To cruisers, your sailboat is your “house” and your dinghy is your “car.” Think about anchoring the sailboat in a secluded bay surrounded by a white sandy beach and coconut palm trees for a week or a month. Once in awhile, you want to go ashore to buy food and fuel, buy more rum, go out to a restaurant, visit a tiki bar, or pick up guests. You also also want to visit that sandy beach, and explore the islands on day trips.
For that, you keep your sailboat at the anchorage and take your “car” to town, the beach, et cetera.
Kay and I bought our 1998 Catalina 380 — a 38-foot monohull sailboat — two years ago, and it came with an inflatable dinghy. It was a 9.5 foot long hypalon Achilles inflatable that had an inflatable keel and a wooden floor. Inflatable boats are made of either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fabric or the more expensive hypalon. The boat could be disassembled and rolled up for storage, like we did during Hurricane Irma a couple of years ago. However, the Achilles was not the “dinghy of our dreams” (hereinafter referred to as the “DooD”).
The problems with the Achilles were myriad.
First, we could not get the boat titled and registered with the state because the previous owner messed up the transfer of title. Second, the wooden floor was disintegrating in the warm seawater environment of south Florida. Third, it would be difficult to get an inflatable boat to “plane,” which is boater-speak for “go fast.” Fourth, it would. not. hold. air.
Oh, we tried and tried to find the leaks in the Achilles and patch them as best as we could. We watched YouTube videos and bought several tubes of hypalon adhesive at thirty bucks a pop. But, they never worked well and it leaked so badly that we had to pump up the boat while we were motoring around the back canals of Hollywood, Florida, where we are docked. Even though we are not cruising the islands yet, we decided that we still want to have a dinghy to use in the meantime and it was time to shop for the DooD.
First, Kay and I made a spreadsheet to study different boat sizes, materials, features, and prices. There are a handful of dinghy manufacturers, including Achilles, West Marine, AB, Caribe, Zodiac, and Highfield. Each has a different reputation for quality in the cruiser community. As for materials, we decided on the more expensive hypalon because it is resistant to ultraviolet light, which south Florida and the tropics has in spades.
There is a type of inflatable boat that Kay and I wanted that has a hard bottom (not wood) and inflatable side tubes called a RIB. RIB stands for “rigid inflatable boat.” There are few different types of bottoms you can get on a RIB. They include fiberglas, aluminum single layer, and aluminum double layer. Fiberglas bottoms can be cracked or punctured if you run the boat onto rocks at the beach, but fiberglas cracks are relatively easy to fix. On the other hand, aluminum hulls will dent if you hit a rock at the beach, and they are unlikely to be punctured. Single hull boats, whether fiberglas or aluminum, will doom the cruiser to having wet feet forever since there is no good way to get all of the water out of the bottom of the dinghy all of the time. Double hull aluminum boats are more expensive than single hull, but have other benefits.
We decided visit some dinghy dealers in area so we could see them in person before we made a decision. Like buying a car, we wanted to kick the tires. There are several specialty dinghy stores in the area, believe it or not. But when we did some research, most were not open outside of regular 9 – 5 business hours, Monday through Friday. Why aren’t they open when buyers were available? Did they only sell to people who are retired or unemployed? We called several stores and asked how we can see their dinghies before we buy. Mostly, none of them returned our calls. I finally reached a sales rep live and found the answer.
There are no dinghies!
Due to COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most popular ways to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and socially-distant way is to get out on the water in a boat. Therefore, there has been a run on boats of all kinds over the past year, and there is almost no inventory available anywhere. You can put in an order, sight unseen, pay your money, and hope to see a boat in six months or later.
Kay and I decided to just pick our DooD and put it on back order. We decided to pay some extra money for our DooD and placed an order for a Highfield Classic 290, a 9.5 foot long hypalon boat with a double aluminum floor. It has a lockable bow locker for a gas tank and an anchor, movable middle seat with big zipper pockets, AND A DRINK HOLDER. Yes, DooD has a drink holder. Many of the cruisers we follow on YouTube have Highfield dinghies, which speaks well about their quality I think.
We ordered our boat from Nautical Ventures, a specialty store, that actually answered our phone calls and e-mails. We signed the paperwork and made a big deposit, sight unseen, hoping that the DooD would be on a shipping container toward south Florida in four to six months. But, in two weeks, we got a call from Nautical Ventures saying that a sale of an identical boat fell through and that one was available right away, still in the crate! We accepted it immediately, and had them deliver it to the water’s edge at our marina in Hollywood.
Kay and I have been enjoying the new dinghy. We travel the canals of Hollywood to see the iguanas in the mangroves, and several kinds of herons and egrets. Our small electric outboard pushes the boat at its theoretical hull speed of about 3.5 knots. We want to buy a new outboard engine between ten and fifteen horsepower so we can plane and go to destinations further away. But when we look for new outboards, there aren’t any!