For the last several years our inexpensive little folding dinghy has served us well as our car, delivery wagon, fishing platform, and general transportation tool. She was a bargain when we got her, but now her time is past.
She had been patched a couple of times due to traumatic injuries, and had a couple of problems that caused us to drop her off at the local inflatable service center. They did a great job of working us into their schedule at the last minute. (Karen waving a $100 bill around probably didn’t hurt!) After inspecting our girl, the service manager took us aside and explained the situation. It was time to pull the plug. Repairs would cost fully what we paid for her when new, and there were multiple problems that prevented a reliably permanent fix.
Finding a good replacement became a critical task. When you are out cruising the oceans of the world, a dinghy is a critical piece of gear. It is your connection to the land world. It takes you to the best places to explore, and brings all your provisions and supplies out to the mother ship.
We quickly marshaled our resources and research skills and, armed with a list of our criteria for what we needed, we finalized a choice and, with a bit of good luck, found a local supplier with exactly what we wanted in stock and ready to deliver.
As with all boats of all sizes the perfect dinghy does not exist. They are a collection of compromises. Our old girl did one thing really, really well. She folded up and stored in a compact package on deck, or in the aft locker. That was a great benefit, unfortunately it required a significant compromise. She couldn’t be built of the heavy-duty rubberized canvas that is the best for dinghies who have to live in the tropical sunlight. Instead the folding required a lighter fabric coated with PVC. Although PVC coated fabrics have improved greatly in recent years, They are still much more subject to degradation from the UV components of sunlight.
We could replace her with another folding model, but the cost of the newer folding dinghies was significantly higher, and left us still with the uncertain lifespan of the PVC fabric.
We knew we wanted an inflatable boat with a hard bottom, what is normally called a “RIB” (Rigid Inflatable Boat). They perform better, and can be dragged up on a rocky beach without issue. We knew we wanted it small enough to store under our mizzen boom on the aft deck–but not too small. It had to be big enough to safely handle our 15HP outboard. It would be nice to have an aluminum hull instead of fiberglass for reduced weight and better abrasion resistance.
To our good fortune, our friends Alan and Laura aboard Ora Pai, a sister ship to Harmonie, arrived to the slip right in front of us yesterday. They had a dinghy in the size range that we were investigating stored on their aft deck. That gave us a chance to measure and check clearances. This was a great help in being sure that we were on the right track.
Today we put a deposit down on an 9.5 foot, AB brand, aluminum-hulled, inflatable dinghy that is in stock at Annapolis Inflatables. They had the best price that we could find anywhere in the USA, and were very helpful through the whole process. A special thank you to Fred in the service center who was more than generous with his time.
Our biggest compromise on this is that it doesn’t fold, so has to live out on deck. In return, we get a longer lived and better performing dinghy for our explorations.
We should be taking delivery of our new dinghy on Friday, or Monday at the latest. We are expecting to wrap up the last of the details from the computer snafu at the same time. Hopefully, the weather gods will smile on us and we’ll be back underway the middle of next week for points north.