Page 32 - 48º North - The Sailing Magazine - December 2017
P. 32

LESSONS LEARNED WHILE CRUISING Jamie & Behan Gifford Love Me, Tender
An orange sunset glowed from behind Baja’s Sierra de la Giganta mountains. Still waters of a protected bay on Isla Carmen were broken gently by ripples from a few flipping fish; on the far side of the bay, silhouettes of Jamie and the kids in the drifting dinghy stood out against the glowing surface.
This describes many of the evenings we spent in Baja. And on a significant portion of them, Jamie and the kids would have been teasing a few fish from the water for our dinner, going to meet that new boat on the far side of the anchorage, or just looking for nooks on shore that beckoned to be explored on foot later.
If a cruising boat is the magic carpet to faraway travels, dinghies are the critical last step to engaging in those places and realizing their promise. It’s all well and good to get there, but then you must get ashore and get around!
Jamie’s habit of splashing the dinghy to explore once the hook was set became ingrained early in our cruising
years. Partly the sheer enjoyment of a new curve of bay to explore, partly a practical routine. Charts for the Sea of Cortez may lack detail (and have infamously inaccurate data); tootling around in the dinghy was a good way to get a true feel for the shape of the perimeter, the contours of the bottom, and hopefully spy any unmarked reefs or shallows. He found one of those ‘surprise’ rocks in that very bay where we watched sunsets behind the Gigantes.
A tender is the cruiser’s car. It will not only get you from ship to shore, but haul supplies, sometimes hundreds of pounds worth. It will be laden with heavy jerry cans of water or fuel. It will carry eager snorkelers or divers and their gear. Or in our case, the load is a family of five with their laundry or groceries... all of whom have grown meaningfully over the time we’ve been cruising. Carrying capacity is important: for cruisers starting out and buying a dinghy, if you lean towards one that resembles a compact sedan,
Sometimes, the minivan tender is just the ticket!
you may wish you had a minivan in a few years!
We were lucky that Totem came with a dependable tender and outboard that were a good fit for our family: a fiberglass-bottom RIB with years of usable life, and a two-stroke 15hp that put us easily on a plane. When the dinghy irreparably failed in Thailand in late 2014, and for a few months we used our backup dinghy – an inflatable floor that had remained rolled up and stashed away for the ENTIRE time we’d owned it (we thought it would make a good kids’ car, but it wasn’t needed enough to outweigh the inconvenience of inflating/deflating/ stowing). It turns out that a kayak, and later a SUP, have been sufficient alternatives for another dink to satisfy the kids’ transportation desires.
My dream dinghy combination lay on the bow of a boat we met in Puteri Harbor, Malaysia: nested together were a hard-bottom inflatable RIB and a sailing dinghy. Forced to choose between them, I’d never hesitate to select a planing RIB; but I covet a sailing dinghy that could ghost around the bay, as much for entertainment as for function, and to provide another way for the kids to get out and explore at a slower pace.
While a RIB that can plane is majority choice among cruisers, many others love their hard dinghies. Effectively rowed (rowing a RIB is an exercise in frustration), sometimes adapted to a sailing rig, or able to take a small outboard, hard dinghies are
December 2017
Drifting in the dinghy in calm waters trying to scare up a dinner of fresh fish are some of the Gifford family’s first and fondest cruising memories.

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