Tag Archives: dinghy

Gucci Kit… Or how to burn your credit card…..

I’d had a shopping list whirling around in my head for quite some time.

So when we planned to visit St Maartin, a wonderful tax free port, it seemed like a good idea to really look hard at what we should equip Skylark with for the rest of our journey. With 6 months under our belt, we had a fair idea on what items were vital, what were necessary at some point and then, the nice to have.

Before we left the USA, I bought 280W of solar panels, thinking that this would go a long way to help us to be self sufficient in energy. I wish I’d bought more ( the most I’ve found on one boat is 1200W!) but saying that, I’m not sure where I’d actually have been able to mount them without some fairly serious remodelling of the stern fittings of the boat. As we progressed down island, we realised that the energy bill was adding up and with no power generation at night, we were coming up short, needing to run the generator every day.

It wasn’t helped that out single 8D AGM battery was knackered after years of misuse. We were often getting up to find the battery saying 10.8V. Less than 12.3 is regarded as near flat……..

First things first, I knew that the battery had to be replaced.

Having failed to get cheap Lithium Ion batteries from fellow RHYC member, Highland Fling who had imported a number and sold them on to other boaters in St Maartin (we arrived too late), the choice was then either to stick with AGM or go for cheaper lead acid. In the end, I choose four T105 6V in series and parallel to give me near double the Ahs I had previously or would have available with a like for like AGM. I’d seen another FP Lavezzi with this set up in BVI whose owner was v happy with T105s. Unlike the AGM, I will need to make sure I carry out proper battery maintenance on them. A new addition to the monthly checks.  After a few schoolboy diagrams the system was wired in without any other issues than a too short lead, quickly fixed.

An easy add on, which I originally reserved judgement on, was wind power generation. I had had a long chat with the company rep for the D400 and the Silentwind systems in the BVI who was parked a couple of boats down from us in Nanny Cay. Whilst the D400 is (maybe) the best around for power generation, it is also one of the heaviest at 20+kg. Fine if you have a big frame to hang it on but I didn’t. The next choice and his recommendation was the Silentwind, manufactured with blades designed by an infuriated German engineer sick of the noise of his own system. These blades are now used by several firms due to their efficiency and quietness. For all those who have had to put up with the noise of some sods howling generator in an otherwise quiet anchorage, that word is crucial. The system only weighed about 7kg which sounded a lot more manageable too.

After deciding that for ease of access and wiring into the house battery, it needed to be on the starboard hull it was an easy matter to drill holes and wire it in. Less easy was the balancing act to get the damn pole vertical and the final tightening of the blade hub. My thanks to Ernesto on Taia for balancing on a stack of beer cans and a small step ladder. Handy having a tall(er) friend to call on!

Silentwind 400 at work

Silentwind 400 at work

Since we fitted it, although we have been running the water maker every couple of days, we had had to only once switch the generator on in the last week. The infamous incident involving Lou, the inverter and the toaster will need to wait for another time.

You may also remember I wrote an article a while back on “Dinghy Envy”. Well, we succumbed on our very first day here. We arrived to be told that the next day was the last day of a sale at Budget Marine, the main chandlery on the island. Can you smell the credit card burning yet?

Although the Apex dinghy we had had a plastic body, it weighed a lot. Too much frankly, especially with the 100kg limit on my davits. Budget conveniently had some aluminium ribs for sale. I knew I did not want more than 100 lb as the dinghy weight budget and the 9.5 foot aluminium AB dinghy for sale came in at 95lbs. Perfect and lighter by 10lbs than the 8’ Apex I had. Unfortunately I then got a bit carried away with the engine. I was looking at either a 9.8HP or a 15HP but was persuaded to take an 18HP 2 stroke Tohatsu at sale price…. and then with a bit more off as well – lesson for all – always, always bargin.   The 18HP is the same weight as a 15HP after all. Damn engine weighed nearly the same as the dinghy…….


Keeping the bottom clean
Keeping the bottom clean
The new speedy runabout
The new speedy runabout

So, I have a big cheesy smile, a shiny new dinghy that when I opened up the engine with Lou on board, her response was to grab a handle and say, in surprise, an unprintable word. Fast, or certainly when compared to our little 5HP Mercury on the old dinghy. But a complete inability to put the dinghy up on the davits as is. Oops.

The last couple of weeks has been taken up with finding someone who could build a hoist and make some new rails to take the engine mounted on board Skylark whilst we travel. We lucked out finding Jean Pierre (arrived in his boat in 1995 and hasn’t left since) in one of the yards on the French side who quoted us a fantastic figure for the work he did. Having been quoted $850 just for the hoist and pulley before more than double that again for rails and fittings from the very good but fiercely expensive FKG, he was very very competitive. I’ll happily pass on details to anyone that needs similar work done.

The new pulley, engine mount and rail

The new hoist, pulley, engine mount and rail

So, we leave St Maartin with a greatly upgraded boat with only one boat system that I’m still unhappy with which is the foresail furler which remains a lot stiffer than I like. But I think I can manage that until the bank balance stabilises a bit.  Maybe once we get to Columbia though…

Dinghy Envy

When we started in Fort Lauderdale back in November, I viewed those boats with huge tenders  equipped with massive engines hanging on their davits as having something vaguely wrong with them. You have a sailing yacht. The operative word is “sailing”. Why would you need some whizz bang rubber boat? Just a bit of showing off really, isn’t it?

