We bought Little Bristol 6 1/2 years ago. We just bought dinghy number five. Five dinghies in six years? You are likely wondering just what the heck is our problem.
A dinghy is your automobile when you are boating, whether you boat full-time or on weekends. And, like automobiles, there are a wide variety of styles and sizes to choose from. Rigid dinghies, inflatable dinghies, rigid inflatable dinghies. The options are almost endless. But like all things boat, dinghies are always a compromise.
Our first dinghy was the cheapest inflatable we could find at Defender. It was o.k., but we made the mistake of storing it in the garage that first winter. We pulled it out right before launching in the spring only to discover that a small creature (or creatures) had gnawed a hole in it right at the seam. That led to our second dinghy.
Our second dinghy was a West Marine Watertender – what we came to call the Ugliest Dinghy in Fishers Island Sound. It was a rigid dinghy, made out of polyethylene so it was indestructible, it was cheap, and we could buy it right away – time was of the essence. But I was lusting hard after a Fatty Knees. Which led to our third dinghy.
Our third dinghy was my beloved Fatty Knees. It was gorgeous, it rowed great, and we could sail with it. At over 100 pounds it was heavy, but I loved that dinghy. Unfortunately it didn’t fit well on the foredeck and we wanted that option for crossings, so we reluctantly sold it.
Our fourth dinghy was an Achilles hypalon inflatable. It towed well, held air, never had a leak, and was tough as nails for an inflatable. But we really missed having a hard dinghy. You can pull a hard dinghy up on a rocky beach, or tie it up to a rough piling, without having to worry about puncturing a tube like with an inflatable. I repeatedly suggested another Fatty Knees, but Jeff kept pointing out that they are very heavy which is an issue now with Jeff’s CHF. I couldn’t argue with that. What to do, what to do? Enter dinghy number five.
One evening Jeff said, “How about a Walker Bay?” It was 41 pounds lighter than the Fatty Knees, it was made out of polypropylene so it’s extremely durable, it rows well, and you can get a sail kit for it. It was a great idea.
We didn’t want to buy a new one, particularly given that we already had a perfectly fine inflatable, but they come up on Craigs List and Facebook Marketplace more often than a Fatty Knees so we decided we’d keep an eye out. A few weeks later we found an 8′ Walker Bay located 95 miles from Annapolis. We easily rented a pickup truck from Enterprise, had a scenic drive into Virginia, and $500 later we owned our 5th – and hopefully our last – dinghy.
But wait a minute. If the 8′ Fatty Knees didn’t fit on the foredeck, how will the 8′ Walker Bay? Well, it’s not so much that the Fatty Knees didn’t fit, but that it covered up the windlass and anchor locker. At the time we thought that was a big deal. Now that we’ve been cruising for a year we know that we tow our dinghy 99% of the time. For the other 1% of the time, after we raise the anchor we’ll keep the engine in idle while we lift the dinghy and put it on the foredeck – it only takes a few minutes. When we arrive at our anchorage, it’s light enough that we can easily toss it overboard before dropping the anchor. And for short passages, we may simply tow it. We know a fellow Bristol 29.9 owner who towed his Fatty Knees (sigh) from Marathon, Florida to Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We just need to be willing to cut it loose if there’s a problem.
So far the Walker Bay has proven to be a good choice. It’s faster when we motor since it’s not shaped like a rubber brick, it rows wonderfully, and it’s a drier ride. Will it really be our last dinghy? Only time will tell.