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Dinghy Replacement

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.


1. The Trinka 10 dinghy is very rowable folks even use them for exercise.

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.


2. Davits from Weaver and others facilate hard-shell stowage on swim platforms.

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.


3. Most high-end hard-shells can be purchased with a sailing package.

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
(800) 869-0773.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.