I’d have that much in common with Donald Rumsfeld, but there it is.)
Anyway, inflatables don’t row worth a damn, and I like rowing. It’s quieter, it’s good exercise, and there’s no hassling with an outboard and fuel jug. The cheap plastic oarlocks and sockets on our dink were replaced years ago with galvanized steel, so with well-made six-foot oars the dink rows well – not beautifully, but well – if loaded on the level. It tows obediently at any speed. Most importantly, it can be pulled aboard and flipped over easily, and goes back in the water just as fast. When cruising our 26-foot Oldport, we haul it aboard over a doormat to protect the mother ship’s gunnel, and lash it down for passages with its bow on the engine box and its transom on top of the dock box we use for stowage aft.
This fall’s rehab has been three coats of Pettit Easypoxy Platinum and the acquisition of 20 feet of expensive Gunnel Guard from Taylor Made Products, via West Marine. I’ll wait to put on the Gunnel Guard until next spring because the dinghy lives outside in the winter, and there’s no sense mussing up the new rail earlier than necessary.
I won’t make an argument here for hard tenders versus inflatables; both types have their vices, virtues, and adherents. If the idea of trying a hard dinghy is interesting, here are a few bits of accumulated advice.
Towing is nice for short, calm runs, but for long passages you’ll want the dinghy out of the water, either on davits or upside-down on deck. Given the truisms that waterline length, lightness, and graceful underwater shape all enhance performance with or without an engine, seek out the best combination to fit your boat’s capabilities and your own. Can you haul it up without block and tackle? Can it travel on deck so that it doesn’t obstruct hatches or working gear?
Flat-bottomed scows are out. For both rowing and towing, it’s important to have a dinghy with a shaped underbody and keel or skeg, so that it tracks straight.
If you enjoy rowing, get good oars, the longest that will fit inside the dinghy, and invest in good oarlocks. We use the full-round type.
Inflatables are easy on the topsides of the mother ship, but hard tenders (there’s an oxymoron for you) should be fitted out with all-around fenders or soft rubrail like Gunnel Guard.
Here are some makers of good hard dinghies. Some make even larger dinghies, but it gets hard to manage tenders over 10 feet. See their websites for more information.
Bauteck Marine (Bauer 8, 10)
Dyer Boats (7’11” Midget, 9’ Dhow, Classic 10’)
Edey & Duff (Fatty Knees)
Gig Harbor Boat Works (8’ Nisqually, 9.5’ Captain’s Gig, 10’ Navigator)
Trinka (Trinka 8, 10)
Walker Bay (8, 10, RID 275, RID 310)
Whitehall (Minto 9)
- Senior editor Doug Logan is a former editor-in-chief of Practical Sailor, managing editor and technical editor of Sailing World, webmaster for Sailing World and Cruising World, and contributing editor to Powerboat Reports. He is the editor of many books about boats, boat gear, and the sea, and is experienced in both sail and power.
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Tags: Bauteck Marine, davits, Doug Logan, Dyer Boats, Edey & Duff, Gunnel Guard, Oldport Marine, Pettit Paint, Taylor Made Products, Trinka, Walker Bay, West Marine, Whitehall