The perfect cruiser’s dinghy packs up really small and can be stowed away for passages. At the same time it should be stable in use and capable of carrying people and cargo safely and relatively dryly.
Our inflatable Avon fulfils the first specification perfectly. It takes a little time to install the wooden slat floor and rowing seat then blow it up and just as long to reverse the process but it stows in the aft locker. Unfortunately it fails on the safe and dry requirement. If we use it to go up wind against waves of any size, the only suitable apparel is bathing clothes and everything we take needs to be extremely well packed. More than once it turned over in the wind and once set the outboard under water. When we visit another boat, we need to remove the motor and hang it on their boat if we want to relax.
In the Caribbean the Avon was ripped directly next to a seam. Four attempts by us to repair it all failed and when we found an expert in Panama, he could only solve the problem by lifting part of the seam and glueing under it. His repair worked but we needed a more reliable tender.
The selection of small dinghys in Panama is not huge but with the help of Sheila (an American lady rebuliding her boat at Port Linton) we bought an AB dinghy with a fiberglass bottom. This is safe and stable but impossible to stow any where but between the mast and inner forestay. Sailing is, of course, a series of compromises so we have now developed a way of doing that. Once we have the AB dinghy in the water she is great fun. We bought her just before Annalena and Daniel arrived and “test drove” extensively in the San Blas Islands. In the Las Perlas archipeligo we completely filled her with water when a breaker swamped us just off the beach but, even full of water and sand, she can be rowed home.
With the dinghy, we received a free dinghy chap (a material cover to protect the dinghy from sun and rubbing). It was for a different size and type of dinghy and had no holes for the carrying handles or anything but did come with a bag of “blue bits” to sew as protection around any holes. Luckily we have a Heidi on board and she and her sewing machine can do anything. After hours and days of hard work, perspiration and many many broken needles, we had a cover that fitted and a matching bag to stow items while in transit.
Another sailor told us he had been quoted one thousand US dollars for such a dinghy chap and Heidi now says she fully understands why they cost so much. She doesn’t plan a production series.