We did not go sailing during the weekend, but decided to spend it on the dry land instead. Well, that is almost, since on Saturday we unrolled, cleaned and inflated the dinghy for the first time this year, and I also made a short test run.
In general, I would consider the dinghy as one of the must-have equipments for a cruising boat. Together with an easily deployable bow anchor, the dinghy makes wild anchorages more accessible, and we prefer staying on anchor rather than using the stern anchor and trying to get the bow fastened to the land, which is also more risky especially in an unknown anchorages.
However, rowing the dinghy multiple times during the day between the boat and the land is a bit akward so we have been planning to buy an electric outboard for the dinghy. We have had our red Plastimo inflatable since 2010, but we had not actually ever tested it with an outboard engine before. Thus, on Saturday, I decided to give it a go, and try it with 6 hp Suzuki lent from Minna’s father. The outboard was actually a bit too powerful for the 2,2 meters long dinghy (4 hp is the maximum), so I was a bit careful in using the throttle.
For the tender, we chose the Plastimo Raid P220 SH mainly because of the competitive price, light weight and compact dimensions when rolled, as the initial idea was to store it in the cockpit locker. However, it turned out to be a bit too large for the locker so it is either towed or stored on the coachroof in front of the sprayhood for longer passages.
I must say, that I was a bit disappointed about how the dinghy handled under power. I have previously had a bit longer Bombard B1 (an old 80s model) inflatable, which had a hard wooden floor and, if I recall correctly, even a small V-keel. Thus the boat had a relatively good steering control, and I used to make rather long trips with my trusty Bombard.
On the other hand, our current Plastimo Raid has a slatted bottom, which makes the boat in general more flexible, and the totally flat bottom affects negatively the directional stability. At low speeds the dinghy did not seem to have a steering at all – it was like steering on ice. It was also a bit difficult to get the dinghy to plane, and when it did, it felt unstable, so I did not even dare to try it with the full throttle. Furthermore, there was not that much wind and the sea was almost flat. So maybe an electric outboard or small 2 hp outboard is ok for moving this dinghy with 1-2 adults over relatively short distances, but this is not clearly an inflatable for long explorations, fast cruising or for rough anchorages.
Thus, for the next dinghy, I would be looking at a dinghy, which is a bit longer and preferably comes with an inflatable ‘airdeck’ floor and keel for better directional stability. In general, for a small sailing boat, the choice of dinghy is always a compromise between the performance and compact size and weight, as it needs to be stored and lifted onboard frequently.
Do you have an inflatable dinghy onboard? What kind of experiences do you have about the use of inflatable dinghies while cruising?