One of the first things people unfamiliar with sailboats tend to notice, is that strange fin that protrudes from the bottom. On some boats, this keel can retract; on most, like ours, it is fixed. It’s a really important feature for being able to control sailing direction and for staying upright. A fixed keel, though, prevents the boat and its occupants from getting up close and personal with the shore. Well, maybe that’s not technically accurate. Perhaps I should say that the person at the helm should do everything in her power to prevent a boat with a keel from getting up close and personal with the shore or any shallow water for that matter.
There the times, though, when something appealing on land beckons. A river spilling out into that bay calls out to be explored. That unknown plant with the brilliant flowers is a little too far away to identify. Peregrines are calling from the limestone cliff and we’d like to get a closer look. Then there’s the practical side of getting to shore. Once we’re cruising some day, there will be times when we’ll be anchored out but need to get to land to reprovision our food, drinking water, or fuel supplies, or maybe we’ll be desperate to sip a cool drink at that colourful beach bar under the palm trees.
Swimming is an option for getting from here to there, but … To properly deal with boat-to-shore transportation needs when sailing, a secondary boat is a must. We realized a tender – a small boat to act as our runabout – was a must.
Oh yes, one more important function. It can be a lifesaver. There is the (hopefully) remote, but need-to-plan-for possibility of something catastrophic happening to Ariose. If we have to abandon ship our dink (a.k.a. dinghy) may become our lifeboat.
We started our first season with Ariose “tenderless”. Lake Temiskaming does have some areas where the rock cliffs plunge into depths below, so some of our shoreline exploration interests could be satisfied. At Devil’s Rock, for example, just south of the town of Haileybury, we enjoyed getting close enough to reach out and inspect lichens and peek into 100 year old exploratory mine tunnels.
Once our northern lake (finally!) warmed up, we swam to shore a few times to further satisfy our shoreline curiosity. That can bring with it certain challenges, and as we discovered, certain strains on a relationship. On such excursions, it is possible that one might find a lovely selection of wave polished limestone rocks. These rocks would be perfect for flooring a shower in a home that may or may not be built someday. (Tim’s dreaming tendencies may be rubbing off on me!)
There was a time, especially in my work life, when I had difficulty with delegating tasks – but I’ve come to discover that some tasks are easier to delegate than others! With a bit gentle persuasion, I convinced Tim to swim the aforementioned rocks (as I said, that may or may not be used in a home that we may or may not build someday in the future) out to the boat. He was successful, and we headed home with Tim slightly waterlogged, our bilge full of stone, and both of us seeing the humour in our “shopping” excursion.
We did agree, though – we needed a better option. If you’ve read some of Tim’s writings you’ll know he’s an avid canoeist. I also love paddling. Towing one of Tim’s canoes with us was a natural option.
All was well for the canoe’s first few (calm) outings. We adjusted the tow line so that it rode comfortably in our wake. Early morning paddles, afternoon exploring along the water’s edge, catching the sunset while gliding along the calm waters – so pleasant! We even used the canoe once in a rather futile reverse-roles effort to try to tow Ariose on a weekend when we were impatient with being becalmed. That didn’t work so well.
Then things turned nasty for Tim’s beloved canoe. With the wisdom of hindsight, we can now see some foreshadowing in the sky when we look back on this photo taken on that fateful day, The wind and waves were picking up. The canoe, rather than riding along the centre of our wake, was doing its best water-ski slalom manoeuvres.
Let me digress for a moment … Since that day, we’ve done a lot of reading, and a lot of learning. We’ve read the same advice many times in others’ accounts of sailing, whether Hal & Margaret Roth, or John Kretschmer, or Amanda & John Neil, or Lin & Larry Pardy, or others who also have a wealth of ocean sailing experience. We now call this advice the “Should Principle”. No, this is not the tendency many of us have (women are particularly adept, it seems) of beating ourselves up with self and society imposed “shoulds” of behaviour. We are referring to the safety-related Should Principle. What we read many times is that if we ever find ourselves asking “shoulds” related to safety or security of crew or vessel… “should we reef the sail?”, “should I be tethered when I head up on deck?”, “should we check the depth?”, “should we find a safe anchorage now,” and so forth, the answer is an emphatic YES. Furthermore, the action should likely have been taken at the first inkling that risk reduction steps are indicated, even before it becomes a question posed.
Back to the story. So, Tim and I were increasingly concerned as we watched his canoe weaving wildly, looking more like it was riding a bucking bronco than the waters of Lake Temiskaming. We let out the tow line. We pulled it in. Let it again out looking for the sweet spot… Then as we turned to one another to ask “should we get it up on the deck?”, we felt a tug and looked in horror to see that the canoe had broached and was now fully underwater, acting as parachute dragging behind. Yikes! We headed up into irons to slow the boat, dropped our sails, and pulled the canoe close. By employing our best gymnastic manoeuvres while hanging over the side of Ariose, we eventually bailed out the submerged vessel. We then got it hauled safely – albeit belatedly- on deck. The wood gunnels and some fibreglass had broken under the strain, but it looked as though the damage would be repairable.
We didn’t need to ask ourselves if we should get a proper dinghy. The answer was obvious.
There are lots of options for dinghies. Most cruisers opt for inflatables, with or without a rigid bottom, and there are also some futuristic-looking folding boats out there, as well as many variations of hard dinghies.