A few months on, I now see exactly where their owners are coming from.

Around Scotland, the UK South Coast and all the places I have sailed before, the wee rubber dinghy with a 2 or 3.5hp engine is enough as you trail over to the pub from that nice anchorage just off.   Puilladobhrain springs to mind just S of Oban in Scotland (if you haven’t been there – google it – beautiful).  A lot of the time you can tie alongside, sit close to civilisation on a mooring or maybe that nice water taxi will come and pick you up for you night time libations. Even Tobermory had that, at least for Army yachts as the harbour master there was an ex Gosport man and he liked to catch up on the chat.

Here we anchor pretty much every night……….

What we have
What we have

So let’s look at my fine dinghy. An 8 ft hard bottomed inflatable APEX dinghy with our new 5hp engine. A bit beaten up, a bit heavy compared with newer types and old,  patched so much so it probably wouldn’t be looked at as a targeted steal, but functional.  Good enough for the four of us and room for the odd bag too.  I was pretty happy when I bought the 5hp in Nassau.  Bigger than most dinghies have back in the UK and I got a good deal on it too.  Perfect, thought I.

Or maybe not….

The Caribbean is not like any other sailing area I have been to. Come to the Caribbean and you suddenly find that the places you anchor can be a long, long way from where you need to land at. And as we have moved down the Bahamas, we have seen longer and longer rides.  Take our last stop at Georgetown and Elizabeth Harbour. The anchorage is over 3 miles long and as most boats anchor on the East side of the bay, it leaves you over a mile to get to Georgetown itself.  Takes a while to travel that distance at a walking pace  which is the best I can do with all of us in it. That is, as long as the current isn’t against you which is when you suddenly realise that you are moving backwards….

You also need to take into account that constant wind thing here. It is rare that there isn’t 15-20 knots with the associated fetch around, night or day and as we go further South into the Caribbean, the Trade winds will grow. No big deal if you are going across a sheltered UK anchorage. Sheltered here can mean an anchorage with a 3 ft fetch which is short and sharp. Bit different.  It has been a bit cheeky sometimes just getting in to the dinghy.

I’ve also needed a change of perspective as well. No longer am I a weekend sailor happy with the safe anchorages and moorings with the pub close by. We are liveaboards and we go to the middle of nowhere on a regular basis, just because we can.  We have quickly realised that as liveaboards, the dinghy is your workhorse. It allows you to travel away from the often limited safe anchorage sites to interesting islands close by, to trawl safely in the windward deep water at the edge of the reef when you have folk snorkelling and spearfishing and to carry those spare water/fuel cans you need filled (trust me two or three 6 gallon cans weigh a lot) in to harbour. And you need to do this safely and quickly to cover the distances you often need to do.

An appropriately sized and powered dinghy really is a necessity, not a luxury.

So what is the typical dinghy here? From what we have seen (and we have seen hundreds)  it is  10-12ft long, inflatable but with a hard bottom, needed because of the risk of coral ripping the bottom and so it can lifted to davits. Power wise the average engine is around the 15hp mark. You very rarely see less than 10hp but 20hp is common too. This combination gives you enough power to get on the plane with 4 adults on board (ie us, the kids and associated junk that goes with us) and enough length to bridge the short seas and travel safely at speed.

The most spectacular tender we have seen was at Big Majors Spot, where someone had a 36 foot catamaran and had a 21ft tender, centre cockpit and bimini, with a 50hp on the back, dragged between the hulls on a home made harness. The only person we have seen with a smaller dinghy than us is our mate Igor, who has a sailing dinghy. But he sensibly hitches lifts if he is going anywhere far and you have seen photos of us pulling him back to his boat through some hard current he couldn’t row through. Strangely, he too is on the look out for an “upgrade”.

What Hannah would like!
What Hannah would like!

Back to our reality. Our normal speed is that of a fast walking pace with all of us on board as the engine just isn’t strong enough to get us on the plane. I can’t do anything about the splashes from the short chop or the associated abuse from Lou for “parking too far away” as she gets another bucket of water over her (sorry, love –  it really isn’t deliberate) as we are too short to do anything other than go up and down over each and every wave.

And I have to suffer the indignity of having friends coming back to take some of my load so we can get on quicker to our destination. A 3 minute journey for them = 15mins for me. Taia, ( 2 adults and 5 kids on board) bless them, came back to whizz past me three times just so the girls could wave at me going put put to the beach…. Ernesto, I may forgive you eventually…..

The girls are in on it too. “Daddy, would you be able to buy a bigger engine if we broke this one?” asks Hannah innocently . I am feeling ganged up on.

Having seen a couple of these collapsible “unsinkable” boats and having been given very positive reviews, I am quite keen to explore either the 10 or 12ft variants as an option too. Very light and they fold flat to pack away.

A Folding boat
A Folding boat

I have to admit, adding weight with a bigger dinghy to the davits worries me. We have issues trying to protect the dinghy from rubbing on the davits and the davits with the solar panels and current dinghy are very near to their max allowable weight as well.

Ah well, for at least the next wee while, our dinghy will have to do. But if a good deal can be had and I can find something that my davits can take, we may just see something a little bigger appearing on the back of Skylark…….

Watch this space ……