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Dinghy Do's and Dont's -

 November 27, 2003 

Eileen clambers through the crush of dinghies at the Vero Beach municipal marina

Well I climbed into the cockpit
Early one fine morning
Trouble took me by surprise,
Sent no warning;
Looking off the stern
For the dinghy I call mine,
All I could see was
A polypropylene line...

(E. Quinn, Come Back Dinghy)

We often take for granted the things we rely on the most. For example, our dinghy. We have a five-year-old nine foot inflatable with a rollaway floor and seven-year-old four horsepower outboard engine. Not a tender to get too excited about by today's standards. The tubes have been patched a few times and only leak a little. Despite much neglect and occasional abuse (like a particularly memorable capsize in the surf off Anguilla Island), the engine still starts on the second pull (never the first). Until last week, that is. The outboard died and we waited four very long days for carburettor parts to arrive. David developed a deep appreciation for that miserable little motor while rowing daily to and from shore. But at least we could still get off the boat without getting wet.

A reliable tender is about the most important piece of equipment a cruiser owns. Swimming ashore gets old really fast. Most cruisers own inflatable dinghies; the ones with a rigid bottom (RIBs) are gaining in popularity. In its 1996 equipment survey, the Seven Seas Cruising Association found that 25% of respondents had hard shell dinghies, 60% had traditional inflatables and 15% had RIB inflatables. When the SSCA surveyed its members four years later, the numbers had shifted to: 15% hard shell; 43% inflatable; and 42% RIB. We guess that today the majority owns RIBs. We'd be surprised if more than one in ten cruisers still have hard shells.

A perusal of over six years of incidents logged by the Caribbean Safety and Security Net indicates dinghy thefts as the number one security concern among cruisers. Given their reliance on their tenders, it's understandable that many cruisers view dinghy robbers the same way that settlers in the old west viewed horse thieves: fit for hanging. Nothing stirs up an anchorage more than the news that a dinghy has gone missing. Amid the cries for vigilante justice, the piece of information that often goes unmentioned is the fact that most stolen dinghies weren't locked. We find this very odd. Would these same victims park their SUV in a downtown lot and leave it unlocked with the keys in the ignition?

We generally lock our dinghy when we leave it at the dock, especially after dark, even if it's surrounded by much nicer looking dinghies. It's never been stolen. The only time the dinghy went missing (which inspired Eileen to write the song quoted above), the fault lay with the knot-tying skills of one of the crew of "Little Gidding" (name withheld). The incident occurred in the San Blas islands of Panama and resulted in us getting to know the kindly Cuna woman who retrieved it for us in her dugout canoe. Our advice to anyone going cruising is to go equipped with a hefty dinghy lock and steel cable or chain, and to practise which way the bunny circles the tree before going down the hole.

We'd also like to suggest a couple of tips on dinghy etiquette which come to mind as we struggle each day to land our dinghy at the Vero Beach municipal marina. The marina at Vero is popular this time of the year because of a Thanksgiving potluck dinner tradition. For years, cruisers all up and down the eastern seaboard have been targeting Vero for turkey at the end of November. As we write, virtually all of the transient moorings have three boats rafted to them. This makes for quite a crush at the dinghy dock. There are two things you should NEVER do under these crowded conditions: tie your dinghy off short; and raise your outboard engine.

This message at the Vero dinghy dock suggests common courtesy; unfortunately, not everyone complies

A definite no-no: the prop on the tilted motor is poised to do serious damage to the inflatable parked behind it

When the dinghies are packed three deep at the dock, tying up short is analogous to leaving your car parked for the day in the loading zone of a busy supermarket. Leaving the motor tilted and the prop out of the water is the same as saying, "I'm too lazy to clean the slime off my lower unit and would rather puncture your dinghy instead." When David pulls up to the dinghy dock with a bunch of six gallon water containers to fill and encounters offending tenders of this sort, he patiently reties the painters and lowers the outboards. We know of less civil places where less patient cruisers would not bother retying an obstructing dinghy. It can get ugly out there.

Today is Thanksgiving and, among other things, we're thankful that our dinghy engine is working again. David's even thinking of changing its gear lube oil. That clanking noise is a bit unsettling and it's a long row to shore ...

David & Eileen