We came up with several criteria to guide our decision. We wanted our dink to be fairly small, and ideally lightweight for dragging ashore or hauling up on davits or on deck. We hoped to avoid an outboard motor, so it needed to be rowable. At the same time, we recognized that when cruising, tides or currents or distances may require small motor for safety and convenience, so it also needs to be able to take a motor. Aesthetics was also important, but more so, we were looking for durability (it’s a huge investment that we intend to be a one-time outlay), stability (our life may depend on not being dumped by the dinghy), and other safety factors.
The ubiquitous inflatable is very stable (unless the wind catches its underside), and when deflated, easier to store on board. It is vulnerable to puncture (we’ve read nasty stories of barnacle encrusted piers shredding unsuspecting dinghies,) and deteriorates with the sun’s uv rays, especially when cruising sunny climates. Getting around in them relies on the motor, as they are nearly impossible to row. They obviously are a good choice for many. Not for us. We wanted a dinghy that is durable and that we can use our own power to get around in.
Truth be told, we also loved the romanticism of wooden dory-type dinghies, and couldn’t quite imagine ourselves with an inflatable. Tim began to talk of building our tender – I nixed that as quickly as I could! It would be a lovely project at a point when we have fewer other priorities demanding our time.
There are several hard dinghies on the market that met many of our criteria. We spent hours and hours in google-land examining the options.
Our research lead us to an exceptional little aptly named boat, the Portland Pudgy. If you are interested in a summary of what we found as we contemplated tender options, and what informed our decision, check out our Projects page: Dinghy – Procuring a Portland Pudgy.
It’s small, fairly light, rows well, fits a motor, and a surprising amount of onboard storage within its hollow walls. It’s advertised as being nearly impossible to tip. We were a little skeptical about that sales pitch – in our next post, we’ll share how our test of that claim turned out. There are lots and lots of options for the Portland Pudgy too. There’s a sailkit (removable mast, sail, daggerboards, tiller) that sounds practical and like a lot of fun. It’s on our wishlist. There’s davit holder, cover, fender, boarding ladder, extra hardware, electrical stuff… the list goes on. You can be seduced into spending more on the extras than on the dinghy itself. Another optional feature of the Pudgy which really appeals to us is the exposure canopy which ingeniously turns this tender into a lifeboat. Lifeboats, obviously, are essential when off-shore cruising. They typically sit in their “suitcases”, hopefully unused, requiring regular safety checks. If needed, they are vulnerable to puncture, and at the whims of the winds and currents. The Pudgy offers all the protection of a life raft plus durability and the ability to sail or row yourself toward rescue, albeit, this may be more a tactic to keep spirits up than an effective self-rescue strategy.
The Pudgy’s design is really clever. It’s hollow walls help with buoyancy, and water-tight hatches give access to a surprising amount of storage. Listen to what can be stored – at the same time! Oars, mast & sail, exposure canopy, bail-out pump, emergency food/medical/survival supplies, and more, and although we haven’t tried, we figure we could probably fit the kitchen sink in there too!
Really, the only negative feature for us was the cost. Ouch! All new tenders are pricey. Considering its many superior features, the Pudgy, not surprisingly, also rises toward the top in pricey-ness. It is sold directly by the American manufacturer, so our weak Canadian dollar added insult to injury in hitting our bank account. By most people’s standards, I’m quite a frugal and cautious spender. By Tim’s standards, I lean toward being a spendthrift. So you can imagine that this was a big deal for us. My work colleagues Tammy, Monia, Carol, and Line provided much appreciated emotional support when we crossed paths in the copy room one day while I was second guessing the wisdom of this purchase. Tim and I soothed our wounds by reminding ourselves that we get what we pay for, and this – fingers crossed – will be a quality product that will be the first and last dinghy we need to purchase.
That reminds me of a humourous account told to me, I think, by Judy, my real estate agent, about our friend-in-common, Steve. She had had a conversation with him about safety issues when cruising. At the time, Steve and his wife Lisa had just spent a year on their boat with their 2 kids. Judy related that Steve shared his point of view that many of the risks we hear about, like piracy, are overblown. Apparently, the biggest concern for Steve, a well-respected local physician, was that someone may “pinch his dink”! So I guess there are two lessons in this: people with male genitals need to keep intimate body parts safely tucked away, and that if we do want this Pudgy to be our first and last dinghy, we need to keep it well secured. We want our Pudgy to be the hardest of all the dinghies to steal wherever we go.
So, we got to know Dave and Deb, the helpful owners of Portland Pudgy, and ordered ours. What did I do while awaiting its arrival with eager anticipation? I continued to work to supplemented the money budgeted for our dinghy with a good chunk of my next few paycheques.
That’s it for this post. Next time, I’ll share a preliminary review of our Pudgy, and some of the pleasures of having it along on our final weekend cruises of last season. I’m away for a bit, so that post will appear in a couple weeks’ time.
Before I wrap up though, you may be wondering: What have we christened our dinghy? I don’t want to cause sleepless nights due to the suspense. Following the musical theme of its mothership, Ariose, Tim suggested “Poco”. It’s the direction a composer gives indicating “a little”, or “to a small degree”. I immediately recognized it as the Spanish word for “little bit”. How perfect: Poco, the Portland Pudgy!