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Dinghies - Little boats, big jobs

When Dave Steward bought a 1983 C&C 29 in 2002, he didn’t dash out and buy a dinghy too. He had other things in mind.

When Dave Steward bought a 1983 C&C 29 in 2002, he didn’t dash out and buy a dinghy too. He had other things in mind.

“The cost of the dinghy and outboard was going to be about two grand, and I wanted to buy toys for the boat,” says Steward, 61, a charter captain from Budd Lake, N.J.

Read the other story in this package: Dinghy specs

Steward added GPS and other gear to his sloop, StewardShip, and for a while he was happy cruising Long Island Sound without a dinghy. A member of the Raritan Yacht Club in Perth Amboy, N.J., he was content to rely on launch service at reciprocating yacht clubs — until it became a hassle.

“It was like my wife and I would turn into Cinderella,” he says. “We’d have to rush to get to the launch before it closed at night, and there were places we wanted to go that didn’t have launch service. Having a dinghy began to sound like a good idea.”

In 2006 Steward sprang for a used 8-foot West Marine roll-up inflatable and a new 2.5-hp Suzuki 4-stroke. He tows the dink while under way and mounts the outboard on the pushpit. “The dinghy extended our cruising horizons,” he says, adding that it also serves as a great garbage scow when necessary.

The inflatable and rigid-hull inflatable rule the roost when it comes to dinghies and tenders. “Statistically speaking, the number of hard traditional dinghies compared to inflatables and RIBs is minimal. Just look at any dinghy dock,” says J.J. Marie, president and CEO of Zodiac of North America, headquartered in Annapolis, Md. Worldwide, Zodiac sold about 35,000 recreational inflatables and RIBs last year, a large percentage of which were to be used as tenders, Marie says.

The advantages of the inflatable rollup are its light weight, easy stowage and fast assembly, accounting for why it represents the lion’s share of sales in the dinghy market, according to Marie. Advances such as inflatable floors to replace segmented wooden floorboards, which are cumbersome to store and install, contribute to the popularity of inflatables, he says.

Marie, who owns a 34-foot Mainship, is in a position as president of Zodiac to try out lots of tenders, and he has. “I tried all kinds of RIBs,” he says. “I towed them, I tried davits, but I finally chose an inflatable because I can just stow it out of the way. It doesn’t hang off the end of the boat and destroy its lines, and it doesn’t get covered in diesel soot.”

Better construction methods and materials like Hypalon, which is more resistant to UV degradation than PVC, are improving the longevity of inflatables and RIBs. A ramp-up in luxury, like Walker Bay’s 2008 introduction of two console models to its Genesis range of RIBs and Mercury Marine’s launch of its Amanzi 350 console RIB, indicates demand for high-performance tenders that are both functional and fun.

“In a 10- or 11-foot RIB with a console, you have a steering wheel and a seat with a backrest,” says Chris Carroll, business development manager for Walker Bay Boats, of Yakima, Wash. “It makes it a more luxurious boat with lots of additional storage space, and it’s easier for people to use the boat.”

WalkerBay introduced its hard dinghies constructed of injection-molded polypropylene in 1998. These plastic 8- or 10-footers were adaptable for sailing, rowing and motoring, and they quickly became popular because of their versatility and affordability. More than 65,000 have been sold. “If you want to go fast, you buy a RIB,” Carroll says. “If you are more of a traditionalist, then you want a hard dinghy.”

“Folks who buy hard dinghies tend to be purists. They want a boat they can row easily and that sails well,” says John C. Harris, president and CEO of Chesapeake Light Craft, of Annapolis, which sells build-your-own kits for a variety of boats, including dinghies. “You won’t find a dinghy that rows and sails well and will also plane,” he says, though those who want to combine flexibility with beauty don’t care about going fast anyway. “For me, I can’t see firing up an engine to go out to a boat. I’d rather row, and you can’t do that [efficiently] with an inflatable or a RIB.”

There are plenty of dinghies and tenders on the market, and here’s a look at nine, from newly released or updated designs to some classics that have stood the test of time.

