I’ve thought about this a lot. I keep looking for the “easy button” on dinghies – the most efficient, common-sense way to stow, haul, tow, and power a dinghy. I can’t seem to make it any better (for me) than I have it right now, without a lot of expense or inconvenience. I have a plywood pram that my boys and I built 15 years ago. It’s a bit beat up at this point, but a fresh coat of paint and varnish make it presentable. I’ve replaced/reinstalled fire hose rub rails, epoxied in new pieces of wood as required and generally maintained it in serviceable condition. This hasn’t taken a lot of effort.
What set me off on my most recent exploration of “improving ideas” was an article from a blog I read (onboardwithmarkcorke.com) on powering dinghies with a portable power pack – like a jump-start battery pack – and a trolling motor. Now I have to admit, this idea appealed to me a lot. Most of the reason I won’t use a trolling motor is the inconvenience of loading and unloading the battery – a proper trolling battery will weigh close to 50 pounds – I may as well use a gas outboard for that kind of weight. However, if a trolling motor could be powered by a battery pack that weighed less than 15 pounds and included a molded-in carrying handle(!) I could manage that easily.
Alas, this is not a workable solution, for the simple reason that these power packs are designed to deliver high amperage quickly. They are not designed to deliver constant power for a long time. Most of them don’t have much capacity in the way of amp-hours, so they would run out of juice fairly fast, and that sort of use would quickly ruin them. There would also be the recharge underway problem to solve. It’s not impossible – but would just need puzzling through to find the right answer. Obviously, this option works for Mark Cork, and I’m not criticizing his choice or idea. I’m just fairly confident that for the sort of use I have in mind, this set-up would not work very well. So, I’ll keep my set of oars and my sailing rig, and be satisfied.
However, here’s another thought – $250 for the motor (give or take), $80 for the jump-starter – that’s not a lot of cash for an experiment that could turn out well. And if it didn’t work out practically, the motor could be sold off to recoup losses. Hmmm. . . Probably worth the risk, when we’re ready to cast off and constantly rely on the tender for transport.
Here are my thoughts on dinghies from a previous post entitled: Simple Conveniences, Simple Systems (10 May 2012).
“From all the opinions that I’ve read concerning dinghies (in itself, a subject worth several posts), it is apparent that which sort you choose is very personal. Perhaps this is true of all cruising gear, in the long run. Years ago, my 3 sons and I built an 8 foot plywood sailing dinghy/tender (stitch and glue) and bought a set of oars. I think we finished it in 1997, and we’ve been using it ever since. I’ve been tempted to motorize it with a trolling motor and battery, but the idea thwarts the simplicity of this dinghy. Somehow I would have to figure out how to stow the battery on board our yacht, how to get the battery into the dinghy, spend time attaching the motor and connecting the battery, etc.. Some sort of motor would be helpful when rowing against wind, chop and current. As it stands, though, any kind of motor is more of an inconvenience. How can you improve on the simplicity of oars for a launch-and-go application? The dinghy is not difficult to sail, either, so that is certainly an option for longer distances than you might want to row. It’s not a great sailer – a situation that could be improved with a bit more sail area – but it will get you there. Boarding the dinghy from the water could be difficult. Unlike a RIB (which is very stable when boarding from in the water), if you pull yourself up on the side from in the water to get aboard, it will likely swamp, so for a snorkeling platform, it’s probably not great. So here are up sides and downsides of our hard dinghy as I see it:
- Pluses: I don’t carry an outboard or gasoline; it rows well; it sails okay; it’s easy to launch and retrieve from on deck; it’s easy to repair and maintain; sun won’t destroy it; it won’t puncture; a new coat of paint makes it look fresh again.
- Minuses: Can’t board from in the water; is not fast; is range-limited by practicality (you can’t reasonably go five miles away for a snorkeling trip and return in a short time period); short chop, contrary winds and current make for a difficult trip (usually in only one direction, though).
The building cost was about $800 in materials and gear. A RIB with no outboard will set you back a good bit more than that. With an outboard, even more. My plywood dinghy was fun to build – a RIB won’t give you that satisfaction.”