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Dinghy Misadventures

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I challenge any experienced boater to say they’ve never had a ditsy, dangerous or close to drowning moment in their dinghies.

Dinghies at dusk in Grenada
Dinghies at dusk in Grenada

And inevitably you are in full view of a crowded anchorage or marina full of gleeful watchers as you execute a truly stupid move. However, it may be preferable to have a bad dinghy day within sight of human rescue than way offshore. 

Bargain buy “deflatable”, Fernando de Norohna, Brazil
Bargain buy “deflatable”,
Fernando de Norohna, Brazil

Play Dinghy Bingo! How Many of these have you done?

Gone round and round in circles because you let the tiller handle of your outboard go and it swung out of reach developing a mind of its own? 

Left your dinghy unattended on a dock during a huge downpour/big tidal change, or at the mercy of those using it as a steppingstone to get across to their own transport? And there is no recourse for flooding, entrapment or saltwater engine damage that ensues. 

Lost your cell phone in the dinghy and found it two years later –
during which time it has been trapped under the seat and morphing into flaky layers?

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Oncoming Trinidad fast ferry – seen from our slow-moving dinghy
Oncoming Trinidad fast ferry – seen from our slow-moving dinghy

Bought a second-hand inflatable that has been in storage for years to save a few bucks – only to find that after you launch air is escaping from a hundred pinholes faster than can be pumped back in? 

Threatened to put someone in the dinghy and untie the painter – bad dog/child/crew member/first mate/guest from hell? 

Drowned the dinghy? An easy way to do this with a hard dinghy is to lose your balance, step on the gunwale, and hang on too long when alighting from the mother ship. 

Indestructible, light and easy to row Walker Bay Dinghy. Photo by Alex Nebe
Indestructible, light and easy to row Walker Bay Dinghy. Photo by Alex Nebe

Had a large fish land in your dinghy and thrash around violently, snapping at ankles and toes with bloody results. Crew depart overboard for self-preservation.

Had a dinghy stolen while onboard? Late one night we were chatting down below when a swimmer silently untied and towed ours away – and how can you chase after him without your dinghy? 

Forgotten to put the bung in – only realising this as your crew/charter guests step into rising water? On our first 36-foot yacht the baby stay prevented the dinghy from fitting on the foredeck, so a hole was made to pass the stay through the dinghy when stored while sailing. A cap sealed it before launching – provided we did not forget to screw it in.

Dinghy Concert, Grenada
Dinghy Concert, Grenada

Overloaded the dinghy to the point of no return? Racing in the live aboard class in Tobago our hard dinghy was left on the buoyed anchor precariously loaded with spare anchors, chain, water bottles, canvas, rope and cat litter – heavy stuff that was obviously stopping us from winning! 

Towed a large, wooden dinghy between islands in a big following sea? When we did this, waves kept slamming it into the transom eventually breaking the bridle. We then tried to get it on deck without major damage to ourselves or our yacht as it swung in and out from the toe rail at great velocity. We were forced to let the dinghy go altogether rather than lose a leg or bash a hole in the hull. 

Misjudged the speed of an oncoming vessel as you slowly row or putt-putt along with your tiny outboard across the path of a fast powerboat or massive cruise ship? To add to the danger your flashlight batteries are flat, or worse still, you did not bring a light as you weren’t intending to stay ashore beyond sunset.

Keep It Simple Stupid

Navigating the Manamo River, Venezuela. Photo by Alex Nebe
Navigating the Manamo River, Venezuela. Photo by Alex Nebe

Put an overly powerful engine onto a tiny, light dinghy? The buyer of our first yacht did this and thought a heavy crew member in the bow would balance things. Luckily, we managed to change his mind before they left the dock.

Ended up drifting helplessly in the wrong direction? A yachtie once left a lively party in Trinidad, fell asleep in his dinghy, lost one oar, and drifted for days to the coast of Venezuela, where thankfully the coast guard picked him up.

Almost destroyed your dinghy while maneuvering in a tight space? Reversing out of a marina we lost sight of our dinghy tied alongside. Sandwiched between our heavy displacement boat and the mooring pile, it folded into half its width before popping out when pressure reduced. Remarkably, because it was an almost indestructible injection moulded plastic Walker Bay dinghy, it returned to normal shape and functioned perfectly for years.

Rescued your dinghy when the knot you thought you tied correctly somehow came undone? The skipper dived in clothes and all and swim a marathon in the dark as the little boat swiftly disappeared towards the open sea. When he did not reappear after a very long time, I raised the alarm. The cruising friend who kindly came over to assist (just as exhausted skipper and wayward dinghy reappeared) had only one comment: “Silly bugger!” And I totally agreed. The Trini rigging team my husband worked with used to say: “Tie the knot loose – meaning untie it.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can tie it tight, you should be able to tie it loose, so that must have been what inadvertently happened.

Swum back to your boat towing your inflatable as other means of propulsion weren’t working? Feisty single hander on her yacht Lady Charli did just that in her seventies, but wisely warned us to “never say never” when laughing at other sailors’ mishaps. 

Those new to cruising have many of these adventures yet to come, but not all are dire or dismal. Look forward to lively dinghy concerts and sunset raft ups, exploring colourful reefs, and discovering astonishing fauna and flora up the narrow “canos” of giant rivers.

Bio: Ruth and Niels Lund lived on a yacht in the Caribbean for many years, working in the marine industry and cruising and racing whenever work allowed. 

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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