Advanced Cat XL-300

Based on the surf rescue boats used in South Africa, Advanced Cat self-bailing inflatable catamarans from Advanced Marine Inflatables offer high-performance, stability and tracking in tight turns, and plenty of speed at a relatively light weight. During a recent test on flat water, the 11-foot XL-330 hit 27 mph with a 15-hp Mercury 2-stroke and one passenger, according to Bruce Christianson, vice president of the Everett, Wash., company.

The design incorporates two high-pressure foil tubes on the hull bottom to create a wedge-shaped entry and tunnel, allowing for reduced wetted surface and faster planing with less horsepower, according to the company. The 10-foot XL-300 and the XL-330, the most popular models for use as tenders, come with aluminum floor panels or inflatable decks.

“The boats are remarkably stable at rest and under way,” Christianson says. “The smaller ones also row quite well.” They have been in production since 2004, with roughly 2,000 sold.

Amanzi 350 Console RIB

A year or so ago, Mercury Marine launched the Amanzi 350 console RIB. With a list price of more than $10,000 and a hull weight of 400 pounds, the 11-foot, 5-inch RIB targets owners of larger boats who aren’t overly concerned about weight or budget. Navigation and courtesy lights, instrumentation (speedometer, tachometer, voltmeter, fuel gauge) and an electric bilge pump are some of the standard features. The boat is equipped with folding bow and stern cleats, console and stern lockers, an anchor locker, integrated fuel tank and a stainless steel bow rail. The vee hull is fiberglass, and the tubes are coated with Hypalon.

Avon 260 Rover Lite RIB

Avon has added 8- and 10-footers to its Rover Lite range of RIBs. The tenders combine a small footprint when stored on deck with high-performance on the water. Designed for compact stowage and light weight, the 8-foot 260 weighs in at 83 pounds.

The Rimtec injection-molded polyester hull is fitted with Hypalon-coated buoyancy tubes that extend abaft the stern for enhanced longitudinal stability while under way. The deck is made of lightweight non-skid fiberglass and the transom folds down for easier stowage. Options include launching wheels, an additional fiberglass seat and a kit to adapt the boat for davits.

Dyer Dhow

New England boatbuilder Bill Dyer and yacht designer Phil Rhodes designed the 9-foot Dyer Dhow to serve as a lifeboat on PT Boats during World War II, integrating some of the features of Egyptian Dhows into the hull. In 1948 Dyer began building a fiberglass version of the boat, and the family continues to build it today, with nearly 7,000 produced. The boat has a flat bottom (hard chines) that gives it excellent load-carrying ability and stability, and it tows, rows, motors and sails well.

The company offers basic (rowing only), convertible (can be easily turned into a sailing dinghy) and sailing versions. The rowing version cannot be switched over to sail because it has no centerboard well.

Fatty Knees

Fatty Knees tenders have been around since the 1970s, when Lyle Hess, known for his salty Bristol Channel Cutter, designed and began building them. In the mid-1980s, Mattapoisett, Mass., boatbuilder Edey & Duff took over and hasn’t looked back.

“We were originally reluctant to get into building dinghies,” says David G. Davignon, general manager. “But it soon became clear we had something special.”

Around 2,000 have been built, and Davignon receives 35 to 45 orders annually. Fatty Knees is an appropriate name for these 7-, 8- and 9-foot dinghies. Many fans describe them as “chubby” in appearance, but that’s part of their appeal, along with their towing, rowing, motoring and sailing capabilities. The hand-laid lapstrake fiberglass construction gives the boats strength and character, Davignon says, and the beamy dimensions improve load-carrying ability and stability.

The standard boat is built with a daggerboard slot and the necessary fittings to easily convert it to the sailing version. Each has a watertight compartment in the bow and a stern seat filled with closed-cell foam for flotation. “I can stand in the 7-footer when it’s full of water, and it’s still stable, and you can bail it out with a bucket,” Davignon says. “You can’t do that with most [hard] dinghies when they’ve swamped.”

