Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Land Ho!

This post is about our wheels, our lifeline: our dinghy.  We have a 10’ Apex , rigid bottom inflatable dinghy (small boat or lanchita here in Mexico).  The dinghy has a fiberglass bottom and detachable wheels on the back to make beach landings a little easier, because it is heavy.  Also, it is not much fun dragging anything through wet sand, especially a 10’ boat.   There are oars which Adam tries to use to save gas but this type of boat doesn’t row very well.  I say Adam because he gets frustrated when it is my turn to row and the boat only moves in circles. Most of the time we are quite a distance from our intended target and rev up our outboard engine, which gets us there both easier, faster and in more of a straight line. In the sailing world (as with anything else really, though here it seems more pronounced) everyone has strong opinions about everything.  You have to take advice, especially about gear, with a grain of salt, shall we say.  Adam and I did a ton of research about dinghies before we bought one because this is a crucial piece of equipment and no small purchase. We couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone.  Although our current dinghy has served us well so far, there are definite changes we would make could we do it all over again.  More on this later.

We use our dinghy to get to shore and carry everything we need back and forth when we are not in a marina.  We try not to stay in marinas and since arriving in Mexico on November 11, we have only spent two nights in one.   They are nice, the boat doesn’t move, you have electricity and water, you can easily get into town and load up with food and did I mention the boat doesn’t move?  However, they are expensive and most definitely a splurge for us. Instead, after we have set the anchor and have stayed on the boat a while to make sure it holds, we get the dinghy ready.  While we are sailing long distances the dinghy rests upside down and deflated on our foredeck (front part of the boat).  Getting it off involves one person lifting the bow with the spinnaker halyard (the line that lifts the sail) until the other person can crawl under the boat and pump up the pontoons enough to make it float.  Then as one person (typically me) lifts, the other person (Adam) guides the boat over the side and into the water wrestling it to stay upright and trying not to get hit in the head when it is lowered.  Sorry, Adam.  If there is any wind this is much more difficult.  After a final pump-up the motor is next.  The motor, which came with Moments, is a 4-stroke Yamaha.  This, of course, meant little to me until I was actually out here and learned how to use an outboard motor for the first time in my life.  This is a relatively small outboard motor but I can’t imagine us dealing with a bigger one because I don’t think I could lift anything heavier.  We get the motor onto the dinghy by attaching it to a block and tackle (pulley system) hooked to the end of the boom which, once the motor is hoisted we can then swing it out over the water and lower it down onto the dinghy.  Writing this, I realize that it sounds much easier than it actually is, you will just have to take my word on the matter.  Because the block and tackle is often frustrating, sometimes I stand on the boat and lift the motor over the side while Adam stands in the (floating and bouncing around) dinghy and takes it overhead to set it on the back of that boat.  And sometimes, here in Mexico, the fishermen will take you into shore if you pay them a few dollars.  Very appealing if I do say so, myself!

Once this is all said and done we then either lock the dinghy to the boat or lift it a few feet out of the water for the night to try and dissuade dinghy thieves which would definitely leave us stranded.  This is all done in reverse when we are preparing to head out sailing again.  Though occasionally on smaller passages we only take off the motor and drag the dinghy behind us.  This slows us down a bit but definitely saves time on either end.

As you have probably guessed, a dinghy is not just the boat. It includes an outboard motor, gasoline, safety equipment, oars, pump and all of the equipment you have on board to lift and stow the outboard and dinghy.  I do not want to say that we are not grateful our appreciative of our dinghy which as of yet has served us well, but there are definitely some improvements that could be made.  Here are my suggestions for other cruisers:

1)      Get the smallest, lightest boat you can possibly deal with.  I would suggest a 6-8’ inflatable with an aluminum bottom.  You will want to get it on and off the deck more if it is lighter and there is less chance that someone will be injured.  Also a lighter dinghy means a lighter sailboat so that you can travel faster an also use less gasoline when you are putting around with your outboard.  Most importantly this means you can use a smaller motor, and this brings me to my next point.

2)      Get the smallest motor that you think will plane your dinghy.  When the dinghy planes it lifts out of the water and travels much faster.  With our current combination of motor and dinghy we can barely get it to plane if only one of us is in it and the wind and waves are exactly right.  When it planes you also get less wet, and we have definitely had some butt-soaking dinghy rides.

There are also some other smaller points such as the necessity of UV resistant materials and oars that float but that information seems more consistent.  We bought our dinghy second hand and are currently in the process of trying to figure out how to patch it because we may need to do that very soon.  This is a useful skill for any cruising sailor because every boat out here has a dinghy, the vast majority of them inflatable and at one time or another in need of patching.

Lastly, we have yet to name our dinghy.  Any ideas, readers?

On a side note, thank you for all of the blog comments and emails.  It is very nice to hear from friends and family, especially at this time of year.  We are currently in Mantanchen Bay outside of San Blas a wonderful town with cobble-stone streets, ruined Spanish forts and a laid back way of doing things.  The view is wonderful but there is no place like home for the holidays.