Hard Sell for Hard Shells
Need to replace that dinghy? Could it be that an inflatable isn’t your best option?
Recently, I underwent a profoundly meaningful conversion experience and, like a whole passel of converts before me, I’m hot in the heels to share it with the world. The whole thing started several weeks ago when I felt the pain of being dinghy-less for the first time in years, thanks to events that put my trawler Betty Jane and me in the vicinity of a gorgeous, crystal-clear spring with absolutely no way to navigate the prohibitively shallow slough connecting it to deeper, open water. While a few couples happily toodled up the slough to the spring in their outboard-powered inflatables, I was constrained to simply sit on the flying bridge, watch, and rue the day that Betty’s own inflatable had passed into oblivion.
Of course, I eventually decided such dismal circumstances needed correcting and began planning the purchase of a new tender, most likely of the inflatable species. But then I got sidetracked by a rather exceptional thought: Given all the blood, sweat, and tears I’d put into Betty’s appearance since her RIB faded from the scene, was it really right to simply settle for a duplicate inflatable? I mean, Betty’s become a super-classy lady during the interim, and obscuring the elegance of her consistently waxed and varnished transom with a giant rubber duck seemed, in a sense, blasphemous!
This was just the tip of my conversion-experience iceberg, however. Today, having devoted hours of research to the subject of hard-shell dinghies, I stand convinced that, at least for boaters of my stripe, a pretty little hard-shell makes way more sense than an inflatable. The reasons for this include, but go beyond, aesthetics though I do admit that some inflatables have alluring looks and other advantages, like plenty of speed and transverse stability.
Let’s consider longevity first. Whether you opt for a Bauer, Dyer, or Trinka dinghy (the three big names in classic, high-end fiberglass hard-shells), reasonable care will ensure that she’ll last as long as you do. And you can simply forget about problems like reef-related punctures, separated seams, ultraviolet degradation, air-pump malfunction, and heat-related inflation issues.
Then there’s versatility. You can easily row, sail (provided you spring for an optional mast, boom, and sail), and motor (at displacement speeds with an outboard) a hard-shell dinghy like the Trinka 10 (previous page). Inflatables, on the other hand, can be tough to row when they lack the keel necessary for good tracking, and I personally know of none that can be easily and enjoyably sailed.
And there are a couple of other features that either nix the advantages inflatables supposedly have over hard-shells or seriously diminish them. For example, the Trinka 10 is not overly tippy and she can be made to virtually replicate the robust transverse stability of a beamy RIB by the application of Dinghy Dogs, a temporary collar-type arrangement that affixes inflatable bladders to virtually any hard-shell’s hull sides. Also, while various kinds of davits are often thought to be applicable to inflatables alone, modern products for hard-shells (like the Weaver system shown on the previous page) are nevertheless workable and readily available. And what’s more, some modern hard-shell dinghies are actually lighter than their inflatable cousins.
My advice? Do a little comparison shopping, and maybe you’ll have a profound conversion experience of your very own.
Johannsen Boat Works
This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.