Dinghy

Losing Tooth III

Tooth III is a Livingston 7.5. This is a hard dinghy with a catamaran hull. They are very stable boats and very useful boats. They are a bit wet when motoring or rowing into a seaway, as they have relatively low freeboard so any splash or spray will come right in and soak everyone, but they certainly are a good dinghy. 

We were anchored off of Nassau when we decided our next destination would be Allen's Cay in the Exumas. This destination was only 37 miles away from us, but it was upwind. The winds were forecasted to be 20-25 knots for the next several weeks, so we figured that there was no point in waiting for better weather since it wasn't going to change for a while. We were also told that on the flats of the Bahamas, the waves "are like waves in the ICW, the water is too shallow for them to develop so they won't be more than a few feet." 

With that in mind, we set out it make the windward trek towards Allen's Cay, and we decided that we would tow Tooth III since we were going to be sailing over shallow flats. The idea was that if we ran aground, we would need to row out a kedge anchor, and to do that we would need Tooth III in the water. Since the seas would be relatively calm, we figured we would just tow him along. 

Well, the seas were not calm and it is much deeper than charted. Everywhere on the flats, Conch Spit, Yellow Bank, and White Bank is around 15-20 feet deep. We sailed over waters charted as 5.7 feet and had 8 feet under the keel. We draw 6.5, so the water there was 14.5 feet! 

Not only was the water deeper, the seas were much higher than in the ICW! We were beating in to 6+ foot waves, and poor Tooth III was being dragged through all of this. Spray would slowly make its way into his hull and I would have to heave to, pull him up to us, and bail him out. When he was empty, he sat higher and kept most of the water out. As he filled, he would sit lower and then waves would actually break into him, filling him much more quickly. 

At one point, we tacked and then looked back to make sure Tooth III was doing ok, but he wasn't there! We pulled the painter in and when we got to the end, the line had snapped. Poor Tooth III had quietly stayed behind, probably swamped and sank to the bottom, if not awash with the seas. We turned around and began searching for him, but it was futile. The strong winds made every whitecap around us look like him, and if he were awash, we would never see him in the seas. We searched for an hour, but sadly had to call it off and return on our voyage, without Tooth III.

Tooth III was a very good dinghy, and we promptly began searching for a replacement Livingston 7.5 dinghy, but so far have not found one yet. 

This experience taught us a valuable lesson that we hope you can learn from without going through it yourself. It turns out that losing a dinghy is very common and it is especially common when towing. Painters break quietly and uneventfully, leaving your dinghy behind as you work your way forward.

The lessened learned is never tow your dinghy over long distances. If you tow, look back at your dinghy every 10 minutes to make sure it is still there. Have multiple painters attaching to multiple points on it.  

When we tow Sophia, our inflatable dinghy, we have a massive painter tied to her bow. A stern line tied to the painter with a rolling hitch (should the attachment point at the bow fail) and a second painter tied through the oar lock (so if the primary painter fails, Sophia would be towed sideways until we notice it and rectify the situation.).  

Ideally, always carry your dinghy in davits or on your deck, where they are out of the water and in view of you as you are sailing. If you must tow, have redundancy in your towing system so that should anything fail, you will still have your dinghy in tow. 

The Most Valuable Item Onboard

If you had to point to the most valuable item on your cruising yacht right now, what would you point to? Would it be your new chart plotter? Your radar? Maybe where you keep your cruising cash? Or your jewelry? 

The truth is, the most valuable item on your cruising yacht is your dinghy. Any dinghy, and all dinghies, have the same value to a cruiser. It can be a cheap pool toy looking inflatable, or a fancy center console Boston Whaler. This little boat gets you from boat to shore, and into places where your yachts draft will preclude you. Without your dinghy, you would be stranded on your boat with no way of getting to shore, or on shore with no way of getting to your boat.  

When you are anchored in a remote location, there is no amount of money or other objects that can get you back and forth from boat to shore. The only thing that can do it is a dinghy, and if you don't have one, you are stranded. 

You might be wondering what kind of dinghy is best, and this is certainly a topic of much debate. Some swear by hard dinghies, others tout the stability and carrying capacity of inflatables. The truth is the best dinghy is the one you have on board, because when you need to get somewhere, any dinghy will do and any dinghy will serve the purpose of transporting you and your crew to shore and back. 

Valuable Cruising Items

Two items that I thought we wouldn't need but now greatly enjoy having are a generator and an outboard. A portable generator makes cruising so much more care free. You can run the fridge, and leave the lights on a few hours longer without worrying about the batteries. Without the generator, I would look at the weather to see if we could keep our lights on or if we had to shut the fridge down. We only had solar panels and relied heavily on the weather to provide us the power needed to sustain our battery banks. A week of cloudy skies meant a depleted electrical system and a nightmare to recharge. 

Now, I don't worry anymore. All I do is wait to see if the sun will come out. If the batteries get a bit low, I fire up the generator and charge everything back up! 

The other indispensable item we now carry is an outboard motor for the dinghy. For seven months, I have been rowing us to shore. It was slow but it did work. We timed our land adventures by the tides, only traveling when the current was slack or in a favorable direction. We would anchor close to shore to minimize the distance needed to row, but there were still times when I would have to row us over a mile to make landfall. 

The outboard has changed all of this! It lets us chug along at a slow speed while not getting exhausted. Our little outboard is only 2hp, enough to push our 7 foot dinghy at hull speed (3.5 knots). Not setting any speed records, but it also doesn't burn much fuel in the process. 