Passagemaker Dinghy

The 11-foot Passagemaker Dinghy is a Norwegian-style pram that tows, rows, motors and sails efficiently. It’s well-suited for use on larger sailboats or trawlers, whose owners want a tender with character and functionality. Introduced in 2005, about 220 have been built.

The plywood/epoxy dinghy is a build-it-yourself kit from Chesapeake Light Craft of Annapolis. It includes okoume marine plywood panels, mahogany trim, epoxy and fiberglass. “The kit was designed for first-time boatbuilders,” says Harris, the company president and CEO. “Builders are saying it takes an average of 100 to 120 hours to complete construction.” The company provides free unlimited technical support.

A take-apart version of the boat is available, which allows owners to unbolt segments of the hull for more compact storage on deck. Leaking isn’t a problem, due to the design, Harris says. About 40 percent of buyers are opting for the take-apart version.

The basic kit includes a daggerboard trunk, in case owners opt for the sailing rig ($999) after initial construction. The gunter sloop rig consists of a short mast and mainsail yard, making it easier to stow inside the boat.

Portland Pudgy

Like the Fatty Knees, the self-bailing Portland Pudgy is a bit chunky. Introduced in 2006, it’s a unique little tender measuring just less than 8 feet that can row, motor and sail well, and its full-length keel enables efficient tracking when towed. The double hull is made of high-grade polyethylene with closed-cell foam for flotation. There are five watertight hatches on the sides to stow gear, including the 6-foot, 6-inch oars, and the telescoping mast and boom of the sailing version, which features two leeboards and a kick-up rudder.

The boat’s designer, David Hulbert, of Portland, Maine, wanted a dinghy that also could be used as a proactive lifeboat — in other words, one that can be sailed or rowed. The Pudgy meets Coast Guard specifications for a four-man raft, and an optional exposure canopy, sea anchor and other safety gear can be added. There are hand-holds on the hull bottom to facilitate righting after a capsize. Hulbert says the boat will empty itself as it is flipped upright. The sailing rig is an additional $895, and the life raft package adds $1,395.

“When I designed the boat, I had bluewater sailors in mind,” Hulbert says. “But I’m seeing a lot of interest in the boat as a tender or just a safe little boat to sail on the lake.”

WB Genesis Light Console RIB

In October, Walker Bay kicked off the launch of two console RIBs, the latest addition to its Genesis line of rigid hull inflatables that debuted two years ago. The vee hulls and consoles of the 10- and 11-foot models (310 and 340, respectively) are made of injection-molded, high-impact marine composite designed for durability. The console has two compartments — one for the battery and the other for gear — and it can be purchased separately as an aftermarket addition to the Genesis 310 and 340.

The 10-foot Genesis Light Console RIB is a less-expensive, scaled-down version of the 11-footer. Features include hinged helm steering for easier access to the battery, a polycarbonate windscreen, stern seat with integrated cup holder and small storage compartment, and a watertight compartment in the middle seat.

“From the day we launched the Genesis line, we had a console model in mind,” says business development manager Carroll. “We anticipated the high demand for a boat like this,” he says, and designed the molds used for Genesis boats accordingly.

Zodiac Cadet Fastroller

The INT-L system, a waterproof and lockable storage container, is new this year to Zodiac’s 10- and 11-foot Cadet Fastroller inflatable rollups. Built into the buoyancy tube, it’s a great place to store cell phones, wallets and other personal items that shouldn’t get wet and might tempt a thief, says company president Marie.

The Acti-V PVC hull is designed to perform like an RIB, while maintaining the convenience of an inflatable. When inflated the hull forms a vee, and two fins add longitudinal stability while under way. It also has extra buoyancy aft to compensate for heavier 4-strokes, and all seams are welded, not glued, which makes them less likely to separate, according to the company. The boats have high-pressure floors that inflate to 11 psi, giving the deck the same rigidity as 3-inch plywood, according to Marie. The wooden seat is removable to facilitate stowing.