Now, a popular size outboard is the 9,9hp and 15hp. Both of these will push your dinghy along at a remarkable speed, but they have one major flaw to them: weight. A large outboard is heavy, and will require a lifting mechanism to get it on and off the dinghy. Our small 2hp outboard is so light that Maddie can lift it with two hands, and I can easily carry it with one hand! Going small might not be very flashy, but it gives you the convenience you are looking for without the burden of heavy machinery.

Worst Day of Cruising

Some events are so powerful that they can shape and reshape anything that occurs around them. For us, it was when we lost our dingy. 

This day began amazingly. We had a nice sail to a new anchorage where we dinghies a short distance to shore to a beach side bar that served amazing and innexpensive burgers. We made friends and put in our order for a local "Chill and Grill" cookout that was happening at the marina. We went snorkeling, took a dinghy ride into mangrove channels that were full of rays and sea turtles. We even caught a ride with a local to the Chill and Grill where we ate again with our new friends. After dinner, we all went back to our new friends boat for sun-downers and relaxed in the cockpit as we watched the sun set and talked. 

At 11:30pm, we decided to head back to the boat. We said our goodbyes and began the 2 mile walk from the marina to the dinghy. When we got to the beach, our whole world unraveled before our eyes and my heart sank into my stomach. Our dinghy was gone! 

It was not stollen, no, worse. I didn't tie the anchor rode to the dinghy securely and it drifted away at high tide. The anchor was well set and the rode pointed in the direction that our dinghy floated away, pointing down the beach.  

Here we are at midnight with no phones, no flashlights, no radio, and most of all, no dinghy. 

We walked the beach for two miles as we headed back to the marina to see if our new friends could lend us some flashlights or even better, a boat, to find our dinghy that had floated away. 

One person who was rather long winded rambled on about the hopelessness of finding the dinghy as it has been drifting for several hours and the harbor drains into the Atlantic Ocean. He had a dinghy, but it was about a 15 mile journey from the marina to the harbor we were anchored in because of the reefs and island structure. The only way to get there was to head out to sea and circle the island on the North side. At midnight, this was not the time to begin such a trek. He did lend us some flashlights, and we ran back to the beach to begin searching the waters of the harbor in hopes of seeing our dinghy once again. 

We shined our light beams as far as they could go, getting our hopes up every time we spotted a mooring buoy, and then loosing hope when we realized what it was. Then, the light shined on something that wasn't a buoy, and it was rather dim too. Seeing the light reflect off this object felt like hearing an ear piercing scream from miles away. You know it's a scream, but you can't quite make it out, but you know you heard something. 

This floating object was 4 miles away from where we anchored the dinghy. Thankfully we anchored at the extreme end of the harbor so that the dinghy would have to drift the entire length before reaching the inlet. Had we anchored any closer to the inlet, we might not have been so lucky!

We watched as this object was drifting down the beach in the same direction that our dinghy drifted from its anchor, and as time passed, it drew closer to the shore. In time, we were able to make out the sides and front of the dinghy as it would spin around in the waves of the harbor. We found our dinghy! 

The only problem is the dinghy is currently drifting towards an inlet, where it will be swept out to see. The harbor is shallow, and you could easily swim out to it, but the distance is remarkably deceiving. What looks close by is actually very very far to swim, especially in the dark! I tried to swim out to our dinghy, but I was too afraid of what might be lurking in the water in the dark. My friend that was with us "demonstrated" that you could just walk out to the dinghy, and walked out to retrieve the dinghy that was rather far from shore. 

I stood on the beach and shined the flashlight at him and the dinghy, both keeping an eye on him and illuminating the dinghy so that he could see where he was going. He made it out to the boat and brought it back to shore, rescuing our dinghy! 

The lessons we learned that evening are as follows: 

1. Always make sure the anchor rode is securely tied to the dinghy! 

2. Always carry a radio on you. There were other boats in this harbor, but there was no way of contacting them from shore. If we had a radio, we could have contacted them and done a search from the water with the aid of their dinghy. This would have saved us the trouble of swimming out to recover the dinghy and instead allowed us to tow the dinghy back to the boat. 

Thankfully, the kindness of the cruisers we met earlier that day helped us save our dinghy. They also all told us many stories of the times they have lost their dinghies over the years. The couple that lent us flashlights had lost 3 dinghies over the years due to theft and poor knots (which happen to all of us at some point when you tie something in a rush without putting your mind to it). The couple that helped us search and recover the dinghy had lost their dinghy twice. Once when it floated away from their boat in shark infested waters, the second time when their painter chaffed and it drifted away in the strong tidal flow of Nassau harbor. 

Accidents happen, and you never want to experience the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that we experienced that night on the beach. Be sure to check and double check that your dinghy is tied up well every time you leave it or you might have to suffer through the same situation we did. 

Dinghy Painter

When it comes to tying off your dinghy, most people will automatically tie it off at the stern of the yacht. I would like to propose a different place to tie it off. 

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Instead of tying at the stern with a short painter, consider tying midship with a long painter. When you need to board the dinghy, the painter is already tied midship, making it easy to pull it up to the gate in the lifelines. When arriving back to the boat by dinghy, you can tie the long painter up as you arrive at the gate as well. All of a sudden, you don't have to go to the stern to reach your dinghy every time you come and go.

The last reason to tie up midship has to do with areas with strong winds and currents. If you tie up at the stern, all will be fine when the wind and tide are in the same direction. When you get wind over tide, the boat will point into the current but drift in the direction of the wind. This means that your dinghy that is tied to the stern will now be midship and smack into your hull for the next 6 hours.  

If you tie the dinghy up midship with a painter long enough to reach beyond the ends of the boat, your dinghy will always hang out (bow or stern) just past the end of the boat and never smack into the side of your hull.